Phu Quoc, Vietnam
28 December - 8 January
Situated on the idyllic and stunning Phu Quoc island south of Vietnam’s border with Cambodia, Epizode Festival relies on a certain level of commitment from the attendees.
Not content with the endurance-popping 11 days of musical programming, there are very few moments where the sounds cease throughout this time. This imbues the festival with an exuberance that’s infectious, actively encouraging partying at times of the day that the UK has never quite got to grips with. To be fair, it’s a lot easier when you have the climate and beaches of the Gulf of Thailand as opposed to Dalston on a January morning.
Now in its third year, 2019’s edition offered a notable expansion, both in terms of the size of artists and ambition. The festival exudes care and attention to detail, from the huge bamboo treehouse structures that flank the stages on the beach or the numerous round bar structures that never leave you waiting more than a minute for a drink, to the sunset sessions which are genuinely breathtaking. At Epizode there is an ethos and eco-driven idealism that permeates.
While the Russian organisers have made it their mantra to cater for a huge variation in styles and sounds, the sheer amount of time music is being played at Epizode leaves very little room for complaint: sets are extended, surprise sets are everywhere and, in the case of the minimal techno and house contingent that represented a substantial part of this year’s line-up, very few DJs seemed to go home. This resulted in the Shell stage (essentially the after-hours area of the festival) running for a further full day after the event had finished with the likes of Rhadoo, Zip, Binh and British minimal wonder kid Digby all playing extra sets to a small but committed crowd.
Phu Quoc’s vibrant high streets provide a suitably authentic backdrop to the merriment, with the incredible beaches and bar life feeling rustic enough to not feel too Westernised. Still, it’s hard to ignore the rapid expansion – hotel construction sites causes inevitable concern for the future ecology of this picturesque island. Yet the counterbalance to this comes in the form of the rich mix of nationalities and people in attendance at Epizode: Ibizian glam meets Berlin techno cool via neo-hippy space-case, all in a melting pot that only the most hardened snob couldn’t find the joy in. Furthermore the Russian and Vietnamese security are amiable and getting in and out of the festival is stress-free.
From techno’s biggest hitters in Nina Kraviz, (whose set is the musical highlight of the weekend) and Ricardo Villalobos, to fresh faces and new finds in the form of DJ Masda, Digby and a host of Russian club talent that have found favour with the organisers from their exploits in their homeland, it was easy to lose yourself in the musical programming. Still, what makes Epizode truly memorable remains its beautiful location, something which will keep the festival in firm favour with party-goers looking to go the extra mile for years to come.