The inaugural edition of AVANT Festival near Lecce, in Apulia, near the most southern point in Italy’s heel, proved strong and enthusiastic enough to surmount its struggles, even in the epoch of a pandemic that threatened the most established of music communities. Over two evenings in the Castello Volante di Corigliano d’Otranto, the team of Apulia’s Sud Sonico cultural organization presented one of Europe’s most intriguing alternative music experiences. It was, however, the presentation of a new form of local avantgarde music and foreign brands of European experimentalism that aptly demonstrated the festival’s breadth of new experiences. AVANT festival welcomed a crowd as diverse as it was enthusiastic—not an easy feat anywhere in the peninsula, let alone in the slightly isolated southern area of Salento, renowned for its beaches, wine and food but not (yet) its experimental music output.
Fueling future explorations in the pairing of new musical cultures with local folkloric traditions, AVANT Festival’s debut edition was as promising as its sounds, for first-time listeners and experienced travelers alike. Local heroes like DJ Elettro Mascarimirì and young firebrands Turbo Sud brought a wealth of fascinating examples fusing the culture and sounds of Salento, offering a counterweight to the harsh electronic sounds of Berlin veteran Grischa Lichtenberger and the harmonics of contemporary artists like Bologna-based saxophonist Laura Agnusdei. The program was split between the castle’s picturesque terrace and its dark, ambient barrel-vaulted cellar; delicious local food and tasteful wine helped sweeten the deal. Other highlights included an African-diaspora-inspired DJ set by Afreak and a fresh, locally sourced lunch overlooking the Adriatic sea in Salento’s Porto Badisco, welcome to all festival participants.
The struggles of hosting a music festival don’t fade over time. Often, with success, they develop and morph into more complicated and persistent problems. The initiation of a festival, then, proposes difficulties not only unique in their appearance, but also in stature. Luckily, passion native to any nascent project helps propel such obstacles into the background. But doing so in a small and unlikely context creates hurdles for even the most determined of promoters. In Apulia, though, the warmth of southern hospitality continues to outshine just about any cloud.
In fact, there is a saying in this area of Italy that #SalentoIsNotApulia (that’s to say it’s culturally unique to its larger regional neighbours to the north, in and around Bari), and AVANT Festival was a welcome reminder.
The event was supported by Austriaco di Cultura Roma and Goethe Institut Neapel.
Photo: Atraz Emilia