Most festivals end up taking over vast sprawling farms outside of cities limits, or housing themselves in huge parks, hidden away by trees. At Sicily’s annual weekender Ypsigrock, things are a little different. Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Castelbuono – a town which feels to be carved from the very mountains that surround it – it’s a four-day music festival like no other.
First and foremost, its main stage sits pretty in the grounds of the town own’s castle. Across the weekend, revellers and residents alike can be found littering the streets, bars and squares late into every warm evening; young fans and generations of families mingling together, sipping on neon orange Aperol spritzes, in a strange but wonderful cross-section of Italian life.
Across the weekend, the musical line-up is an eclectic melting pot. Beginning proceedings on Ypsigrock’s first day proper, Preoccupations offer up a dose of thunderous energy. Swerving from innate noisiness into looming, hulking shadows of sound, the Canadians really know how to command a stage. It’s with final number ‘Death’, and its closing stabs of guitars and squeals of feedback, that they really leave their ominous mark.
In comparison, Ride feel like a rush of euphoric fresh air. Using the opportunity to air a handful of tracks from their newest full-length ‘Weather Diaries’ – their first in over two decades - the likes of ‘Lannoy Point’ and ‘Charm Assault’ sound massive, as they reverberate around the castle’s walls. Sounding lean but intense, their newer tracks sit perfectly next to their early predecessors – ‘Leave Them All Behind’ and ‘Drive Blind’ in amongst the ranks - which still manage to provide a potent punch.
The following evening sees Ireland’s own Rejjie Snow take to the stage; a whirlwind of energy, the rapper wastes little time in whipping up the crowd into a frenzy with cuts from his forthcoming debut ‘Dear Annie’. In comparison, Saturday night’s headliners Digitalism are experts in composure, perfectly versed in the art of the build up. Every pulsing high comes perfectly orchestrated, with the Hamburg pair conducting proceedings from behind a veil of a backdrop, onto which their light show is projected. With a warm Italian breeze whipping around the courtyard, there’s something wonderfully mesmerising about their set.
Kicking things off relatively early – for a Sunday evening, at least – Klangstof’s performance is a electrifying one. Tucked away at the Ypsi & Love stage, nestled in the confines of the Chiostro di San Francesco, the Dutch band prove themselves a force to be reckoned with, their songs sounding much more muscular – albeit still magical - in the live environment. All soaring guitars and crashing crescendos, the group offer up a little dose of early euphoria just in time for the sun setting on the final night of Ypsigrock.
Closer to the action in the town’s centre, Aldous Harding is all but breathtaking in the Ex-Chiesa del Crocifisso. Somehow managing to be both introspective and open, her set sees her performing in the midst of a gorgeous white-walled church, littered with coloured light and packed out with people. Despite the growing temperature inside – let’s just say, it’s warmer than expected – it’s impossible not to feel a shiver down your spine. Her offerings are truly something to behold.
Acting as perfect introduction to tonight’s headliners, Cigarettes After Sex’s understated but gorgeous performance sees them air a selection of soothing cuts from their self-titled debut, before Baltimore’s Beach House dive headfirst into their haze of dreamy pop with ‘Levitation’. Shrouded in smoke, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally possess that brilliant sense of mystery but comfort, with the likes of ‘Wild’, ‘PPP’ and ‘New Year’ feeling reflective and cathartic all at the same time. Drawing this year’s Ypsigrock to a close with the unmistakable chords of ‘Myth’, their final notes add a real sense of magic to such a wonderful setting.
Photos: Robert Goodman