by Peter Cowan
“She said I smelled like techno.”
The bikini-clad raver’s description of Jordan was apt.
Frank the photographer, Jordan the Pontefract Jesus and myself reeked like men who had scrambled their brains, fried their bodies and poached their souls through relentless dancing as fiery bass filled our bodies.
It was 6am and the sun was just starting to rise as we sat at the edge of the stage, laughing at how such a ridiculous statement made total sense, of course we smelt like the music that had been pulsing for the last six hours.
We had come to Phú Quốc to lose ourselves in the music we loved and find strangers to love it alongside.
This was proper raving in one of the most beautiful parts of Việt Nam.
This was Epizode 2 festival.
Wheels up Phú Quốc
I landed on Phú Quốc, having left dreary Hà Nội behind for the beach paradise in Kiên Giang Province.
This was my second trip to the island, but before I had even left the airport it was clear things would be different this time. The plane was full of excited 20-somethings, clearly ready for something other than laying on a beach and sipping cold beer.
They were ready for dancing on the beaches to the sounds of underground dance music luminaries like Jamie Jones, Patrick Topping, Marcel Dettman and Richie Hawtin.Sagrado Corp, the Russia-based firm behind the festival, had booked a line-up that wouldn’t seem out of place in the European dance music meccas of Ibiza or Berlin.
Before getting my rave on, I had the small matter of a press dinner to attend. This only served to heighten the anticipation, with the obvious enthusiasm on display at the table from journalists and the Epizode team.
Russian businessman Mikhail Danilov, one of the festival’s co-founders, explained he had started the festival simply because of his love of techno; his daughter told me she reckoned he missed being able to party during the long, cold Russian winter.
RoustamMirzoev, Epizode’s musical director, explained that while this year’s event had been a huge step up from the first a year ago, next year was set to be even bigger, with an even greater focus on Asia-based artists, which had been somewhat lacking at Epizode 1.
Another member of the creative team, ArtemHarchenko, assuaged my biggest concern; that the festival attendees would almost exclusively be Russians. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, there were complaints that last year’s event was essentially Russian only despite being in Việt Nam, however Harchenko told me some 65 per cent of attendees this year were non-Russian.
Rolling beats: The huge sound systems are sure to be a hit at night, when the sand was cold enough to walk on. — Photo courtesy of the organiser
Jamie Jones was first on the agenda when we arrived at the site, as part of the Paradise (his own events series) showcase. I came into the set with no expectations and was frankly, blown away. Jones lay down a set of uplifting techno that connected everyone on the dancefloor into a single entity, taking us on a journey which leapt from peak to peak.
Closing the main stage from 4.30am until about 6.30am was Patrick Topping, who continued where Welshman Jones had left off. The highlight was the final few tracks, again uplifting tech-house as the sun rose behind us, an almost spiritual moment magnified by Topping’s obvious enthusiasm.
After a few more hours boogieing at the afterparty stage it was time to collapse in our beds, a necessity if we were to make the HYTE, a Berlin-based party promoter, showcase the following day.
Otherworldly: Top quality music, combined with the beauty of Phu Quoc Island, create a total treat for the senses. — Photo courtesy of Francis Foy
Church of techno
We refreshed as best as possible after an 8am bedtime, and returned to the madness shortly after midnight. Admittedly, I was flagging, the effects of attending my first large festival keenly felt from my head to my toes.
That all changed upon entering and catching the end of Mathew Jonson’s live set, with masterfully deep techno pumping out from the already busy main stage. The best was yet to come though –Berghain resident and living legend of German techno Marcel Dettmann was to start spinning at 1am.
To be blunt, he didn’t disappoint.
Dettmann unleashed endlessly-rolling techno, each track building on the last and moving the dancers up a click every few minutes, then offering a moment of clarity with a slower, more melodic track, before dropping more relentless four-on-the-floor music to send us into ecstasy.
Frank and Jordan’s minds were blown, having expected an experience too dark and sinister to enjoy from start to finish, but instead being treated to a masterclass.
Richie Hawtin took things up a notch from Dettmann, pumping out faster paced and simultaneously darker, more sinister techno, perfect as the night wore on and the Russians came out for a dance in exotic costumes.
Light up the night: Young ravers were ready to dance on the beach to the sounds of underground dance music luminaries. — Photo courtesy of Francis Foy
As I write, we’re preparing for one last night at Epizode, bodies aching and minds blown, with energetic sets from the likes of AME, Dixon and Call Super our only hope to make it through the night alive.
As I reflect on the festival, I’m filled with gratitude for Alex and Ro from Jukebox PR and Gorana fromEpizode for hooking us up with passes to the biggest underground dance music festival in Asia, a seminal moment for the scene.
World class music, the incredible beauty of Phú Quốc Island, stunning art installations featuring jellyfish, dolphins and all sorts of aquatic delights and mind-bending lasers combined for a sensual treat.
If there’s a single criticism, it’s perhaps a lack of Vietnamese representation behind the decks and in the crowd, but as Harchenko and Mirzoev explained their plans to expand the Asian artistic presence in multiple spheres, I’m confident upcoming editions of the festival will better reflect the host country.
Raving is all about bringing people together, and Epizode succeeded in this, with tiny dance music communities from every corner of Asia joining for a celebration of their common love: music. — VNS
Vietnam Airlines has two flights from Hà Nội to Phú Quốc and from five to six flights from HCMC to Phú Quốc. For more info visit: https://www.vietnamairlines.com/uk/en/home