Running from New Year’s Eve through January 10th, EPIZODE strode into its second year with a sense of confidence that was reflected in a lineup stuffed with top-level names. The Vietnamese island of Phú Quốc, situated just south of Cambodia, was barely on the map ten years ago, but now a lucrative tourism boom has taken hold and resorts are springing up by the dozen. It’s still early days for the island’s industry, but the next few years could prove pivotal to its appeal as a destination.
The EPIZODE concept is a familiar one: a partnership of foreign promoters and organisers heads to an exotic location to showcase international artists to an international crowd. Comparisons with BPM Festival (formerly of Mexico, now of Portugal) were heard aplenty, although EPIZODE was thankfully free of the challenges that festival faced in January last year. (That said, the organisers included the teams behind Kazantip Festival and Moscow club ARMA, two promoters that have weathered their fair share of storms back home.)
There are many different ways to organise a beach festival, but the organisers opted for an intimate setting with three stages. Most of the structures were made out of bamboo. There were juice bars and thoughtful chill-out spots, which meant the predominant atmosphere onsite was laid-back and hippyish, boosted by a healthy contingent of international backpackers. Most reports suggested that last year’s much smaller crowd was largely Russian.
When an international party lands in the tropics there’s always a risk that local concerns will get overlooked, but a solid portion of Southeast Asian ticketbuyers had been drawn in by the efforts made to showcase talent from the region. While South Korea’s Peggy Gou—who played two excellent back-to-backs with Bambounou—might well be considered a European artist nowadays (she lives in Berlin), the likes of Hong Kong’s Ocean Lam and Jo.D demonstrated how forward-thinking music from this part of the world can be. The smaller Egg stage played host to many of these acts, and Lam and Jo.D in particular laid down impressive sets of electro and nervy acid.
As often happens at dance music events with so many heavyweight names, there were times when a kind of tech house homogeny took hold—the likes of Richie Hawtin and Loco Dice rolled out typically ordinary sounds. There were, though, plenty of distinctive performances. On January 6th, Denis Kaznacheev played a rich warm-up set on the Freesby stage, with playful, expressive strains of minimal that set the tone perfectly for Sammy Dee and Ricardo Villalobos. The Chilean was at the top of his game well into the morning, inspiring a feverish response from the crowd when dropping irreverent party material like the Thomas Bangalter/Bob Sinclar belter “Gym Tonic.” (Or was it Spacedust’s subsequent rip-off, “Gym And Tonic”? It was hard to tell.) He later returned for a picturesque sunset session where he had free reign to indulge his freaky side with all manner of abstract rhythms and tones.
It was often Freesby that was home to the festival’s best moments, particularly during afterhours sessions where the vibe would get very loose as the sun rose. tINI and Bill Patrick were on exceptional form on January 9th, whipping out Dexter’s “I Don’t Care” to great effect. Tyoma, part of the festival’s organisational team, made a memorable scene of the final sunset with daring but tender selections, veering from UNKLE’s “Rabbit In Your Headlights” to Brad Fiedel’s original theme for Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The ARMA crew took control for the final hours, with Hipushit in particular laying down some crucial slow and trippy tackle before Orgue Electronique fired up a live hardware acid set well past the curfew.
Unfortunately, I was forced to miss Call Super in a frantic dash to make a direct flight from Phú Quốc back to London, which, given the shockingly low prices, suggests that many more from the UK may make the trip out next year. EPIZODE’s small size and loose attitude is rare for a festival with such a weighty lineup and impressive production, and the question of where to go next weighs heavy on the team’s minds. (Musical director and resident DJ Roustam Mirzoev spoke of his desire to bring more live acts and bands into the mix.) All were in agreement that this second edition had been a success, and a step forward from last year. If it can maintain its cosy atmosphere and build on integrating with the South East Asian electronic music community, EPIZODE could become a truly unique festival within the increasingly hectic international circuit.