Reviewed: Epizode Festival 2019
Epizode Festival has been on my radar for some time now, with its intriguing origin story and the serious crew of Russian ravers behind it. This year was the first time the line up hurled itself directly into my line of fire, with people like Moodymann and Christian Löffler on the bill to complement the heavier sounds. There was no way I could miss it again.
A tropical island beach setting, a notepad and a head full of intrigue. I was armed and ready.
Phu Quoc is a paradise island in Vietnam right on the border of Cambodia. It is insanely beautiful, fairly well developed and dirt cheap. There is accommodation right by the festival site, but most people are a cab or a scooter ride away. After a little digging, I found myself in dorms at the top of a 4* Spa Resort with infinity pools and a private beach for around £40 a week…
Arriving on the Epizode festival site I had to fight an anxious excitement, as I remembered that this was now an 11 day, 24-hour playground… I wished my brain, body and above all my feet good luck and apologised for the onslaught they were about to receive.
There were 4 stages in all at Epizode Festival and it looked something like this;
The Main Stage was like a sacred-geometric altar to the dance gods. The projection mapping was unreal and the decking hummed with a concoction of bass and the ever-stomping feet of the worshippers. This was the place for the bigger names, the heavier techno and those searching for an all-out rave.
The Egg Stage was spread below giant orange glowing eggs on bamboo towers, that looked like they had been laid by a huge prehistoric creature. This was the main hub for the minimal heads and served as a musical anchor amongst the chaos of the evenings.
The Frisbee Stage was without a doubt my number one. A Glowing UFO looking creation sat above the friendliest dance floor community on site. Frisbee was host to the sunrise sets that truly made the festival. This stage was surrounded by giant bamboo lost-boy style fortifications, that you could clamber up into and find some solace from the sun or the sesh.
The Shell Stage was the shaded home for all who had made it through the night, the sunrise and into the morning duties. Stepping into what felt like the home of a giant crab that had traded their shell for a new adventure, we inhabited this space like the grateful crustations we had become and my god did we show it a good time. This was the land that time forgot and there were at least 3 times I entered at 7am and suddenly found myself walking outside to darkness and a whole new evening of madness.
I have a confession. I was worried about what the crowd was going to be like. As one of few major festivals over New Year (and one that makes space for a fair few mainstream acts alongside the minimal underground) I was unsure how it would turn out. I needn’t have panicked, it’s safe to say I met more legends, dance-floor movers and just all-round good people than I could have possibly imagined!
My second concern was 11 days and 24 hours. I am well trained in the arts of trooping, but I was a little daunted, to say the least. In all honesty, this set-up is way more relaxing than a 3-day time-constrained festival. I loved it. Arrive at Epizode at 2am, stay for 2 days, collapse by your beautiful pool at home, sleep, come back whenever the hell you want… it works. That’s not to say you don’t suffer the consequences, it just means you can approach it entirely your own way.
Finally, we get to the DJ’s. I am a fan of house and techno, but it is not my main love affair with music. Again, I wondered how I would fare on 11 days. The curation and the crates were so wide-spanning and downright naughty that I barely went home for days at a time and only did because I’d ran out of money and needed a shower real bad. It was all insanely good.
I have never seen so much mutual respect, admiration and blossoming friendship from DJ’s in the booth before. Often you see the next DJ looming, telepathically burning ‘don’t even think about one more’ into the back of the first guy’s skull. Epizode changed the game completely. The amount of times the next DJ turned to whoever was slaying it and prompted a spontaneous b2b, sometimes for their entire set, deserves applause. This tone was set early on and became a rule of thumb rather than a special exception – so refreshing and sometimes utterly fucking fantastic.
So in no particular order and with many thanks, my top 5 went a little like this;
Francesco Del Garda B2B DJ Masda
Francesco Del Garda’s sunrise set was one of the happiest mornings of my life and judging by the ridiculous grins and moves that erupted from track 1 – I wasn’t alone. The crate digger extraordinaire took us on a real journey, with selections that completely blew us all away. Keeping to the funky, sexy, lively end of his spectrum – the crowd breathed in the beats heavily after a night of darker minimal. Following his set DJ Masda then welcomed a b2b with open arms and they played together until close for another 3 hours. The smile left neither of their faces the entire time, sore cheeks, great night.
Marco Yanes B2B Di Linh
The HUM takeover brought us Marco Yanes and Di Linh, who are both deeply involved in the Hanoi Underground. Although they were due to play two separate 2-hour sets, they decided to play the entire 4 hours B2B and tune for tune. They put on an absolute master class that moved from progressive panning 90’s house bangers, through garage sounds, tropical numbers and dirty slow techno. They absolutely loved each others work, playfully called each other out for cutting tunes short and just clearly had a great time building sound together – a really special set.
Christian Löffler (Live)
Christian Löffler stepped up and immediately changed everything. The warm glow of the Frisbee, the deeply emotive samples and the layering style and structural capabilities were simply beautiful to watch. Half the dance floor was eyes closed, smiling and maybe even a little emotional after a few heavy nights of mischief. Split between expectant fans and those just discovering the sound, I think this set took a lot of people by surprise and was a fantastic booking.
Ben UFO B2B Phuong Dan
Although I was having a ridiculously good time with the musical offerings so far, after 9 days we were ready for some UK underground business. Not one to disappoint the people, Ben laid out an expert mash-up of jungle, garage, ragga vocals, bouncy house and everything in between. This was the first time gun-fingers were unleashed and although grooving around to house and techno is certainly a good time, everyone was ready to get down low for a good old skank.
Yet again the following DJ, Phuong Dan, noticed the prowess of Ben UFO’s selections and wanted to merge them with his own. The two were perfect together, Phuong Dan providing the all encompassing atmospherics and Ben the punch. The rest of Phuong Dan’s set on his own was equally badass, finishing with a curveball slow-mo dub tune with crazy skatty synths that sounded like the start of an alien invasion.
It had been 11 days… in all honesty, I’d been hitting it a bit hard by this point and there was about 1% left in the tank. I needed Moodymann.
Sporting a durag and huge black shades that gave him a Detroit Zoro aesthetic, the first uttering of those deep tones settled us in…
‘What up Epizode how y’all doing’ – everyone goes mental.
Tom Misch, Arrested Development and Crazy P all get dropped to a mad response. Ever smooth and perhaps understanding the poignancy of his presence, the main man drops the entirety of ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’. Certainly did.
I’ll leave you with a direct dance floor quote from my notes because maybe it can sum up better than sober café me…
‘It’s funny, sometimes I wonder quite what to say and then I realise I have been dancing like an absolute animal for about 14 hours, having the time of my life and getting happily lost in the wave of this place. Maybe that’s all I need to say?’
Thank you to all the Epizode team, I’ll be seeing you next year.
To keep updated with all Epizode Festival news be sure to check out their website here