An unplanned summer trip lead us to Malta, an island in Eastern Europe, which is also one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries. This stunning island has a rich historical heritage, wonderful landscape and sandy beaches. The expression »Ibiza for Poor« has been whispered around, and we were wondering if there is something to it. With not knowing much about its oriental culture and the island, luckily its people spoke to us with no hesitation.
For some that may not know, Malta (with 500.000 official residents) is a tiny Mediterranean island, that was ruled by many in the past (Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, French for a short period and English). Signs form the British empire are still very noticeable among its oriental vibe and architecture from ancient Roman times, red phone booths and litterboxes are some sorts of intruders. The half-million population are squshed on just 316 square meters – for comparison: Ibiza has 571,6 square meters of surface and is inhabited by 132.000, so you get the filling.
Besides sightseeing and relaxing we wanted to explore the Maltese night-life as well and that's where we meet our interlocutor and host, Dean Demanuele. A day of wondering around was enough to notice, that Paceville San Antonio on Ibiza. But what about the underground culture? With Sweely, Khen, Jus-Ed, &Me playing amost in one weekend in different places, is Malta maybe the hidden jam of Europe? We've met a local producer, DJ and label owner, Dean Demanuele who became our host through the weekend.
These last few years have seen the rise of Dean who's been regularly performing in clubs and festivals around the world. After releasing music on the likes of Mobilee, Einmusika, Snatch!, Bedrock, Tenampa and his own Dazed & Confused Records, Dean has paved his way from being an islander to a solid name in just a couple of years. His music has been played and praised by world-class DJs such as Luciano, Laurent Garnier, Maceo Plex, Richie Hawtin, John Digweed, Anja Schneider, Loco Dice and many more.
We first joined Dean at the Liquid club where we've had a privilege of listening Jus-Ed in a bit more intimate climate before going to Marrakech club for one of Dean's Panthera nights where we talked about Malta, his projects, Berlin and a lot more.
Hi, Dean. Not many people are familiar with the clubbing scene on Malta. We already experienced Liquid Club and Marrakech Club but can you maybe tell us a bit more about the clubbing scene on the island?
Well, the scene here is running for a long time now. Especially this club, Gianpula Club, has been open for 35 years already. The thing is, music evolves, new people are coming in and with the underground scene, I think it is moving in the right direction.
We’re getting quite a lot of good international acts here and we’re trying to create a good movement where music is the priority and it’s not about money and all these flashy things.
We quickly noticed that Malta is almost like a melting pot of different cultures. From the UK, Italy, France and all the way to Northern Africa, India and even Asia. Does this mixture of cultures influences electronic music as well?
Yes, I think so. Especially since you can find a lot of international DJs that are living here. For example, Guy J and Robert Babicz are both living here so they kind of brought here their inspiration and this in a way reflects through their music.
Malta is quite a small island but at the same time there’s a lot of people with different backgrounds involved in the music scene and that’s why we have a lot of variety, which is good I think.
Let's talk a bit about your recent project Panthera. You’ve started it earlier this year with a group of friends and you’ve already hosted some great names including M.A.N.D.Y. and Guy Mantzur. What’s the idea behind it?
Exactly. Panthera is a new summer-only concept that I’ve started with two friends of mine who are also DJs, Denis and Ramzi. We’re three local artists who happen to play similar music and one day we simply came together and said, you know, we need to make a movement! Our recent guest &ME has been one of my favourite producers for quite a while now so it was somehow logical to try and bring him here…
… Why are parties on Sunday?
The thing is that in Malta, this culture of Sunday events has been present for a while now. For this kind of underground scene, late-night Sunday is in our opinion the perfect time to do it. We might change it eventually, maybe next year, but for the first season, we thought Sunday night would be perfect. Also, going out on Sunday isn’t really a typical party so it almost feels like an after-party.
You’re also the owner of Dazed & Confused Records where you’ve recently released your solo EP, which is also label's first vinyl release. Could you take us through this EP and maybe explain why you decided to release it on vinyl as well?
I wanted to add vinyl for a very long time but the thing is that I wanted to wait for the perfect time. A few years back, vinyl wasn’t doing as good as it’s doing now so I was a bit cautious but with “Grey Game” EP the timing was perfect. The promotion was there and the feedback was really good as well. This was labels 24th release so we really took time to nurture our followers and getting them interested in music so they’d grab our new releases once they’re out.
