“Two weeks raving,?” our bewildered friends asked us. “You’re gonna die, Coco KL.”
And there you have it — three decades of rave under our belts, and we’ve been destined to an uncertain, sandy death. Probably clutching a deflated balloon of nitrous oxide, trying to relive our misspent youth, while blocking out the fact that our dentist told us it quite literally, inhaling that sh*t will make you stupid.
No, reader, we resolved then and there that we wouldn’t let that happen, not with the kind of line up that Epizode Music Festival had in store for us: Everyone under the Ibiza summer sun, but relocated to a tiny stretch of sand on the crystalline shores of Phu Quoc, Vietnam. If we’re going down, it would be with a modicum of dignity, most of our faculties, and all of our brain cells — we went to Epizode in it to win it, and to experience as much as we could.
First things first, and something we’d like to highlight for all travelers from far and wide, Phu Quoc is ridiculously easy to get to. Local immigration is keen to entice a burgeoning market of sun-seeking tourists in search of that incorrigible hashtag #VitaminSea (we get it), and they will even give you a 30-day visa on arrival, saving you the trouble of having to file one prior to your visit, unlike most ports of entry in Vietnam.
Also in its favor is the fact that Air Asia just started a regular route from Kuala Lumpur a few months ago, and — if you’re coming from further afield — they’ve even got direct flights coming from the UK, as well.
Throw in the fact that the island has an insane amount of tourist infrastructure already built, i.e. dozens and dozens of hotels — old, new, and at varying price points — ready to accommodate you, plus readily available taxi drivers, eager to ferry you between the festival and your digs, and you’ve got a recipe for a smoothly run, shoe-in of a good time.
For all intents and purposes, no matter where you happen to be in the region, or what passport you hold, this is a festival that is not only easy to get to, it’s also relatively cheap to access. Pre-sale tickets for the entire 12 days+ fest will set you back less than 100 euros (RM460), and if you’re willing to share a room, early hotel booking for the week will cost you about RM500 each, breakfast included.
Now, before you start asking us how much we were compensated to say this, we’d like to clarify that, as always, we paid our own way — every beer accounted for, and for all tequila shots misspent. We just honestly liked this festival. A lot.
For the seasoned festival goer, Epizode gave us what we have long been seeking in a saturated space of music events: Zero pretentiousness, good vibes, great sound, and relative accessibility. You don’t have to be a rich kid of Southeast Asia, handsomely salaried expat, or sponsored Instagrammer to enjoy the fruits of the festival — just a little bit of planning will go a long way, and for less than RM1500 (regional flights, hotel, tickets and a few beers), you can have a great time.
So where do we begin? This year’s Epizode consisted of four stages, spread linearly along a stretch of beach that has a few permanent structures built by festival organizers. There’s a single stage with rain protection — the “Frisbee stage”, one “main stage,” and two smaller, more intimate spaces (Egg and Shell) that will later become the epicenter of everything we love about going to a festival. You can walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes, which includes the time to awkwardly say hello to that person you recognize from somewhere, but whose name has since escaped you.
Having spent part of our afternoon doing work, we ventured to the site just in time for sunset, and managed to catch more than one photo session along the festival’s sandy beaches. Large, Louise Bourgeois-esque sculptures jutted out of the shallow sea, their shadows cast on the shimmering water.
Deep in the festival background is a towering tree house, and somewhere near the entrance are face statues not unlike those found on Easter Island, but split in half.
There are photo-ops, and there are activities like cinema and yoga, to keep you busy during the day if you’ve tired of dancing.
Walking along the beach, we grabbed our first of many beers (50,000 dong/less than RM10), and took in the scene.
For four completely outdoor stages lacking any kind of insulated barrier to stop heavy sounds traveling, we’re going to have to say that the acoustics were pretty decent. Bass, and highs were all clear, without one stage encroaching on another’s sound.
We’ll admit, we’re not sound experts, so we turned to a couple of industry friends who we ran into at the fest for their take.
“Yeah, it was good. Minor issue with the main stage, but that was dependent on the act,” said one.
“Big improvement from the year before,” added another. “All the stages used dB tech sound systems, accept for Egg — which was sponsored by Pioneer Pro Audio Vietnam [Ed. Note: Did we mention they were experts?]. Overall it was good for the capacity of each stage.”
Days later we spoke to one of the DJs, and asked their input: “It was good. The placements were all well thought out.”
Speaker placement wasn’t the only forethought at Epizode, and we’d like to acknowledge one of the most important elements in a multi-artist, sundry stages situation: Programming. Who goes on when, and what happens before and after.
We don’t say this lightly, but Epizode’s programming is truly second to none — it was impeccable. At no point were you left wondering why an artist was playing a sunrise set, when their mood is more midnight than pre-dawn. Overlooked details like this can make or break a festival experience, and for us, over the week that we were letting loose on the beach — it MADE it.
Hearing Craig Richards play at 2am (instead of as the sun rose a few weeks before) had us re-evaluate our prior conclusions; seeing Peggy Gou build the crowd for the crescendo of the Red Axes set was restrain, but without feeling stilted; a superb deep and groovy set by Subb-An was followed by Seth Troxler, who brilliantly dropped a Common and Jill Scott edit when we least expected, with the greatest flow.
A couple hours later, Craig Richards and Seth Troxler did an impromptu back to back session at the smaller Shell stage for no more than 50 people.
It’s these kind of experiences that no other festival in the region has been able replicate — authenticity and intimacy, without exclusivity.
Regional representation was impressive: We managed to catch MIIIA, a Chinese-Canadian DJ based in Shanghai, who was truly a revelation. Please, go and find out if she is playing near you, and GO. AND. SEE. HER. Probably one of the best sets we caught during the whole festival, and this is taking into account a five-hour sunrise set from Ricardo Villalobos.
Also really sticking close to our hearts was Nikita Zabelin’s set — right after Nina Kraviz — where he played some very, very hard, very very good, techno.
And what would we do differently next year? First, book everything as early as possible — we couldn’t help but kick our cheap selves for waiting so long to get a hotel, at a higher rate than some of our more organized fellow ravers.
Second — we actually worked remotely for a lot of the festival — foolishly thinking that we could have our cake and eat it too. We missed a lot of great pop-up moments that we haven’t heard the end of from our friends who just sucked it up and took vacation days.
Lesson two: Come to Epizode, but leave your work at the door — there is too much spontaneity to enjoy.
Third, well — a note to festival organizers, but it would be kinda great if you guys also accepted card payments next year. When you start going into millions of Vietnamese Dong, it’s hard to keep track of paper currency — maybe that’s just us, but we reckon you’d take a lot more of our money if we could just swipe. Or have an ATM nearby.
Oh — and a note from our dear friend who lasted the full festival, from beginning to end: More food options, and maybe on-site massages, please. Thank you.
Until next year. Save the rave, and see you on the dance floor.