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Dark Malta Festival: Pack your swimsuit!

19-21 April 2024, Malta

Here on mainland Europe, we are quite spoiled for all kinds of music events, from medieval fairs to gothic costume extravaganza to various metal open-airs, take your pick! All dependent on your budget, just how muddy you’re ready to get and how well you get along with camping equipment. And until visiting Dark Malta, I won’t be able to even tell what else can possibly be missing from my gothic/music social calendar, but now I have an answer. DM is so unlike anything else I’ve ever been to in my 20+ years of gothic career and it is simply unforgettable. If you had to choose one or two unique music festivals to be in the whole year, I would tell you go to Malta in April and go to Bolkow (Castle Party festival in Poland) in July. These two are so different due to their location and atmosphere, that you will curse yourself for every year you were NOT there in the past. But for now, let me tell you why you must be in Malta next year and why it is the most amazing one yet.

Malta, Valletta, Foto: Som Thapa Magar

Dark Malta is not just a gothic music festival, it is an experience. And that is for many reasons where lineup would be one of my last points. Yes, that amazing. Basically, I don’t really care who will play there next year, but I already know that unless an intergalactic apocalypse happens, I will be there! First of all, it’s the location and I don’t mean just the concert venue, I mean the whole island and its surroundings. It is the only gothic festival on an island in the glorious Mediterranean Sea. Bring on the great Cthulhu and all the mermaids, it is that breathtakingly beautiful, even if it rains and the winds are determined to challenge your strongest hairspray. Wild untamed sea crushing into tall rocks, splashing so far out that your skin tastes permanently of seasalt. Now I have been there twice, and both times it was warm enough to even go for a swim and thoroughly enjoy all the in-sea activities. Maybe not if you ask the locals, who are used to much hotter temperatures and warmer waters, but definitely for us coming from further away it was just heavenly. To be able to spend first half of the day sitting in the sea, surrounded by beautiful cliffs and beaches, and the second half listening to bands and partying until early next day, is a literal description of heaven to me. Just watch out for the nasty jellyfish.

Malta as it is, is already a unique attraction, but before I’ll get to that, let’s talk about the main reason we are there in a first place. Dark Malta is a gothic festival, which this year celebrated its 5th anniversary and I cannot be happier to report that the festival is growing bigger, with more international audience and extended program. Everyone I talked to was in awe, regardless if they were a first time visitor or a returning veteran. The organizers go out of the way to make your stay as eventful and convenient as possible. From the airport to the city there are organized shuttle buses and guided tours of old town in Mdina, including visit to a historical dungeon with knights and figurines in medieval attire, depicting events of the past.

Mdina itself is located on a hill, overlooking large part of the island, including the festival location as well and is just a few minutes car ride away. Perfect! Last year we even took small break from the party, drove over, had a pizza at midnight in a moonlit medieval town square, and drove back to the dance floor, all within some 30min and it was incredible.

Mdina, Malta, Foto von GirlvsGlobe86

There is an official website of the festival itself, but I do recommend you follow their FB pages for frequent updates and detailed info and timings of the whole program. Did I mention that the graphic design of the event is also very pretty and purple? Here important to mention that Dark Malta allows you to pre-order any festival merch in advance and in your size, available for pickup during the event, so that was another great touch how much the event values its visitors.

Another important conclusion of DM for me is that it is not such an event where you want to go big on a fancy layered outfit, but opt for shorter, more comfy clothes, and rather do bigger more intricate makeup and you’ll feel right at home. That will also help to make your day-time pre-party activities more comfortable. In the practical sense of things this also significantly eases your travelling and helps to reduce your luggage volume.

The festival itself takes places in Gianpulla village, which is a complex of many clubs, outdoor eating, tall palm trees, cuddly stray cats and most importantly: rooftop SWIMMING POOLS! So here I must mention one major advantage point that sets Dark Malta instantly ahead of most other festivals and it is the gothic pool party. I have only seen something remotely like it in the old Marilyn Manson video back when MTV still played music. Dark Malta pool party starts at noon and goes well into the evening, which makes it challenging to see earlier bands, because I can guarantee, you wouldn’t want to leave and God forbid, get dry. First bands start playing around 15:00-16:00 h, and many in the audience are partying in their pool gear and towels, so as soon as the gig’s over, we can rush back upstairs into EBM waters. At the pool there are DJs and a bar, overviewing the territory with its beautiful palm trees and Mdina old town, raised majestically on a hill. With great danceable music, beautiful people, pool splashing and non-stop dancing, this is the most pure non-edible medicine for our tormented dark souls. Whilst festival goes over 3 days, the pool party only happens on 2, and it is worth every minute of the early wake-up after the partying until early morning hours the day before. Whilst all dress-codes here are valid and acceptable, I found that casual swimwear and easy to slip on rubber shoes made the experience that much more enjoyable. Large sunglasses and extravagantly oversized hats have never been more appropriate, take note, my fellow darklings.

FESTIVAL PHOTOS HERE

The Batcave @ Dark Malta pool party

And partying point is another major score for Dark Malta and that is its DJs. Often we’ve seen that DJs are simply fillers in between the main acts of the festival, kind of some background music that no one really notices. But here it is a whole new level of awesome mixes and transitions, and again, very danceable tracks that keep you glued to the dance floor. Good thing the bars are located right next to them, so you’re just two stomps away from a very reasonably priced cocktail or a board of group shots.

