“I’ve never seen this many goths out in the wild,” says Oli Sykes with a grin, onstage at Bring Me The Horizon’s weekender in Malta. Dubbed Emo Coachella by fans, the Sheffield metallers have taken over Gianpula – Malta’s number one clubbing destination – for a four-day festival featuring two BMTH sets. There are also appearances from long-standing friends (Beartooth, While She Sleeps, Bullet For My Valentine) and the acts they believe are the scene’s future (Spiritbox, Static Dress, Nova Twins).
As you’d expect, there are moshpits aplenty, but this isn’t your typical rock festival. At night, DJ sets giddily mash-up nu-metal classics with iconic ‘90s pop songs, while BMTH use their time behind the decks to debut the new song ‘Strangers’. Alongside the two days of live music, there’s also a variety of pool and boat parties (ever seen a circle pit in a swimming pool?) and a selection of themed cocktails, while the band’s Jordan Fish and Lee Malia lean into the holiday spirit and don a pair of sparkly golden jackets for some mid-afternoon bingo. Butlins, eat your heart out.
“We got presented the idea and thought, ‘Let’s go for it’. We like to do things that are a bit different,” Sykes tells NME backstage at the festival. “Music is the last true, emotionally-fulfilling escape in the world. It’s tribal. Any way you can make that special or do things differently than your standard tour, why wouldn’t you? You look around the site today and you know you’re with your people. You know you belong.”
As with anything new, though, there were concerns. “I was worried this was going to be a heavy metal Fyre Festival,” the frontman jokingly tells the crowd on Friday night, but the next day, he admits those worries were real, as well as an “apprehension” whether people would travel all the way to Malta to see them. “But it sounded really cool, so we gave it a shot and it seems to be working out,” he says.
Sure, production company Pollen probably needed better communication with fans in the run-up to the event (logistical questions were left unanswered for aeons while ticket delivery ran dangerously close to the wire), but once it started, the weekender went off without a hitch. “Yesterday was the best day of my life,” one fan tells us back at the hotel on Saturday morning, noticing our matching wristbands. She has no idea how she will do it all again today, but a few hours of relaxing by the pool seem to be the answer. Well, it beats a warm cider.
“It’s set up like a festival, but it feels different ‘cos it’s a whole celebration of Bring Me The Horizon. It feels like a family club,” says Nova Twins’ Georgia South, fresh from their jaw-dropping set on Saturday. “We love that band. We loved touring with them, we loved recording with them, and to come and play with them in Malta – who would say no?”
Bring Me The Horizon might not be the first musical artist you think of when you think of a Mediterranean weekender. That niche is usually reserved for dance music – Gianpula Village will play host to the electronic-focused World Club Dome and Glitch festivals later this summer and it proudly boasts the title of 54th best clubbing village in the world. Yet all 6,000 of the tickets for the Sheffield band’s event sold out on the first day of release, and no one was more surprised than Sykes himself.
For years, Bring Me The Horizon were the outsiders of British rock with their ambitious, scrappy take on metalcore. They’ve struggled to get to where they are today – an arena-selling force set to headline Reading & Leeds Festivals for the first time in August.
“Those years scarred us,” Sykes says in a quiet, dungeon-like room on the festival site. “We didn’t know if anyone would come because, in our heads, we don’t have fans, and everyone hates us. We never feel safe, we never feel like we’ve made it, and we certainly never feel like a big band.”
“You look around the site today and you know you’re with your people. You know you belong” – Oli Sykes, Bring Me The Horizon
Even huge milestones like their sold-out arena tour last September (which included a gig at London’s The O2 that NME called “a spectacular cyber-punk circus”) came with doubts. “I just had this voice in my head saying, ‘People just want to see a show after lockdown’,” explains Sykes, who’s since spent some time trying to “unlearn” that negativity. Onstage on Friday night, he takes a moment to embrace the positives and “appreciate that this is wild and that all these people are here for you”. “It’s a very real community,” he says the next day. “Last night, that negative voice in my head couldn’t dispute that.”
That first headline set of the weekend sees Bring Me The Horizon rework that ambitious 2021 arena tour, ready for the busy festival season that’s rapidly approaching. Pulling heavily from 2020’s brilliant ‘Post Human: Survival Horror’ alongside choice cuts from ‘That’s The Spirit’ and ‘Amo’, the 90-minute set was a celebration of what Bring Me The Horizon have become – the biggest and boldest metal band to come out of the UK in decades.
Progressive post-hardcore band Static Dress kick the whole weekend off with a typically frantic, fiery set that also marks their first-ever international show. When vocalist Oli Appleyard was barely a teenager, he saw Bring Me The Horizon in some grubby venue in Hull, which was a hugely formative experience. He describes today as a “full circle moment”, and while the two bands pull from different genres, Bring Me still influence what Static Dress do.
“They’ve always just done what they’ve wanted and not worried about the impact it will cause to any pre-existing ideas of the band,” Appleyard says. “There’s a reason why they’re one of the biggest rock bands, and it’s because they’re not playing a game. They do something, and others follow. That all started with them taking risks. The fact they’ve physically moved people around the world for this festival – that’s inspiring as hell.”
“They’re the band that raised the bar for metalcore,” explains Courtney LaPlante from Canadian heavy metal group Spiritbox. “In that genre, the ceiling is usually pretty low, and I think a lot of metal bands are very comfortable doing the same things as everyone else. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – I love seeing a band who’ve been around for 30 years playing to three generations of fans, but Bring Me The Horizon speak to my dreams a lot more.”
