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Rokarja AST: The Heartbeat of Malta's Rock Revolution



In the early 1980s, a cultural renaissance began on the Tigne' promontory in Sliema, Malta, with the formation of Rokarja AST. This organization, spearheaded by Philip Pace, aimed to encourage, and support various cultural initiatives, most prominently establishing a vibrant music commune in the former British Army barracks. These barracks, with their thick, historical walls, soon resonated with the sounds of rock, punk, and metal, becoming a haven for musicians and fans alike.


Fort Tigne before it was turned into a cultural hub

Fort Tigné, located at Tigné Point in Sliema, Malta, is a polygonal fort constructed by the Order of Saint John between 1793 and 1795 to defend the entrance to Marsamxett Harbour. As one of the oldest polygonal forts worldwide, it underwent significant modifications by the British in the 19th century and continued to serve military purposes until 1979.


Rokarja AST's journey began with the transformation of the ex-ammunition depot in the fort into a rehearsal space. The first band to occupy this space was the punk outfit Abstrass, followed swiftly by the hard rock band Acid. These initial occupants set the tone for the diverse musical experimentation that would define the community.


The bands forming part of the AST community were given numerous opportunities to perform live. The former St. Luke's Chapel, situated on the edge of the barracks, was renamed Ċentru Ħin Ħieles (Free Time Centre). This venue, along with other spaces within the barracks, including a stretch of land large enough for outdoor concerts overlooking Marsamxett Harbour, became central to the AST experience. The chapel and the outdoor concert area hosted a variety of events, from intimate performances to large gatherings, drawing crowds who came to experience the energetic and eclectic music scene.


The AST community played a vital role in the Maltese music scene, spawning numerous bands that would go on to become staples of the local music landscape.Some of the bands


CHI-2

that were part of Rokarja AST at various points include 43 Ltd, Abstrass, Access, Acid, Artwork, Asgard, Atlam, B3, Blind Distress, Chi-2, Dance The Ghost, Davy Jones Band, Export, Fluid, General Lee, Gone Bonkers, Hangover, Kraken, Man and White, Members Only, Overdose, Passion Blade, Prinz Eugene, Red Led, Resumb, Rough Trade, Sphinx, Shaktonyx, Something In Ash, Structure, Subverts, Talisman, The Faith, The Joy Circuit, The Ophidian Twin, The Rifffs, Valdacry and Witchcraft.


Overdose

The community orchestrated a series of unforgettable events that have achieved legendary status among attendees. Among the most notable were three concerts: the performance by Subverts and Hangover on Friday, 18 March 1983; the show featuring Overdose and Acid on Saturday, 28 May 1983; and the triple bill with Davy Jones, Tony Grimaud, and Atlam at Tigne Chapel on Saturday, 9 July 1983. Tigné also hosted one of the most attended gigs on the island during Maltafest on August 9 and 10, 1985. Headlined by Nazareth, the festival featured performances by Acid, Prinz Eugen, Fluid, Witchcraft, Spectres, Structure, and Subverts. In 1986 Gloria Gaynor attracted the same amount when she headlined that year’s edition.

Subverts (1984) Gloria Gaynor (1986)

The decline of the association began when rehearsal spaces were frequently broken into and equipment was stolen or set on fire, leading some bands to seek more secure locations. This disruption caused some bands to split up or go on hiatus, which may have also contributed to the downturn of the rock and metal music scene experienced in the late 90s.

During the early 2000s, the area underwent redevelopment that transformed it beyond recognition, becoming yet another casualty of modernization and so-called 'progress.'



Decades after its inception, Rokarja AST's legacy was celebrated with a reunion. On Saturday, 31 March 2012, former band members, roadies, relatives, and friends gathered at the Black Pearl in Ta' Xbiex. Coordinated by Philip Pace, Mark Mallia, Joe Paris, Sonya Tanti, and Paul Spiteri, this event marked 30 years of AST. Michael Bugeja and Michelle Sullivan provided playlists throughout the evening, and 12th Ode, including some former Rokarja musicians, played a live set of classic rock covers.


Following the reunion, Philip Pace and Mark Mallia were interviewed by Noel Mifsud on his One Radio show "Rock Moods" on Thursday, 12 April 2012. They revealed that a second reunion event took place on Monday, 30 April 2012, featuring the band Colourblind.

During its heyday, the Tigne Barracks were more than just a collection of rehearsal spaces; they were a bustling rock village. Musicians and fans practically lived there, immersed in a mix of rock, punk, new wave, goth, metal, and alternative music. Entering the village, one could hear a symphony of different sounds and feel the powerful, positive energy. The community's concerts, both indoor at the old chapel and outdoor with the stunning backdrop of the port and open sea, were mind-blowing experiences that left a lasting impression on all who attended.

Rokarja AST's influence on the Maltese music scene in the 1980s was profound and far-reaching. Its creation of a supportive and dynamic environment for musicians fostered a sense of community and artistic freedom that continues to be remembered and celebrated. Through its unique blend of historical setting and innovative spirit, Rokarja AST remains a shining example of cultural and musical collaboration.







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