Sila Sveta, a stellar interactive media studio, collaborated with SETUP, a lighting design studio, to design the awe-inspiring main stage. — Photo courtesy of Epizode festival.
By Peter Cowan
It’s tough to make it to the fourth edition or sequel of anything and remain a success.
The fourth Die Hard movie Live Free or Die Hard, pants. Is your favourite band’s fourth album actually that good? And really, weren’t you over images of little girls holding balloons in desolate urban hellscapes by the time you saw your fourth Banksy?
Somehow though, Epizode festival has managed to be an exception to this rule.
The music and art festival recently concluded its fourth edition on Phú Quốc Island in Kiên Giang Province. Running from December 27 last year until January 7, 2020, Epizode brought some of the world’s top house, techno and more DJs to Việt Nam, as it does every year.
To find out how Epizode has stayed fresh and avoided dreaded ‘sequelitus’, I headed down to the white sands of Phú Quốc for some much needed sun on the skin, sand between the toes and beats in the ears.
If it isn’t broken
Avoiding becoming stale doesn’t mean everything has to be changed, and the people behind Epizode clearly recognised the things that worked in past editions should stay.
The familiar homage to Salvador Dali’s The Elephants was still there, with the long, spindly legs of the elephants protruding from the water at the Sunset Sonata Beach Resort. So was the giant, red bamboo structure in between the main stage and Frisbee stage, serving as a giant monolithic meeting point, or somewhere to get lost in after a few too many refreshments.
The Egg and Frisbee stages were the same as in years past as well, the former offering an intimate and raucous dance floor and the latter an incredible laser show coupled with the large frisbee (or UFO) top that looked like it would take off at any time, as well as a perfectly appropriate place for Ben UFO to play as the sun rose one early morning.
The party is far from over when the sun comes up. — Photo courtesy of Epizode festival
Most attendees though probably didn’t realise how tough it was to ensure all the stages were ready for the festival, after disaster struck Phú Quốc Island.
In early August, the island suffered historic flooding, with 1,100mm of rainfall recorded in just a week. The flooding submerged roads, caused millions of dollars of damage and suspended operations at Phú Quốc International Airport.
It also destroyed much of the installed artwork and stages, said Roy Friedman, Epizode’s general producer. Worse still, the typhoon that brought the carnage struck just days after Friedman and the rest of his new team of behind the scenes staff took over running the festival, making for a stressful start to the job.
Somehow, everything was rebuilt in the few short months between the flooding and the start of the festival.
Of course, there were some new additions to this year’s festival, with a focus on becoming more eco-friendly, spearheaded by Epizode CEO Natasha Rogal.
Epizode held beach clean-ups, banned plastic from the site and worked with four Việt Nam-based groups that work to protect the environment, including canned water supplier beWater.
Another new addition was a collaboration with Concept Market, an international art and fashion community based in Moscow. This meant one part of the festival site was filled with independent designers showcasing everything from clothes to jewellery, temporary tattoos and make-up stations. It also made for a perfect chill-out zone after hours of dancing.
The chilled vibes of the Concept Market. — Photo courtesy of Epizode festival
Perhaps the biggest, and best, change though was the main stage.
Interactive media, production and conceptual design company Sila Sveta was brought in for production on the main stage in collaboration with lighting design studio SETUP.
The result was a huge, cube-like structure made up of lighting columns and a central ensemble. Combined with a new and enhanced sound system, the main stage was a sight to see and hear, and dancing underneath the epic light shows high above felt like worshipping at the church of techno.
Music, the centre
The main stage’s impressive sound system and lighting rig was used to devastating effect on both my nights at the festival, with DJ Mathew Jonson and his singer wife Isis combining for an incredible live performance.
Isis’s vocals in particular made for an uplifting break from techno and tech house and created a true familial atmosphere on the main stage. After the husband-wife duo’s performance had ended though, Agents of Time went B2B with Fideles for an epic sunrise performance, with the weighty and epic build-ups feeling as if the music itself were pulling the sun upwards in the sky.
I’m personally a fan of darker, almost unsettling techno, so the Arma17 showcase on the Frisbee stage was an incredible experience, particularly the Romanian minimal sounds of Raresh in the dead of night. Ricardo Villalobos played afterwards, and as is tradition the rain started to come down, but that couldn’t dampen anyone’s spirits, especially not Villalobos, who was on fine form.
The Frisbee stage looks like it could take off into the night sky at any moment. — Photo courtesy of Epizode festival
One pleasant surprise was the Breakfast Club and S.A.S.H showcase on the intimate Eggs stage, with Australian DJ Gabby laying down some thumping, rolling techno early on in the night. I’m also told Việt Nam’s own Levi Oi killed her set on the stage earlier in the week.
It’s always tempting to wonder how much good events like Epizode really do for Việt Nam and the Vietnamese music scene, but one quick walk around the festival site is all you really need to remind you of what a unique event it is.
According to the organisers, people from 96 different countries attended Epizode 4, a truly staggering number that shows the international scale of the event.
Not too many years ago, it would have been unthinkable that Việt Nam could or would have hosted something like Epizode, with a huge array of international talent and a festival worth travelling the world for in the eyes of fans. Things like this can only help Vietnamese artists and fans, giving them a platform and something to aspire to.
Long may it continue. — VNS