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Music

Biggest electronic music festival in Vietnam is aiming to rival the best in Asia

Epizode will take place on Phu Quoc island over 11 days later this month, featuring some of the world’s leading DJs. Dixon, Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin, Chris Liebing and Luciano are just some of the headline acts appearing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 December, 2017, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 December, 2017, 6:01pm

Most electronic music festivals feature a handful of big-name performers. Epizode features several dozen of them, most of them big enough to headline a festival in their own right.

The event, which takes places over a ridiculous 11 days between December 31 and January 10, on Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island, is just about the most ambitious electronic music event Asia has ever seen.

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An event on that scale could be a recipe for disaster on the scale of the infamous Fyre festival that collapsed in the Bahamas earlier this year, but Epizode has the form to suggest that won’t be the case.

Not only did it also take place last year in the same location, but the team behind it have been putting on an even bigger and longer event since a quarter of a century ago: KaZantip, the gigantic electronic music extravaganza that took place annually in the Crimea in Ukraine between 1992 and 2013.

In fact, last year’s Epizode was even longer than this year’s, taking place over 14 days. Roustam Mirzoev, Epizode’s music director, who’s also a DJ and will perform at the event, says that the first Epizode was a bit rushed; it was only confirmed in October, making bookings tough, although it still managed to attract 5,000 revellers.

This time the organisers are expecting to at least double that attendance, and have had a whole year to work on the line-up – and, ladies and gentlemen, it is ridiculous: about five major festivals’ worth of talent in one. “This is the proper first year,” says Mirzoev. “We got the headliners we want.”

The line-up reads like a Who’s Who of the world’s leading electronix music artists. It includes (take a deep breath): Dixon, Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin, Luciano, Chris Liebing, Loco Dice, Dubfire, Jamie Jones, Lady Waks, Ricardo Villalobos, Nicole Moudaber, Marcel Dettmann, Mathew Jonson, Nic Fanciulli, Pan-Pot, dOP, Stanton Warriors, The Prototypes, Aphrodite, Âme, Guti, John 00 Fleming, Prodigy DJ Leeroy Thornhill, Atomic Hooligan, Shaded, Call Super, Bambounou, Ryan Crosson, Sammy Dee, Nicolas Lutz, Richy Ahmed, Peggy Gou and wAFF.

The festival’s musical policy is grounded in techno and tech house, but there’s also a bit of something for everyone. “We looked at other events around Asia, and there’s a lot of in-your-face EDM and trance,” says Mirzoev. “We focus more on modern house and techno.

“But we try to change it up with some trance, some breaks, some drum ’n’ bass. You can hear all styles of modern electronic music in one place, and I miss that. Some festivals, unless you check which DJ is playing, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the music.

“In fact I wouldn’t really even call Epizode a festival. The closest equivalent is Burning Man, with for us the focus is really on the music, whereas at Burning Man it’s on the art.”

Massive as it might look, Epizode is a fairly modest affair compared to its predecessor: at its peak KaZantip went on for a month, with more than 300 DJs playing on 14 stages spread over six hectares. It even ended up getting delusions of statehood.

“A few of the last years, in 2012 and 2013 especially, it was huge – a month-long event with hundreds of DJs playing,” says Mirzoev.

“It was like a separate country – that is why we called it the Republic of KaZantip; when you entered you were given a visa and became a citizen. No one would ever throw you out. We had hard core ravers who would stay there day and night and live their whole lives in there: eating, partying, showering, taking a little nap in a hammock – maybe not that often.”

Unfortunately politics pooped the party, with the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014 (“when it became crazy around there,” as Mirzoev puts it) forcing KaZantip to decamp.

The organisers tried moving to nearby Georgia in 2014, but official meddling made it tough going, and so they abandoned the region altogether, moved east, changed the name of the event – and Epizode was born.

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There was another hurdle when they tried to put on the debut Epizode in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, only to have it cancelled by the authorities at the last moment. When they finally settled on Phu Quoc, they not only built the entire venue for the festival themselves, but have bought the land it’s built on.

The organisers include KaZantip founder Nikita Marshunok and entertainment company Sagrado Corp, owned by Mikhail Danilov, who Mirzoev describes as the club king of Moscow; and, like last year, the audience will feature a large Russian, Ukranian and Georgian contingent, alongside people from across Asia, as well as Europe, the US and Australia. Most come for the entire duration.

“You can go to a dance party, maybe take a day off and explore the beautiful island, maybe go to the water park there, then go to another party,” says Mirzoev. “Where else in the world can you go to 10 shows for US$120?” (The tickets at that price have sold out, unfortunately; the cheapest still available are US$210.)

This year’s festival also features a stage from Berlin techno promoters HYTE, marking their first event in Asia, hosting the likes of Liebing, Dettmann, Jonson, Fanciulli, Moudaber and Hawtin. Many of those artists will also be performing back-to-back sets on the beach the mornings after their big performances.

Epizode 2017 will also feature an entire stage of DJs from around Asia, with at least one from as many countries as possible. Representing Hong Kong are well-known female DJs Ocean Lam and Jo D.

Mirzoev says he would also like to export Epizode to other locations around the region, although the organisers are understandably seeking to host smaller-scale events in other cities that help to promote the main one, rather than fully fledged festivals. “You’re going to be hearing a lot more of us over the next couple of years,” he says.

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And it looks like Hong Kong could be one of those cities. Mirzoev says: “I’m such a fan of Hong Kong, but I’ve never been there. I’ve loved it since I was a kid and I was into kung fu movies. Hopefully, with the success of the festival, I’ll get to visit.”

Getting there

Vietnam Airlines flies between Hong Kong and Phu Quoc via Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City