Gorgeous sunset: Mild weather, pristine beaches and the privacy of an island makes Phú Quốc an ideal holiday destination. — VNA/VNS Photo Ngọc Hà
Viet Nam News
The first edition of the dance-music fest on picturesque island revealed shortcomings that organisers are determined to avoid; Epizode 2 is set to get feet tapping and hearts thumping, Peter Cowan reports.
Pristine pearly-white sand beaches. Melodic house during the day. Dirty, thumping techno at night. Thousands of revellers dancing for days on end, watching the sun set and then rise again.
This may sound like a scene from the white isle of Ibiza off the coast of Spain or from any one of a litany of festivals that take place in Croatia each summer.
But this underground dance music festival isn’t in Europe.
Epizode 2 is coming to Việt Nam’s Phú Quốc Island, and Southeast Asia has never seen anything quite like it before.
Set to take place from December 31 until January 10, 2018 on Phú Quốc Island in the southern province of Kiên Giang, Epizode 2 is organised by Sagrado Corp, a Russian company that puts on musical and cultural events in Eastern Europe and Asia.
The first edition of Epizode was held on the island from December 31, 2016 until January 14, 2017, but it’s hard to overstate how much the organisers have scaled up since then.
While the first edition featured a couple of well-known international names in the underground dance music scene, including Claptone and Sammy Dee, most of the line-up was populated with Eastern European DJs without much name recognition outside of that corner of the world.
Sunny,sandy: The better climate in Phú Quốc lasts from November until April. — VNA/VNS Photo Lê Huy Hải
Epizode 2’s line-up however, is packed with wall-to-wall titans of the wheels of steel. Legendary British house and techno DJ Carl Cox will play on New Year’s Eve, Grammy-nominee Dubfire will spin on January 3, while Berghain resident Marcel Dettmann tops off a techno-heavy selection curated by Berlin-based party promoters HYTE on January 9.
With Ricardo Villalobos, Peggy Gou, Loco Dice, Stanton Warriors, Jamie Jones, Call Super and Dixon also booked to play during the festival, it’s safe to say Việt Nam and Southeast Asia have never seen an underground dance music event of this magnitude before.
But is Việt Nam ready for Epizode 2?
In a country where EDM is king of the dance floor and commercially-focused acts like Hardwell and Martin Garrix pack out stadiums, it remains to be seen if there’s a large appetite for the more avant-garde musicians that will descend on Phú Quốc for almost a fortnight.
Building a scene
In the days leading up to the performance of Dutch trance DJ Tiesto (and symbol of everything that’s wrong with commercial dance music) in Hà Nội, it became obvious how popular this form of dance music is in Việt Nam.
Tickets for the December 9 performance cost a staggering VNĐ770,000 (US$34) in Mỹ Đình Stadium, a price which may help explain his reported $39 million yearly income.
Even more staggering though was the demand on the resale market, with young Vietnamese and expat EDM fans alike scouring Facebook groups for tickets.
So on the surface at least, one could argue Epizode has been dropped in Việt Nam as if from another planet, and the first edition did indeed come under fire for a lack of Asian faces among the attendees.
Dig a little deeper though, and it’s clear the underground scene in Việt Nam has been building towards an event like this.
Ballooning: Revelers enjoy the first edition of Epizode festival in early 2017. — Photo courtesy of the organisers
The Observatory was launched in Hồ Chí Minh City in 2013 in District 1 before moving to District 4 a year later. The club opened with a clear mandate to promote alternative music in the southern hub and it did this with aplomb, quickly becoming renowned in the region as a space for forward thinking music.
Though the club has been without a home since September this year due to issues with the District 4 venue, the people behind The Observatory have continued to run nights in and around the city.
Savage meanwhile, flies the underground flag for the capital Hà Nội. The brainchild of French DJs Julie Mira and Ouissam Mokretar, the club opened in Tây Hồ District in 2016 and has become a go-to spot for late night partying and top acts such as Lena Willikens and Roman Flugel.
Mokretar told Hà Nội-based online magazine Hottable that after some teething problems, Savage is now home to a community of music-lovers, local and expat alike.
This community has grown to the point where Mokretar co-founded the house and techno festival Equation, which debuted on the outskirts of Hà Nội in 2017 and is set for a sequel next April.
The Epizode organisers have clearly taken note of this growing community, with the pre-festival Asia tour set to make a stop at the club on December 29.
Long stretch: An aerial view of Phú Quốc Island’s coastline — VNA/VNS Photo Ngọc Hà
Colourful event: The underground dance music scene in Viet Nam has been building towards an event like Epizode 2. — Photo courtesy of the organisers
Trial and error
This bubbling underground scene is part of why Epizode is returning to Việt Nam, but another factor is the country’s dynamism, according to one of the festival’s co-founders Mikhail Danilov.
Danilov cited the country’s efforts to integrate internationally as a draw for the festival: “Việt Nam is open for the whole world and traditionally welcoming.”
Apart from the stunning beauty of the island, Danilov said Phú Quốc authorities’ desire to attract more tourists to the island makes it the perfect location for the festival:
“The authorities are very loyal — they’re interested in a big international event on Phú Quốc. This attracts new tourists to the island. And once they visit, they will definitely come back. Phú Quốc is an ideal place to have a vacation, starting from climate and beaches, and finishing with infrastructure and transport.”
Perhaps what ravers should be most excited about though, is the fact that Danilov and co-organisers seem to have learned from the mistakes of Epizode 1.
After taking criticism for the environmental impact of a mass balloon launch last year, the Epizode team has tweaked the event to keep the event’s impact on nature to a minimum. As Danilov put it: “It’s absolutely out of our interest to destroy this fantastic island.”
Organisationally as well, things have improved. A belter of a line-up like Epizode 2’s takes months of planning, and Danilov said the process began in February.
With the first edition to use as a basis, Danilov said this year’s event is sure to be an improvement:
“Last year was a trial version. We were trying the logistics and checking possibilities of the island and ourselves. As a result of this experiment, we made sure that we are able to do this and understood that Epizode can do more. This year’s Epizode will be as it was initially planned: with a grand line-up, great service and unbelievable atmosphere.”
With Danilov and co planning for the long-haul in Phú Quốc, it seems like Epizode and Việt Nam are poised to become a fixture on the calendars of dance music-lovers across Asia.
So, with world-class dance music against some stunning natural scenery as backdrop, Epizode 2 is set to be a can’t miss festival.
The only question is, do you have your dancing shoes ready? — VNS