On top of that, I simply wanted to do something different. It would almost be a dream for me to be able to put every release on vinyl but at the same time, it’s quite expensive and time-consuming.
Most of your tracks include lots of organic elements built into a techy groove, which also includes some sort of melodic part. Somehow we could say that your sound reflects the environment that you are living in. How would you describe the “Maltese” sound if there even exist one?
The thing is that the “Maltese” scene is very progressive let say. Even when it comes to African elements, there’s still this progressive synths sound that I always loved.
On the other hand, I lived in Berlin for three years so I think you can hear this influence as well. I was always into dark melodic stuff and in a way I’ve managed to craft my own unique sound I guess.
Since your debut release back in 2010, you’ve managed to release tunes on some notable labels such as Bedrock, Snatch!, Tenampa and Mobilee. We’ve also noticed that you’ve had quite a few collaborations with Lee Van Dowski. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with him?
During my stay in Berlin, I did use to come often to Malta, either on holidays or to visit my family. I was always trying to find the excuse to come here. During one of the stays, I was working with a guy who did some stuff for Cadenza and Lee was a part of them. He was booked to play on the island and I was showing him around, we partied together, ... We simply clicked. We exchanged some music and decided to do some projects together. As soon as we hit the studio, we really got into the right mood and we managed to do something like 30 tracks in one year. We haven’t released all of them, only the ones we felt were the best.
After this period, our lives and careers went a bit into separate ways. He started touring a lot more, I was still trying to find my place, wanted to get back to Malta but overall, we’re still very good friends. I also wanted to keep on working on solo projects. It was a very interesting period of time where I’ve also learnt a lot from him.
As you’ve mentioned above, you’ve lived in Berlin for a few years. Why did you decide to take this move and to come back to Malta afterwards?
I went to Berlin around 6 years ago. I wanted to learn more and to meet new people from the music industry. That was the main thing. Here in Malta, since we’re quite small, we don’t really have the music industry so it was quite hard to learn and understand how everything works. I had a good friend there already and he helped me meet a lot of people such as Alex Niegemann and I was really learning a lot. You know, coming from Malta, you really can’t understand how it works.
After that, I’ve decided to come back to Malta. I wanted to bring the knowledge back here. I know that we have big potential on the island and that’s why I always wanted to get back. I’m also born Maltese, my friends and family live here so I guess it was kind of a logical step to move back home.
Since you’re both DJ and producer, what do you prefer more, if anything?
It’s funny because, during the first years, I was only a producer. I was playing live set with my original stuff only. Since last few years, I’ve decided to DJ as well and it opened a whole new world where I also found it very healthy to produce. When I was doing live shows, I got stuck in a bubble lets say, where I was doing just my own stuff and it becomes stagnant.
But as soon as I started DJ, I became more creative, I’ve interacted with the crowd more and I’ve analyzed things differently. That gave me more room and space and that changed my music.
What are your future plans and goals?
For this summer I’ve planned to stick with Panthera for the whole season. Of course, there will be few events in between. I’ve just been to Pisa in Italy for instance. As soon as the summer season stops, I’ll start touring around. I’ll go to ADE, Hamburg, Zurich, just to mention a few places. We’re trying to arrange some parties in US and Australia as well. You know, I’m trying to enjoy my summer here in Malta and then travel during the winter.
The label will have around 7 or 8 releases in the whole year. All releases will have pretty much similar concept when talking about design and artwork. We’ve just had an EP out from Italian producer ARTF and there will be a VA compilation following. I always try to put out music constantly and match releases with label showcases where we can promote music.
Overall It’s really a lot of work and I’m happy to have a nice group of people helping me arranging all projects. There are five people who are running my tour, label and the agency. Without them, I can’t really do much on my own. It’s not a one-man job.
Where would you like to see the local electronic music scene evolve in the following years? Do you think that Malta could become the next “go-to” party destination when we talk about underground electronic music?
I believe it can. I don’t think it can become something like Ibiza but I think it can become more like Croatia. There’re a lot of parties and events, especially during the summer.
We don’t have super huge parties every day rather there are more intimate events. There are a lot of good clubs and venues for sure. On top of that, you can enjoy the weather, sun, beach, nice food and overall the summer on all aspects.