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Travel

The rave caves of Malta: Exploring where live music began

@TomTaylorFO

During the pandemic, the importance of music was amplified. The reality dawned on its essential places in our daily lives. In truth this has always been the case, in fact, it goes back even further than many will imagine. The simple itch for exultation that music scratches is somewhat of an evolutionary trope that even early man was entertaining.

The tiny sun-baked spec of Malta is an oddity in a myriad of ways. Its cultural scope far outstrips its size—you could jog across it in both directions and yet it engulfs you as a visitor like some long-lost expanse where a bohemian paradise has inexplicably been clobbered into the unruly cliffs.

The artfully crumbling café scene of the capital Valletta is like something plucked straight from the idealised imaginings of Leonard Cohen. It simultaneously has the beguiling air of some sepia-toned sanctuary for Ernest Hemmingway and the likes, but the rugged vitality of the landscape also makes it possible that James Bond might disturb the peace any second with a hair-raising motorbike chase through the winding serpentine streets.

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In amongst Europe’s smallest capital, there is perhaps the highest concentration of things to do in the world. It is likely, however, that you won’t do all that many of them as the allure of a cold beer and soft seat under the high North African sun proves to out proposition the draw of sightseeing and activities. The same contented acquiesce to inaction cannot be said of our ancient ancestors who got busy in Malta in Stone Age raves. 

Lingering beyond the baroque architecture are caves that take the mind back to a time long before the antiquity of the chic and stylish bars and coffee houses. These caves are no ordinary damp island orifices, in a mind-bending way they are proof that humans have always savoured culture. And much like the invention of stereo-sound around 2 million days later, we have coupled it with engineering to take exultation to ingenious levels.

In 4000BC the caves of Malta or more specifically the so-called Oracle Chambers were the sites of many things, but perhaps most notably, man’s first raves. The structure of these caves were chiselled and honed to a metaphysical intent. While studies and tests by white-lab-coat clad scientists might have brought validity to theories in recent times, the boom and aura of such spaces are self-evident even to a Far Out fool. It just so happens, that our ancient ancestors picked out places with acoustic properties that even The Royal Albert Hall could only dream of and they put them to good intent.

In these sacred ground, bones, artefacts and other oddities got the minds of archaeologists racing. Around the world, ancient pelts have been discovered with animal teeth tied to clothes to work as rattlers. As researcher Riitta Rainio said: “Wearing such rattlers while dancing makes it easier to immerse yourself in the soundscape, eventually letting the sound and rhythm take control of your movements. It is as if the dancer is led in the dance by someone.”

It would seem that in Malta, it was the first time that such experimental raves had the perfect venue to match. In Harry Sword’s book The Monolithic Undertow, he chats to an auditory archaeologist about the Malta caves. Dr Rupert Till remarks: “We had somebody who had a very deep bass voice and when he was speaking the whole area was literally ringing around him. This was clearly a space where ritual activity would’ve taken place.” In a place, where bass notes can naturally reverberate for 14 seconds, the hubbub of cafes and electric fans up above are long forgotten. 

And this is an ancient heritage that is slowly being reabsorbed into the culture of the island. Not only are these prehistoric Hypogeum’s open to the public, but new festivals are taking place in caves to recapture the primordial drive for salvation. Events such as the Dancing Astronaut are combing with age-old island festivals to bring live music back to Malta’s caves. As the event boasts: “If you’re looking to take a breather from the cocktails and beats, however, over 6,000 years of ruins and history make exploring Gozo as rich as it is beautiful. With destination festivals and getaway events being hotter than ever, the Carnival in Malta and Gozo is the ideal option to shake away your mid-winter woes.”

In Malta, the past never seems too far from the present. Away from the powerful resonance of the Oracle Chambers is a city that bustles along with an aura of the sweet by-and-by at the forefront. Stone Age rave caves or the quaint charm of something akin to a beer commercial, Malta is a place that takes preserving cultural history to extreme new heights and resides as the short-break gem of the Mediterranean as a result.  

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