Story of a Song: I Can Feel - X Tend

When X-Tend released ‘I Can Feel’ in 1984, it was an immediate hit with Maltese radio playing it repeatedly alongside the likes songs by Depeche Mode, Human League and those of other new wave bands.  This is the story of how it came to be, told by those who worked on it.

As the 1970s came to an end, technological progress brought about a musical revolution.  The electronic synthesiser had been around since the early 1800s but suddenly it was available for  significantly cheaper than ever before.  Just as quickly it became a standard for new bands supplanting cheap electric guitars that had for so long been the staple for teenagers looking to set up garage bands.

“The Yamaha DX7 came with certain sounds pre-programmed in, using a form of different wave algorithm. Whilst that might seem basic today, it wasn’t the case then.  It was an incredible development.  Up till a few years earlier it was impossible to create those effects out of a studio so for us to be able to do what these synthesisers allowed us to do was incredible.”  

“The progress in technology was huge.”

For the best part of forty years Charles Dalli has been the front man of electro-pop outfit X-Tend with whom he was at the forefront of a musical revolution in Malta; one that was driven by the sounds of the synthesiser.
Driven by the music of early masters of Kraftwerk, music in Europe was increasingly being shaped by this instrument that had given rise to a new genre that was labelled new wave. 

Eventually that influence reached Malta and provided the blueprint that was to be followed by local musicians, including X-Tend.  Formed in 1984 by a group of friends who shared the desire for replicating new wave music, they came to include Dalli after a fortuitous meeting at his recording studio.  From the start it was clear that there was something special about this group as they rapidly went from performing in front of friends to taking part in then extremely popular “Passaporto per Sanremo”.

That, however, does not do full justice to what X-Tend signified at the time.  It is challenging to talk about music in different eras because it has be seen in the context of the time, rather than the present.  In conservative Malta of the early eighties, X-Tend were truly revolutionary both in look and sound.  They were a more glamorous extension of punk but, with their flowery shirts and use of make-up on men, not much less shocking.  

Music wise, here was a Maltese band that had somehow managed to replicate the sound most only heard coming out of British bands on the radio.  That might seem easy now, but it wasn’t the case back then.  There was no internet and if anyone needed to find out how others managed to play an instrument in a particular way, they had to experiment until they got there.

The increased affordability of synthesisers made it easier for young musicians to experiment with the new sounds, pushing back boundaries in the process.  In Malta X-Tend weren’t alone in doing so but they were among the first and they soon landed their first hit through ‘I Can Feel’.

 “I had recently gotten a Korg Polysix which I really liked.  To this day I still think that it is a fabulous instrument.  I always felt I could make good music with it”

“It had some unique sounds pre-programmed into it.  I started playing around with them and added the drumbox beat to give it rhythm.  I felt that I had something really interesting.  It would turn out that I had already developed the song’s arrangement.  Even the solo was already in place.”

Whilst the basic draft was in place it was the arrival of other band members that breathed live to it.

”By the time the others came along I had already been experimenting with the tunes at my studio.  It is always a bit tense when you play new music to others but fortunately they really liked it.    They agreed that it was good so we continued building it together.”

Their commitment to having as polished an end product as possible was something that set them apart.

“It went through a whole process.  Even though they’d liked it they pointed out what we could do differently; everyone pitching in with their ideas.  That’s how we always worked.  We were all free to share our views in order to improve our songs.  There was always the belief that we were helping each other out and people’s opinions were respected by all the rest.”

The band’s longevity (X-Tend have been together since the early 80s although elements of their lineup have changed) would have been shattered much earlier if this had not been the case.

“This was very important for us because in the end we could put out music that was much better than if only one person had worked on it.”

 “In a song where the whole group pitches in, different people’s characters end up being reflected in the music.”
The end result is a song that sounds very big and brooding.  There is a certain melancholy to it even if it is not a sad song in the traditional sense.  From the very start the driving beat grabs hold without letting for a single instance.   It is, in other words, a product of its era: ominous yet extremely danceable.

It also reflects Dalli’s influences.

 “I’ve always loved music that has a certain melody ever since I was young.  My favourites are the Beatles.  There are veritable treasures in their music.  To this day I can listen to their songs and notice new things.  It is not simply a case of superficially saying that it is Beatles’ music.  Apart from their early pop style, they eventually matured and evolved.  When you truly listen to their musical arrangements or the editing of their songs you realise how big their genius was.  They are a cut above the rest.”

“Melody wise I also enjoyed the Rolling Stones as well as the Beach Boys.  The important thing for me is always the melody.  Whatever genre, as long as there is that I enjoy it.  Even heavy metal.  I used to enjoy Jon Bon Jovi as they managed to introduced that element of melody.” 

For all of the emphasis on the melody, Dalli also had clear thoughts on the lyrics that went with it.
“The words are those of a love song but I tried to do that in a totally different manner.  I didn’t want something tradition where the love song is ‘I love you, you love me’ or ‘I miss you miss me’.  I wanted to play with words.  And I think that the song does this.” 

What X-Tend delivered in place of the typical ballad is a song about unrequited love where the passion cannot be consumed.  It is a situation that is consuming the singer - the refrain goes ‘I can feel the need in you devouring me, I can see the hunger in your eyes’ – and there is little hope in them.  Dalli’s decision to go in this direction is the right one; the words certainly match with the song’s overall mood of desperation.  

It might seem that there is a bit of exaggerating of I Can Feel’s merits going on here but to further underline how ground breaking it was there is also the video that was shot at the time.  MTV had just launched in America (and would take more than a decade to reach Malta) and at the time videos were the exception rather than the rule for most of the music that came out in America and England.  

And that’s without going into the difficulty of actually recording and editing a video at the time.

“There was the whole package.  We had even done an official launch at the Hilton which also wasn’t something that a lot of music groups did at the time.”

“Our fortune was that at the time we had Edwin Zammit as our manager.  He was disciplined and organised everything.  At the time perhaps we saw him as a bit too much but today I’ve realised that he was right.  It is thanks to him that we took certain decisions.”

“Today, I’m sixty so I can look back and reflect.  Life teaches you.  When you’re young you don’t always have the desire to follow through but he always pushed us to be better”

“He wanted to make sure that the official launch reached as many people as possible.  So, in the morning we did a press conference and then in the evening there was a launch party.  And we had the video that we could launch at the same time.”

“In the end, Edwin was right because his approach made us look professional and different.  We knew we had something good but he helped us get in front of people.  It made us appreciate that you had to market yourself.”  

All of this drove them forward and opened new horizons for them.  “I think we were quite unique in how we approached matters.”

They certainly were and in doing so delivered a song that continues to echo decades after it was released.

Images used in this piece taken from and X-Tend's Facebook page.

Now that you've read the story, listen to the song...


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