As we continue to wind around Castelbuono, the beautiful Sicilian town that sits up in the foothills of the Madonie mountains, my tour guide stops to point out a local shop. “This place,” he tells me, “is where you will find the best panettone in the whole world.” I’m beginning to realise that lots of things in this town are considered to be the best, and it checks out: everything here is beautiful or delicious, and frequently both. In fact, the reason I’m here with Vincenzo Barreca is that the small town also plays host to one of Europe’s best music festivals – and Ypsigrock 2018 is expected to be just as spectacular as it has been for the past 21 years.
Walking around the relatively modest town square, it’s hard to believe that this space is essentially the festival’s main stage. But Ypsigrock was built on an impossible dream, and yet its twin founders – Barreca and Gianfranco Raimondo – have been making it all come true since 1997. “We just wanted to bring our favourite bands down to Sicily,” says Barreca. “We like it here, but back then, it was almost impossible to see international indie rock here. Usually you have to travel to Rome, Milan, or sometimes abroad to see the music we - and hopefully also our festivalgoers - like.”
There’s certainly no shortage now: previous line-ups have included the likes of Primal Scream, Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Beach House and Dinosaur Jr. This year boasts The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Horrors and The Radio Dept. as headliners. But there’s also a hot swathe of new artists that cuts through every line-up. “Many times we’ve had the luck to welcome artists really early in their career or just before blowing up, like Jon Hopkins in 2009, Django Django and Alt-J in 2012, Loyle Carner in 2016... Our audience loves to discover new music, and so do we.”
Pop-up gigs aren’t unusual, whether it’s within the town’s fully-renovated baroque church or inside the castle itself. When I ask Barreca – strolling down the road with an afternoon beer, which feels impossibly decadent – what’s most special about the event, he claims it’s the audience. “From tastemakers to families, music lovers of all ages, curious young and elder locals, party people having a good time without going too far... We hope to be an event for everybody, be accessible, and provide the new, unknown – stimulating curiosity.” Thousands of people pour into the town every year, and far from dreading the occasion, locals seem to look forward to it. That feels important.
Be warned: the weather can be unpredictable. “We’ve been lucky the last years, but yes, even during the hottest Sicilian August there can be monsoon-like rains.” It seems adverse conditions rarely dampen spirits among the artists and festival-goers, though. “We’re well equipped, and people love the special atmosphere – sharing umbrellas and beers under the tents, together, facing nature... We remember Shout Out Louds not stopping to play in the pouring rain. Their comments were: ‘We’re used to this, you’re not,’ and ‘Oh, mate, it’s pissing in my beer’. That was one hell of a party!”
As far as stories go, it seems to sum up the atmosphere the festival creates, and perhaps something of the Sicilian character all-round. Walking through the nearby city of Palermo, the scenes are astonishing to English eyes: young people sat in late-night record shops, everything open-front, everyone drinking in the street – and yet no one seems to be throwing up or trying to start a fight. It’s not perfect, but the culture seems a lot more relaxed, more open to possibility. Somehow, at least as much as the stunning scenery and that awesome panettone, you sense it’s this spirit of curiosity – all wrapped up in one intimate, 3000-capacity camping weekend – that make Ypsigrock the extraordinary festival that it is.
The 22nd Edition of Ypsigrock takes place in Castelbuono, Sicily, from the 9-12 August. For tickets and more information, please visit the festival's official website.
DiS is proud to be a full Media Partner for the 22nd Edition of Ypsigrock.
Photo Credit: Elisabetta Brian