Words by: Amanda Eva Anna
Tucked away on the pristine beaches of Vietnams’ Phú Quốc Island, Epizode, an 11-day party marathon running from December 31 to January 10, had to be the most ambitious dance music event Asia has ever seen.
First and foremost, its roster of heavyweight DJs would bring any avid dance music fan to their knees. Upon first glance of a lineup that had about 5 major festival’s worth of headliners in one, for the small entry fee of $150 (CAD), I felt it was too good to be true. Having only made its debut a year ago on unchartered territory, an event of this scale immediately brought me back to the infamous Fyre festival that collapsed in the Bahamas earlier last summer; however, most of the programme went off without a hitch. So, there I found myself in tropical paradise, taking it all in from atop a two-storey bamboo labyrinth or dancing beneath a cluster of neon-drenched, giant jellyfish. A visual dreamscape injected with a heavy dose of house and techno- and no hidden cover fees.
[Epizode] had to be the most ambitious dance music event Asia has ever seen.
21 hours of daily non-stop music included Carl Cox for the opening New Year’s celebration, a SCI+TEC showcase with Dubfire and Shaded, and the sun-friendly selectors from the Paradise party series, including Jamie Jones, Richy Ahmed and Patrick Topping. It goes without saying this musical excursion was off to an epic start, but the festival really took off when Berlin-based music brand HYTE took over the island for 3 days. Hosting the likes of Dettmann, Moudaber, Pan-Pot, and Hawtin, the HYTE takeover also included dusk-till-dawn b2b sets from Loco Dice vs. Peggy Gou, Chris Liebing vs. Matthew Johnson, and Nic Fanciulli vs. wAFF. Finally, the soul and energy of Luciano’s daytime set deserves special mention, as he was clearly in his element and seemingly inspired beyond words as he freely played towards a hallucinating sunset.
Epizode also featured an entire stage of local DJs who were meticulously scouted from the best clubs and parties throughout Asia. Given the festival was organized by Russian promoters, most of the opening acts and afternoon slots were filled by Moscow’s finest, including my favourite of the bunch, Roustam Mirzoev, who also happened to be Epizode’s Musical Director.
Out of the entire roster, it would be impossible to determine which DJ laid down the best set. Whether you were splashing in the sea at sunrise to Guti, or tuned in front centre to Ricardo Villalobos’ groovy and efficient techno, Epizode offered such a diverse range of contexts in which to experience the music that each day was truly what each person made it. It was equally special to witness some of the world’s most renowned DJs play in a country that they had never stepped foot on before.
So, there I found myself in tropical paradise, taking it all in from atop a two-storey bamboo labyrinth or dancing beneath a cluster of neon-drenched, giant jellyfish.
Massive as it might all seem, Epizode was a remarkably modest affair. Small crowds were definitely a bonus feature of the festival, allowing an intimate experience with DJs who would normally pack dance-floors. Made up of 3 stages that ran alongside each other directly facing the Gulf of Thailand, not once did I have to line up to get in, grab a drink or even use the washroom. It was by no means a crowded festival, and it certainly helped that the beats were pulsing and drinks pouring for 21 hours straight. You could come and go as you pleased, and this was crucial, as the festival did not offer much in terms of dining options.
That being said, although tourism has steadily increased over the last few years, Phú Quốc is still relatively untouched, which means –outside of the festival grounds- the island offers a true local lifestyle experience, including mouth-watering Vietnamese cuisine like a $2.50 bowl of pho or an 80 cent Bánh mì sandwich, which you could chase down with a 50 cent can of local Vietnamese Saigon beer.
If there is any criticism worth mentioning, perhaps it was the lack of multiculturalism. It would have been nice to see a Vietnamese representation in the crowd, or the opportunity to mingle with a more diverse range of attendees, as one would expect from an international festival situated on such an assessable location for those residing in Asia or even Australia.
So then, who will be joining us next year? South East Asia is already a bucket list travel location and tourist destination in its own right, so for many Epizode only provides an additional excuse to make the worthwhile trek and escape January’s winter blues. It certainly proved itself to be a game-changing attraction on the global music festival calendar, and organizers promise an even better story for Epizode 3.
For more information on Epizode, visit their website here.