This beach festival in Vietnam has quickly become a key node in the South-East Asian scene. Find out why.
This year's EPIZODE Festival showed why it's one of the most important rallying points for electronic music in South-East Asia. Across 11 days in December and January, more than 12,000 people from 96 countries gathered in Phú Quốc to watch 130 artists perform. The dance floors had an international feel, with a strong Russian and European presence. But there were also groups from Chengdu, Bangkok, Singapore and across Vietnam. The layout was largely the same as last year, save for the expanded concept market and slightly upgraded food court. The most noticeable change were the new, site-wide D&B soundsystems, apparently shipped at great expense from elsewhere in Vietnam.
Roughly halfway through last year, EPIZODE almost completely changed its team of staff. This appeared to have little effect on the final product, with the general feel similar to last year. The lineup, which I understand was more or less finalised before the handover, also seemed like a smooth continuation from years previous, even if overall, several showcases at the Egg stage aside, it could've done with a bit more regional flavour.
Here are five key performances from EPIZODE 2020.
Friday night at Egg was a sneak peek into electronic music in South-East Asia. Two pillars of the Bangkok scene, Sunju Hargun and DOTT, were given later slots, while Ouissam, cofounder of Hanoi's Savage club, played before them, clearing the air after an unfocussed set from the warm-up DJ, Ernest Kalinin. Ouissam has been making waves across Asia and beyond these last few years, playing everywhere from Spectrum Formosis and Honcho Camp Out to Panorama Bar. His experience showed as he reset the dance floor. Spacey arpeggiated builds gave way to guttural moments, like Bambooman's "Ricochet." The floor swelled and the atmosphere warmed as friends from Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Taiwan reconnected.
These days, the best minimal DJs don't seem to play much minimal. Instead, they rely on their decades-wide knowledge, bottomless record collections and ability to weave together sets that nod towards, yet go beyond, minimal. Vera is one of these DJs, and on Sunday afternoon at the Shell stage, she reminded us why. She started a bit late—it wasn't clear if she was waiting for Raresh and Ricardo Villalobos to finish their sensational back-to-back at Frisbee, or whether the rumours about her misplaced record bag were true. Either way, she played the set of the festival. When I stepped into Shell, the atmosphere was dreamy, as dancers were welcomed into the afterhours with deep house gems like Mr. Fingers' "Outer Acid" and "Unreleased Kraut Jazz" by Get F**ked.
Moscow promoter (and former club) ARMA17 programmed two nights at Frisbee on January 4th and 5th. Phuong Dan hit the decks at 2 AM on the 6th. The dance floor took a while to warm up—many were still recovering from Villalobos, Raresh and Vera from the night before. Dan, a resident at Golden Pudel in Hamburg, and one of the few Vietnamese nationals on the lineup, worked through slow-drifting acid and long spacey breakdowns like Philipp Otterbach's "The Old Track." He eventually found his groove with Transglobal Underground's "Lookee Here (Dreadzone At The Controls Remix)," which hit with so much force that a girl missed her step and fell to the ground, only to be quickly helped up by her fellow dancers.
Phuong Dan b2b Ben UFO
In the early hours of January 6th, following sets from the ARMA17 founder Abelle and Ben UFO, the Frisbee dance floor was healthily replenished by a group of fresh-faced new arrivals. Ben UFO and Phuong Dan, who had been exchanging words throughout the night, then joined forces for a spontaneous back-to-back, soundtracking the sunrise. Warm, rolling tracks like Hashman Deejay's "Xssential-3" and Sandoz's "Chocolate Machine" were highlights as the sunlight glistened off the sea. After a few slower transitions, Dan picked up the pace, proving himself a more-than-worthy partner for Ben UFO's slick mixes. At the side of the floor, sleepy-eyed punters sat sipping on giant balloons. One particularly rowdy group jumped up and down in the middle. Close to the DJ booth, a man shook a baby doll with vigour.
After a week of stripped-back rollers, the Detroit Love takeover at Frisbee on January 7th offered some much-needed respite. A masked Moodymann was the perfect candidate for the 2 AM slot. His soul-soaked disco and house, delivered in his usual radio-show mixing style, really cut through, sounding fresh and direct. Tracks like Mellow Madness' "Save The Youth (Kenny Dope Mix)" had the dance floor rapt. Occasionally dropping the music to check on the crowd, he finished with classics like Led Zeppelin's "All Of My Love." Beside the DJ booth, Jamie Jones nodded along.