The island hoping to be 2020’s festival hotspot

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What could have been… festival season in the UK was cancelled in 2020

In a parallel universe, festival season is in full swing, while flights to Mallorca and Ibiza are filled with Brits ready to hit the clubs.

But most of those clubs are closed.

And while the coronavirus pandemic has ruined many plans for the summer, one country has spotted an opportunity.

Four music festivals are planned in Malta over the next few months.

The line-ups are full of British artists like Chase and Status, Aitch, AJ Tracey and Fatboy Slim, with their social media targeting people in the UK with information on flight prices.

Malta has a population of 450,000 and has had 701 coronavirus cases and nine deaths.

The country relies heavily on tourism, with about half a million Brits visiting every year. It’s now on the government’s green light travel list.

But unsurprisingly, there are concerns about what might happen if loads of people pile onto the island.

Rhythm + Waves, Escape 2 the Island, the BPM Festival and Mi Casa are all being advertised online.

Another festival on the island, Back to the Future, was cancelled due to low ticket sales.

DJs Friction and Eats Everything told Radio 1 Newsbeat they signed up because of assurances they have been given about safety.

The company running the festivals says Malta residents are happy to welcome British people.

“Tourism plays a very important role in our economy,” says Nicky Spiteri, who runs 365 Entertainment.

“Hotels, restaurants, taxi drivers and clubs are welcoming these festivals – it can save their season.”

His company has been putting on events in Malta for over 20 years, including Annie Mac’s Lost and Found Festival and Creamfields Malta.

Nicky says he’s been working with the government to bring in a number of safety measures – like temperature checks on arrival, sanitisation stations and steps to keep two metre social distancing at all times.

“Uno [one of the festival venues] has a capacity of 8,000 but we’re going to have a field adjacent to it, which can take up to 20,000 people with chill out areas and food areas – so basically a capacity space of 28,000 for 9,000 ticketholders.”

He says there will be about five or six stages per event to make sure people are well spaced out too.

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Is it possible to socially distance in a crowd?

But 22-year-old Stef, who lives on the island, isn’t entirely convinced.

“I know how paranoid I was in lockdown and just stayed home for around two and a half months and I don’t want to go back to that, especially in this hot weather,” she says.

Steff thinks she’d feel a lot safer if people were tested at the airport and then had to isolate until getting their result – but understands why they want to come.

“Our main economy depends on tourism, so having tourists back will be very beneficial to Malta, so I completely get why the airport has reopened to people from high risk countries as well.”

‘Hopefully it’s not Fyre Festival version two’

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Barnaby Simms

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Barnaby (middle) and his friends were looking forward to another summer of festivals

And for every person expressing their doubts, there’s someone willing to book a flight and see what happens.

Like Barnaby from Bristol.

The 21-year-old had tickets to Boomtown and El Dorado this summer but is now going to Rhythm and Waves in Malta.

“We saw a few DJs posting on Instagram about it and I was chatting to my friend and thought we’d risk it and go – hopefully it’s not going to be Fyre Festival version two,” he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

That’s a reference to the disastrous festival in 2017, where tickets cost up to £75,000 with the promise of a glamorous party on a deserted island in the Bahamas. Instead, people turned up to mattresses on rain-soaked floors, meals of cheese slices on bread and their luggage thrown into a unlit car park.

“The line-up [in Malta] seems too good to be true – probably one of the best I’ve seen but I’ve saved a lot of money this year so let’s hope it pays off,” says Barnaby.

He’s not worried about getting ill abroad and says he’s “more excited than nervous” to see what the festival is like.

‘I really feel for young ravers’

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Friction is set to play at a festival in Malta

One of the artists playing in Malta is drum and bass producer Friction.

He says he had to think carefully about agreeing to perform.

“With something like this you have to put your trust into the companies that are putting on these festivals.

“But you have to be vigilant and responsible yourself, especially when you work in an industry that involves getting together thousands of people.”

He also says he’s lucky to work with a team who aren’t “putting their wallets first” and instead will only book him for events in a safe environment.

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Eats Everything (right) says he feels sorry for people missing out on festivals

DJ and producer Eats Everything is also performing in Malta at Rhythm + Waves.

“The uncertainty of not knowing when festivals are going to start is an absolute nightmare for everyone – I really feel for all young ravers over the world,” he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

“For me it was an easy decision to play in Malta because the promoters I know that are working on this festival and other parties out there are the ultimate professionals.”

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