- Raving in Vietnam with Ricardo Villalobos's kids—Carlos Hawthorn visits a dance music event on the rise.
- The weather during the third edition of EPIZODE Festival, which ran for 11 days over New Year's on the Vietnamese island of Phú Quốc, was mostly great, a cosy mix of balmy and blazing sunshine. It faltered only once, on the morning of January 4th, when rain soaked Sunset Sanato beach. At Frisbee, one of four stages onsite, a slim jet of water cascaded from a hole in the circular roof, forcing an opening on the dance floor. This was unfortunate: the stage was unusually packed, with hundreds of people in ponchos and loud T-shirts crammed onto the wooden decking. Parading about in the booth was Ricardo Villalobos, back at the festival for a second year running. His family, including two mini male clones, were by his side, the boys initially sitting around sipping 7-Ups before later getting busy with the faders. Villalobos's own hits rained down—"Peculiar," "Dexter," the remixes of Beck's "Cellphone's Dead" and Señor Coconut's "Electrolatino." At around 10 AM, a sheet of train noises, famously heard at this year's Houghton Festival, rattled from the speakers. The Chilean was enjoying himself.
Whether the artists feel happy and relaxed might seem like a trivial detail, but it can make a festival. At EPIZODE, everyone seemed in high spirits, buoyed by the laid-back vibe and the chance to tack on a few extra days in the sun. Many DJs played multiple sets. Dana Ruh, who played twice, first hit the decks at the strike of midnight on New Year's Eve, following the swirl of hugs, confetti and proggy chords at the imposing main stage with two hours of slamming house. Later, during a jubilant dawn session at Frisbee, Raresh, Rhadoo and Petre Inspirescu laughed and joked as they soundtracked people's first swims and NOS balloons of 2019. Early on January 5th, Peggy Gou closed with her smash hit "It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)," causing a ruckus at Main. In a stunt similar to the Villalobos face masks from last year, fans in banana shirts waved branded placards with messages like "Wake Me Up For Peggy Gou."
Perhaps the loosest, smiliest atmosphere was found at Shell, a new daytime afterhours stage with a small, shady dance floor that ensured the tunes rolled 24/7. Over the course of the festival, it became a haven for the kind of minimal-minded house and techno that goes hand in hand with tireless partying. Raresh and Sonja Moonear played an impromptu back-to-back here on New Year's Day, though the highlight was the morning of the 6th, when, after rude sets from Craig Richards, DJ Masda and Vera at Frisbee, everyone took cover from the beating sun to catch Digby, Zip and others. The Perlon boss was on fine, if functional, form, keeping the sloppy dance floor in check with crisp mind-melters like Thomas Melchior's "Feel Sensual." On the sand outside, punters sipped ice-cold Long Islands from ornate bamboo hang-outs and took turns playing Philippe Petit on a baby tightrope.
Beyond the Berlin and Romanian set, EPIZODE also did a decent job highlighting artists closer to home. DOTT, one of Bangkok's biggest DJs, warmed up Main nicely on January 2nd with glassy minimal cuts like Voigtmann's "The Good Ones Go." Sunju Hargun, another staple of the Bangkok scene, impressed with tougher selections a few days later at Egg, a cosy stage nestled between towering netted egg cups. On the morning of the 5th, the Hanoi club Savage took over Egg, presenting, in particular, a killer set from the Swiss-Vietnamese DJ Hibiya Line, whose bleepy curios and unorthodox scratching delivered refreshing respite from the 4/4 thud. Crucially, all these sets were well attended, thanks in large part to the festival's strong Asian contingent, which made up an impressive 40% of the total 10,000-capacity audience.
This stat feels important. There's a tendency to automatically raise an eyebrow at foreign-backed festivals (EPIZODE is run by Sagrado Corp, a Moscow-based entertainment company) that look to developing countries, such as Vietnam, because they're cheap and sun-soaked. I was sceptical myself going into my eight-day stint, but I left heartened, thanks to the diversity of the crowd (79 countries were represented onsite), the scale and striking beauty of the production, and the team's clear dedication to creating something special. (I also left surprisingly energised—eight straight days at a festival in Europe sounds like a comparatively Herculean task.) Phú Quốc's local charm, growing infrastructure and relatively lax visa laws are a bonus, too. Trim the fat on the lineup—given the wealth of excellent music, acts like Ferry Corsten, Goldie and Stanton Warriors felt like unnecessary blemishes—and EPIZODE may one day sit among dance music's elite festivals.