A photo of Axis from the early 90s that was recently doing the rounds on the web (thank you Mario Mifsud) brought on a dose of nostalgia so strong I could almost taste it. With everyone in jeans and a queue that went all the way up to the old Footloose, the photo screams of a different era (for a better feel of the ’80s/early ’90s era, check out this
video – oops, video removed because apparently people no longer view traffic being sent to their Youtube channel as a good thing – check out comments by video owner Roderick Micallef further down and see if you make any sense of what he is saying cos I sure as hell don’t). An era when Paceville was somewhat magical. Nowadays I hate the place and everything it’s become, of course. I put this down partly to age and partly to the fact that while 20 years ago it was new and shiny and smelt of adventure, today it smells solely of desperation.
But not between 1988 and 1994ish. Back then the concept of anything like Paceville was so totally new that even just catching the bus there was an adventure in itself. You could go there and just walk around and you would still get your entertainment fix. It is worth pointing out to anyone under the age of 30 who is reading this that if you think Malta is primitive now, in the 80s it would have been classified as a 4th world country. Paceville consisted of some four outlets and countless burger joints and a night out invariably covered these points:
1. Catching the 18:00 bus from Valletta to Paceville. That’s right, 18:00. We went out when it was still sunny. A bus journey to Paceville had a very particular vibe back then and the party started on the way there, with the bus radio on the top twenty and the driver (who was always the same guy) hitting on the girls. Somehow it wasn’t creepy, maybe because everyone knew each other. Or because that’s how naive we were.
2. Dashing to Axis to make it in time for the 18:30 laser show. But before that, we had to get past Ernest (the legendary bouncer) and the 2 policeman who stood between us and fun.Yep, that’s right: there used to be two policemen permanently stationed at EVERY bar or club in Paceville. Getting past the law was simple: you just needed to look like you were over 16 and relatively harmless. Ernest presented a much more formidable obstacle, particularly for the guys. If he didn’t like the look of you he would ask for your ID card. Then he would ask you to remove your ear rings. Then he would take a step back, look at you critically and shake his head while everyone in the queue behind you huffed and puffed and called you names. If you went on Ernest’s black list your only hope to make the grade the following week was to find yourself a real or pretend girlfriend. If you had a girl it was a guarantee that you wouldn’t be causing trouble because you would be too busy making out on the sofas upstairs.
Of course, you could bypass all this hassle and pretty much sail in without paying if you were Valletta born and bred, like Ernest. Which I was, luckily. Despite kicking off my Axis residency aged 14 (my parents were under the impression I was at the neo-katekumenali Saturday prayer meetings. Sorry, mum.) I was never once asked to produce an ID card and the officers didn’t even give me a glance as Ernest waved me inside.
3. Spending the first ten minutes in the loo counting the available cash for the night. We needed Lm1 for a burger and chips from the small place that used to be next to Alley and 45 cents for the Wembley ride back home. The rest (50 cents if I had saved enough during the week) could be spent on a Woodpecker’s cider. If we wanted a second free drink, smiling at the barman usually did the trick. Yes, they were different times indeed.
4. Heading to our usual spot to catch the laser show. This laser show was a pretty big deal in the 80s and was the biggest selling point for Axis. As soon as it was over I was off to be one of the cool kids who were the first to open the dance floor. Even this was a big deal. If you could face the floor for that first song (and there were only about five of us who could) then you were the undisputed ruler of Axis. Quite a promotion for the nerd of the class (which I also was, by the way). But this was precisely why Axis was so magical. You left your real life outside and for those three hours became whoever you wanted to be. All without having to show your cheeks in a slutty miniskirt.
5. Going out for a breather at about 20:00, right after Radiohead’s Creep came on. This was in the early ’90s obviously and another phenomenon of the days. The DJ would always follow the same timeline for particular songs. I knew that at 19:00 we’d get MC Hammer’s Cant Touch This. Half an hour later it’d be Bette Davis Eyes, followed by Black Velvet. Creep usually cleared the dance floor though I had developed my own particular moves for it. After that, it was burger time.
6. Going back for the last hour before the first session ended. At 22:30 Axis closed its doors for fifteen minutes and chucked everyone out. When it re-opened (to a mostly older crowd) you had to pay a higher entry fee than before, unless you were already stamped from the earlier session. It was only after I turned eighteen that my curfew extended to after ten thirty and I could actually experience the mysteries of “Axis wara l-hdax“. Yes, we had curfews back then.
7. If you actually pulled on the night, somewhere during all the above you made room for a good make out session on the sofas upstairs. This was even before the small dance floor was opened on the first floor and there was just a small bar and rows of sofas overlooking the main dance area. If things got too heavy the guy would get slapped by one of the roaming security guys and told to take things outside. Which usually meant the area at the back of the St George’s Park Hotel.
Different times that are obviously colored by the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. Things I miss from those days:
1. Going out at a reasonable hour. I hate having to wait until midnight strikes to go to a party. I get bored, tired and restless waiting until it’s “ok” to go out and end up not bothering most of the time.
2. The innocence. We were all oh so innocent and it had nothing to do with age. Not even the 20 year olds went round looking jaded, let alone the 13 year olds.
Things I don’t miss:
1.The fact that the innocence stemmed mostly from the fact that we had literally never been exposed to anything “fun” or “different” before.
2. The closed village mentality. I can’t say this has disappeared but at least it has been somewhat toned down.
3. The lack of diversity in entertainment options. There was Axis for the cool kids, Styx 1 for the hams, Paul’s Punchbowl for the nerds, Dewdrops for the more sophisticated souls, Ace of Clubs for the pool playing couples. Period. Not that Paceville today is the Valhalla of diversity but at least there are non-PV options too.
4. The horrible early 90s fashion. We used to go clubbing IN SHELL-SUIT AND LA GEAR SNEAKERS. Or if you were particularly fashion challenged, you teamed up your shell-suit with smart shoes. If you don’t know what a shell-suit is, count yourself lucky.
What are your favorite PV memories? For more nostalgia pieces click here (a celebration of one of the most iconic Italian TV adverts of all time) and here (for all those of you who miss the classic ’80s cartoons).