|Techno royalty: Headliner Nina Kraviz produced a show stopping performance. - Photos courtesy of the organisers
On one of Phú Quốc’s many beatiful beaches, thousands of ravers from across the world dance the morning, afternoon and night away to world-class dance music. Peter Cowan reports from Epizode festival.
As you make your way down one of Phú Quốc’s many long, dusty roads towards one of its multitude of resort complexes, the vibrations begin, subtly at first.
Before long, you can clearly make out the sound of kick drums, hi-hats and overwhelming, moody bass puncturing the air, sucking the breath out of your lungs for a moment before it returns, charged with nervous energy.
After walking down a winding path affixed with red flags atop it, like an upside down red carpet, you enter Epizode festival, and go through the looking glass.
Everywhere you look there are ravers of every shape, size and colour, bedecked in costumes that transformed them from mere partiers to sailors, devils or beings made completely out of gold.
Those ravers are milling around and dancing in an otherworldly setting, with, huge glowing jellyfish and giant nón lá (conical hats) by the beach, to one monolithic stage that looks more like a cathedral than a DJ booth, to another stage that looks like an enormous frisbee, as if a giant had left it on the beach aeons ago.
All the while music pumps out from all four stages, each a different strain of dance music, beckoning you to give in to your primal urges and dance until the sweat cascades down your body.
This feast for the senses could be overwhelming, too intoxicating for the eyes and ears to handle, but Epizode is your playground, a choose-your-own-adventure festival.
You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Meeting of cultures
Held on Phú Quốc Island in Kien Giang Province, Epizode festival returned for its third edition at the Sunset Sonato Beach Club in late 2018. Running from December 28 until January 8, 2019, the festival yet again brought a world-class line-up of international acts to Việt Nam.
With four stages and music playing on at least one of them throughout the entire festival, there’s no question Epizode was the equivalent of any raver’s wet dream. Whatever form of underground dance music you were into, it was there, from drum and bass to progressive house and techno, and practically everything in between.
However, there was no doubt Sagrado Corp, the Moscow-based organiser of Epizode, could put on a great party with big-name artists. They’ve been doing it for years in Europe and for the last two in Phú Quốc. The festival’s goals were loftier, aiming to help grow and bring together Asia’s dance music scene, which has largely been dominated by EDM in recent years.
Artem Harchenko, Epizode’s general producer and a DJ under the stage name Tyoma, said at a press conference on January 6 that he reckoned the festival had achieved that
“For me personally, it’s that moment when you walk into the venue and listen to the mixture of languages and mixture of people I am really happy to see that. I was the happiest person on New Year’s Eve because it was a huge amount of different people.”
He wasn’t wrong, as the festival was filled with partiers from across the continent and Europe, a far cry from the first edition that was reportedly mostly attended by Eastern Europeans, something incongruous with the Asian setting.
Another goal from the previous year was to diversify the range of electronic music genres and move away from the perception of Epizode being a techno dominated festival.
|Family affair: A convivial atmosphere was a big part of the festival’s success.
|Asian star: South Korea’s Peggy Gou performs on January 4.
|This is the one: Seth Troxler performs at the intimate Frisbee stage.
|Feast for the senses: Incredible light displays were a large part of each performance.
Russian businessman Mikhail Danilov, one of the festival’s co-founders, illustrated the plethora of musical options on offer by noting one of his personal highlights had been the live performance of Italian composer and multi-instrumentalist Giorgia Anguili, which featured synths, her own voice and, bizarrely, fluffy children’s toys.
“I want to mention Giorgia Anguili who had a fantastic set. We often bring her to Moscow and you can feel there is a strong musical background, she’s making a very individual different musical style, she’s playing different instruments, she’s got a musical education.”
Harchenko and Danilov both noted an effort had been made to book more Asian artists and while this was true, perhaps the biggest positive development in this field was how they were spread across all the stages.
At last year’s event, the Asia only stage meant some of the local artists were ignored by many festival-goers, seeking out the big-ticket European artists. Whereas at Epizode 3, the spread of artistic nationalities across the festival meant Asian artists were there to be discovered by people who would otherwise never hear them.
I stumbled into an incredible set of rolling techno from Thailand-born Sunju Hargun at the intimate Eggs stage on January 5 and was thrilled to discover a new artist, something that perhaps wouldn’t have happened at Epizode 2.
Epizode strives for a community atmosphere and that was perhaps best exemplified by South Korean DJ Peggy Gou, who after delivering one of the sets of the festival with groovy, uplifting house and techno at the main stage on January 4, stuck around to take selfies with fan after fan.
Ricardo Villalobos also got in on the act that morning, putting his young son behind the decks for a quick mix, much to the delight of a crowd whose spirits were undamped by rain from nearby Storm Pabuk.
This kind of spontaneous event was another mainstay of the programme, with a surprise back-to-back set from Pan Pot and Red Axes, a rescheduled Agents of Time back-to-back performance with Asobitai and an after party extending into January 9 some other highlights.
While this feature did frustrate some attendees, it did undoubtedly give the festival a more relaxed and ‘anything could happen’ feel, something Harchenko said was a key part of its appeal.
The festival’s heavy-hitters each laid down superb performances, with the technically excellent Seth Troxler and queen of techno Nina Kraviz destroying the Frisbee stage on the 6th and 7th, respectively. Having such big names on the smaller stage was a treat, as often acts like these would be far from the crowd at festivals.
Red Axes delivered one of the best surprises of the event, with the Israeli duo playing an unreleased cover of the Vietnamese song Bèo Dạt Mây Trôi (Drifting Duckweed, Floating Clouds) that they had composed the previous day at the HCM City Conservatory of Music along with students and featuring traditional Vietnamese instruments.
That’s perhaps a good note to end on, as Epizode delivered surprise after surprise, the vast majority good. With no plans to leave Phú Quốc and hopes to expand the festival site next year, all there is to be said is thank God there’s a whole year to recover from the beautiful madness that was Epizode 3. VNS