She cites everything from the group’s onstage production to “how they push musical boundaries”, their aesthetic to “how they reinvent themselves” as factors that all transcend genre: “That’s all very inspiring to a band like ours.”
The festival’s second night sees Bring Me The Horizon perform a “throwback” set of tracks from their first four records. Rather than a nostalgic trip down memory lane, though, it’s a guest-filled celebration of the whole community. Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo comes out for the rebellious ‘Antivist’, While She Sleeps’ Loz Taylor joins in for ‘Empire’, Appleyard takes to the stage for ‘Alligator Blood’, and LaPlante kicks things off with ‘Chelsea Smile’. The whole thing is incredibly special, a coronation of the scene instead of one band.
“It’s a co-sign and that’s so cool,” says LaPlante, shortly before she takes to the stage. “I’ve had the best time this weekend just watching other bands. Our set was sick and it feels like everyone is on the same page. This festival is full of people I don’t feel like we need to explain ourselves to. We’re all just weirdos that like making weird shit.”
“Band culture is so weird,” adds Appleyard. “Most don’t want others to succeed, which is weird as hell because they’re going to get too old to do this one day. You don’t want to be that 56-year-old dude still clinging onto the glory of an album you made when you were 20, but Bring Me The Horizon really welcomes the next generation.”
“Bring Me The Horizon reaching out to us to be on [‘Survival Horror’ track] ‘1×1’ meant so much to us,” says Nova Twins’ Amy Love. “We’d just released our debut album but couldn’t tour it because of lockdown, so to have the support of a big band like Bring Me and to be on a record with BabyMetal, Amy Lee and Yungblud was so good. It’s great they’ve got their ear to the ground, and it’s never about numbers with them – they like what they like.” Since that collaboration, the two bands have toured together across the UK. “To have a band like them doing all they can to bring up new bands means a lot for the scene and is good for the community. Sharing is caring and all that.”
That community spirit is very much the flavour of this weekender. The different bands and their families all hang out together backstage. The line-up has been carefully curated to reflect a progressive metal scene spearheaded by Bring Me. The atmosphere in the crowd is chaotic but friendly. Beartooth’s set sees the band out to “rip your faces off with high voltage rock and roll”, but during a speech about mental illness and self-empowerment, the circle pit stops churning as the audience stand arm-in-arm with one another; a spontaneous showing of solidarity and support.
“They’re the band that raised the bar for metalcore” – Courtney LaPlante, Spiritbox
The community around BMTH was taking shape before the festival even started. Beth knew she wanted to go when it was first announced, but none of her friends fancied it. So she tweeted, “Does anyone want to come with me” and 400 DMs later, a massive group chat formed. The fan-led BMTHMalta2022 Instagram page soon followed, acting as a hub of information and ensuring everyone felt safe and welcomed over the weekend. “We’re all completely new friends,” Beth tells NME, with people from Israel, Sweden and beyond all bonding over one band. Some even already have matching tattoos.
“It’s because they treat us like a family,” says Ren of why Bring Me have inspired such a dedicated, trusted following. “It’s the fans that make the musician and Bring Me The Horizon are really appreciative of that.”
“There’s a lot of like-minded people here,” adds Olly, who’s been watching the band since their early days. “The fact they’ve achieved mainstream success but this still feels very community-focused is very impressive. It’s very inclusive as well. Everyone’s been fucking lovely.”
A decade ago, Oli Sykes would have conversations with the rest of Bring Me The Horizon about the state of the scene. He knew that if the metal community got any smaller, the band would also shrink. “Music is a way of life,” he explains. “When rock and emo was at the forefront, there was so much of it about, and you could walk into a shop like Hot Topic and buy into the fashion. When that starts dying off, people go elsewhere. It doesn’t matter if there’s one really good band still doing it because it doesn’t make you feel part of anything bigger. I was worried.”
Despite the renewed advances of metal and emo in the wider world of late, the band’s frontman reasons that rock was “never meant to be mainstream”. Even so, things are looking good for the genre right now. “I know it feels like we’ve been saying rock’s coming back for ages now, but I really do think things are better than they’ve ever been. Not only has it made a comeback, but it’s far less gentrified than the early ‘00s scene and there are exciting bands doing their own thing that feel like the future – bands like Nova Twins, Spiritbox and Static Dress.”
Sykes knows that every generation of bands faces new struggles and points to Halsey’s recent claims that her label won’t let her release a new single unless they can score a viral moment on TikTok. “You have to be an actor, an entertainer, a musician and play the game,” Sykes sums up her point. “But that’s why I think it’s so important to support new artists. Take them on tour. Tell people about them. I’ve been doing loads of collabs and features [with the likes of Daine, Sigrid, Poorstacy and Ic3peak] because I genuinely love those artists and want to be a part of it.”
Fostering new acts is important not just for the artists themselves, he reasons, but for the scene: “You want to open the gates for people and invite them into becoming a rocker, but you almost have to show them all these reasons why. It can’t just be us. It’s so much better when there’s a whole circus of music, fashion and art. Things are way better when you’re not the only one.”
Bring Me The Horizon’s Malta weekender is a celebration of how far the Sheffield mob have come and the journey they’ve been on, but it’s also their way of celebrating and securing the future. Yes, the band still want to be the biggest and the best at what they do, but only if they’re blazing a path for others to follow.
“It was best to keep it simple this time, but, in the future, it would be cool to get even more creative with it,” Sykes says of the festival. “It does feel like something that we should make a habit out of doing.” As he puts to the crowd during their Saturday night set, “This whole weekend has been such a vibe. Thailand? The Bahamas? Amsterdam? Where do you want to go next?” As always with Bring Me The Horizon, the answer is wherever the hell they feel like.