One downpoint is a very limited choice of food on site, in fact just one burger stand in the party village. Considering the diverse dietary needs of the modern goth scene, I would recommend to add one or two trucks with more vegan-friendly options so that leaving the festival premises is not necessary. Which leads to another point, the transportation. I stayed in Malta for exactly a week and during this time we shared a rented car with 3 other friends. At the end it was a bit more than 50 € per person for this whole period and it saved us a lot of time and trouble traveling around. Malta is most convenient by car (keep in mind, British way of left-side driving), especially at the late/early festival hours. Yes, that does mean that one of you will have to be the reasonable designated driver, but it does make the overall experience much nicer, easier and safer. Outside of the festival we also used the car to see more remote local sites, caves, harbors and old fishing villages, so it was totally worth it and most likely won’t be possible by just public transport.

Bands-wise, Dark Malta offers a good mix of different genres, interspersed with local acts.
Did I mention that on the festival grounds there are also two market places with local painters, handcrafts and pretty gothic accessories and merch? I liked the selection variety of less generic things you usually would find at such events and more unique little trinkets, esoteric supplies and artworks.

Suicide Commando @ Dark Malta (3)

As about the bands, here I must say I foremost enjoyed the size of the venue and the experience it created. Since it is more of a clubbing location than an actual concert hall, the overall feel is a lot more intimate and secluded. You are not drowning in a massive crowd, you can still dance comfortably even in the first rows and given the raised levelled dancefloor, you can have a good view of the stage even from the furthest back. And it still feels like a smaller more exclusive concert and not like a huge faceless event. You can leave your frontal spot to go to the bar, then come back right in and still have a good clear view. Thus seeing Front 242 perform, who are currently upon their farewell tour, was very personal and emotional, and I could enjoy the show with a very good view, at an eye-contact level to the band. That was very special and memorable, especially seeing how their mainland farewell concerts are long sold out.

Psyclon Nine @ Dark Malta (1)

The major highlight of the festival was the much anticipated gig of the American horror industrialists Psyclon Nine. They are a rare goth bird to grace European stages, so seeing them live in Malta, of all places, was an extra special treat. Nero delivered 100%, both visually and acoustically, keeping their audience in a trance if only for too short and everyone wished for a longer set.

One disappointment for me personally was Grendel: Their songs are nice on an EBM dancefloor, but live this act is no longer really exciting and becoming more visually awkward. There is just much too much unnecessary proclamations in-between songs with what feels like an over-acted anger, that really breaks the mood and the natural flow of the harsh EBM tunes. Instead, the band should focus on their songs and audio arrangements. Less speaking, more music, please, Grendel.

On a more traditional note, having also some older school gothic acts, like those of Pink Turns Blue and Lebanon Hannover was very nice as well, very atmospheric and mood-setting. However surreal as soon as you step outside for some air and realize you’re somewhere far away, surrounded by seas and palm trees… I just couldn’t grasp the whole time, where I am and what is going on, but can I please never wake up…

Ost+Front @ Dark Malta (6)

My own personal highlight was Ost+Front and their unique industrial horror show, that again was so fun and inspiring to watch on such close quarters and dance to every single beat whilst admiring the visual concept of the band’s stage look. And now I can’t help but secretly pray and hope that the organizers of Dark Malta will invite Turmion Kätilöt next year and bring this bundle of messy industrial happiness to the Mediterranean goths 😍 And also, Inkubus Sukkubus and Isolated Youth would be amazing, too, just saying. It’s just this kind of festival that I can imagine all most diverse goths would find something they love or can dance too and still feel comfortable and inspired to party.

Die Krupps and Suicide Commando  (start photo) were good and classic headliners to the more electro and dance-infused sector of the festival, to keep us moving and singing along to every track. SC is always a good show, however predictable, but just as captivating, be it raising the sharp issues of the currently turmoiled world or simply keeping us dancing like maniacs and screaming to every lyric and letting our steam off, take your pick. And again, in such a venue that ever concert was of a size as if it was arranged for me personally just for tonight ❤️

Overall, this is an excellent event, and even more so when you consider the price-value ratio. RyanAir offers very decent flights that you can manage with very limited baggage (see my clothing commentary above). There are endless accommodation options, ranging between single room hotel stays to shared apartments, all within reasonable distance to Mdina. Car rentals are ok, too, as well as local eating out, given the location and time of the year. So if you don’t leave your bookings until too last minute, you can get an excellent holiday AND festival experience on a very good budget and in the most unique geography yet. About a week is a good enough time to get your first impression, but of course a few more days won’t harm either. There are endless possibilities for local exploration, like boat tours, active water sports, old dungeons and catacombs, under city tunnels, locations of famous films (Game of Thrones and Popeye among the most famous) and culinary delights (so much octopus!) – just to name a few, but there is a lot more. So pack your swimsuit or two, a couple of light goth outfits and an UK/EU electro adapter, and see you in Malta in 2025!

The next edition of the festival is 25-26-27 April 2025. Mark your calendars!

Dark Malta Festival website

Journalist: Marina Minkler
Festivalphotos by Luc Luyten / Who Cares Photography

GastmitarbeiterInnen / guest contributions

Regular guest contributors e.g. Melanie Kircher, Tatjana Tattis Murschel, Grit Kabiersch, Marina Minkler, Jasmine Frey, Maria Levin, Elvira Visser, Nina Ratavaara, John Wisniewski