Updated 12pm with ministry comment

Musicians have been left “devastated” with nowhere to go as a Birkirkara garage complex that has been used for decades as a rehearsal space is being sold off.

The five-floor complex known as ‘Rampol’ on Triq J. Borg has hosted dozens of bands since at least the early 2000s and many were renting the garages at a rate of around €850 a year.

But 21 garages were sold in April, with the asking price per garage ranging between €27,000 and €35,000.

The landlord of many of the garages, Polidano Group, says some of the garages in the complex will continue to be rented out to musicians but most of them have been sold or put up for sale.

Samwel Mallia, 32, who forms part of the rock group Eyes to Argus, said the garage he rented for seven years was sold last week.

“I feel devastated, saddened and angry because there is no awareness of the generations of alternative music that were cultivated at Rampol”, he said. “The owner has a right to sell, but the problem is there is no respect for individuals making music out of passion, not for profit.”

Bands were informed of the owner’s intention to sell by the complex’s administrator last summer.

The garages are not ideal but many bands still called them home.The garages are not ideal but many bands still called them home.

They were given the option to buy the garages and three months to vacate once they are sold. While some have considered purchasing them, not everyone has that luxury.

“If you don’t have that money, it kneecaps you,” Mallia said.

“Even though there is a thriving alternative music scene in Malta, it’s always hanging by a thread. There is no support for it,” he added.

“It’s hard to find an adequate practice space in Malta, so many found a corner for themselves in Birkirkara’s Rampol.”

Dozens of bands affected

The building offers space for about 50 bands to rehearse every week, as well as recording music.

Aidan Somers, a freelance producer and music teacher, converted the garage he rents into a recording studio 11 years ago. He has two months to find a new space after his garage was sold in April. 

“It is stressful; it’s going to be really hard to find something at a similar price,” he said. “I’m already trying to build my own business, which is hard enough. This adds spokes to the wheel.” 

Since renting out the garage, Somers has spent thousands of euro converting it to a studio. 

He will take his equipment, but the 26-year-old will lose out on the money he spent on things like wooden flooring and paint. 

“We’re now trying to speak to other musicians to find a shared space.” 

No respect for individuals making music out of passion

Even though the garages were not ideal for rehearsals, having no toilets for example, there was little option for affordable spaces elsewhere.

Samuel Xiberras, of The Violent Violets, was a teenager when he and his bandmates first rented the garage. 

The now 28-year-old told Times of Malta that he has until the end of the year to vacate after their garage was recently sold. 

“There are almost no garages in Malta you can use for rehearsals,” he said.

“Garages need to be a certain size, need a good power supply, and be far enough from residential areas so as not to disturb,” the drummer said, adding that rents are increasing quickly. 

“For bands, this is a massive problem; there is nowhere to go,” he said. 

A spokesperson for Polidano Group said the company has “in certain cases exercised its right as owner to sell garages in the complex leased to third parties” following the lapse of rental agreements. 

Polidano will also continue to rent out garages to several bands in the complex, the spokesperson said.

Many bands still call these garages home.Many bands still call these garages home.

Timeline of unfulfilled promises

In the past, the government has promised to dedicate rehearsal spaces to rock bands. 

The Labour Party’s 2013 electoral manifesto said that “an adequate location will be found where bands and Maltese artists can practise and rehearse”.

Shortly after the PL’s victory, singer William Mangion was given a one-year contract by the government as a coordinator for promoting local bands, specifically tasked with identifying places where they could rehearse, with no tangible results. 

An artist who preferred to remain anonymous said: “Willie Mangion’s fabled rehearsal space has become an ongoing joke among artists.”

In 2015, Culture Minister Owen Bonnici said band rehearsal spaces would be included in a Carnival Village that should be complete by 2018. 

Two years later, Bonnici said bands would be able to practise in a converted Luqa building dubbed “Rock Hub”. That project should have been ready by the end of 2019. 

Plans for the Carnival Village, announced for the first time a decade ago, were filed with the Planning Authority earlier this year. Those plans include 18 “rock band studios”.

“Years ago, we were promised rehearsal spaces, but they never came to be. That’s a clear example of how the alternative scene is never taken seriously,” Mallia said. 

Minister 'commited to finding solution'

In a statement, the minister said he was "committed to finding immediate solutions" to support musicians and "understands the hurt" felt by those who used the space.

"Firstly, the Ministry remains steadfast in its commitment to the development, by means of EU funding for which we have already applied, of the arts and culture hub project in Marsa that will not only mitigate and address the issue of the rehearsal spaces, but create new opportunities for artists from various genres to collaborate together," he said.

 "Secondly, with regards to the immediate term, we will be engaging with the relevant stakeholders, to find an equitable solution addressing the needs of our music community in the Rampol complex."

Bonnici said that the ministry had found solutions to other challenges in the cultural sector and is "confident" it can do so in this case.  

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