To throw a two-week long festival is ambitious to begin with. To throw a visionary two-week long underground music festival outfitted with three elaborately designed stages, a line-up boasting over 100 international acts, 21 hours of daily programming and in a foreign country – that’s just mental. But Epizode, with decades of experience behind them as part of team KaZantip that previously ran for a month, debuted in Vietnam last month bringing with it a small slice of utopia and left us with tropical dreams injected with a heavy dose of house and techno.
Leaving Eastern Europe behind for the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand, Epizode’s home for now and the next five years at least is on Phú Quốc Island in Vietnam, just a one hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, if you must). It felt a little surreal to be there – the beachfront site is both stunning and sprawling with a meticulously crafted avant-garde playground built of bamboo upon snow-white sand, Daliesque sculptures representative of contemporary art jutting from the sea and panoramic vistas of paradise as a backdrop. Its location was also easily accessible, extremely cheap and the people warmly welcoming.
Epizode kicked off on December 31st with a 510K takeover on New Year’s Day that saw artists like Julia Govor, Alexkid and Julian Perez start the party and throughout its two week run, the festival hosted other well known acts like Mike Shannon, Mayan Niddam, Sammy Dee, Bushwacka!, Claptone and even Ten Walls but the majority of the line-up were Russian DJs who are relatively unknown in these parts. To balance that out, organizers were also inclusive of locals like Sunju Hargun, Dan Buri and Nakadia but still it was clear from the get go that Epizode’s draw was going to be more about the experience itself.
By day the festival takes on more of a beach party vibe whereas by night when the lights and lazers take over it feels more like a fully immersive rave. One thing that doesn’t change is the steady stream of DJs. House and techno were the focus and the flavor throughout the two-week extravaganza, except for when the festival slipped into sunset and there was an IDM takeover, which better complemented the daily crescendo. Just before the sun dipped, it lacquered the festival with blazing hues of pink, orange and yellow, and the moment accessorized even more with revelers all holding orange and yellow balloons before letting them float off into the horizon together (keeping the KaZantip tradition alive). The moment was not lost on anyone, to be sure.
Full disclosure – we only arrived at Epizode for the last 4 days of the festival, just over a quarter of its running length, but after talking to people who had been earlier in it course, the general consensus was that everyone walked away with the same positive feels and it’s easy to understand why. Purposely starting small had well eliminated many of the calamities that come with a festival’s first go, so much that we barely noticed any at all. Professional, hospitable, imaginary and inclusive are some of the standout qualities that defined the production of Epizode, that against all odds is a festival well on its way to slowly creating a utopia just as its Crimean predecessor had.
Epizode returns to Vietnam in 2018 and we well advise banishing your winter blues by planning a holiday to the idyllic island around the festival. But if we can offer you some words of wisdom it’s to just not dive headfirst into the rave. Jet lag is a whole other animal and Epizode is a beast, it only comes alive around 3am and keeps going strong well into midday. But in case you can't wait the crew is already working on something new, something sooner and something equally if not more enticing now that the bar is set. Organizers have said: "While you’re watching the most dazzling shots we are working for something special and absolutely new. All details will be later."
With an overall ethos of aspiring to be a catalyst for a kind of permissiveness and originality that you don’t usually find in Asia, Epizode is a festival unlike any other festival. It’s magical and it’s opulent. It’s a festival for all the senses as much as it is a state of mind. It's no longer Europe's hidden gem, it's here and it's for everyone. We loved it and we can’t wait for the next Epizode.
[gallery above by Medvedew Vladimir, Anton Ogarev & Mira Morozova]