[Interview] Epizode Festival Music Director Roustam Mirzoev talks improvements, curation strategy ahead of 2018 edition
From its industrial home in the heart of Detroit to the dusk-till-dawn underground events that dominate Europe’s rigorous party scene, techno knows no boundaries. In recent years, the genre has since exploded in Asia, further playing into the genre’s exponential growth across the globe. One festival in particular stands out among the rest.
It’s called Epizode Festival.
Epizode, which made its Vietnamese debut nearly one year ago, is an 11-day, immersive musical experience hosted on the country’s largest island, Phú Quốc. Picturesque views of the Gulf of Thailand and year-round tropical temperatures encapsulate the Epizode Festival experience to facilitate the natural charm of a techno-laden beach haven. The fest’s distinguished lineup featuring the likes of Carl Cox, Dixon, and Jamie Jones, amongst a handful of other house and techno mainstays, is enough to make any two-stepping aficionado swoon.
Ahead of Epizode Festival’s 2018 edition, Dancing Astronaut sat down with Music Director Roustam Mirzoev to discuss introducing an all-techno event into Vietnam’s growing music scene, and how Epizode creates an authentic presence amid the growing destination festival circuit.
Tell us about Epizode Festival’s roots: how did the idea come about, and at what point did you start producing the festival?
The roots of Epizode are undoubtedly coming from the legendary project Kazantip Republic. The president of Kazantip – Nikita Marshunok and his core team – were doing just the same more than two decades at the Crimea peninsula, since 1991. Then they moved the event from there in order to ensure that the visitors will be safe in 2014, and were looking for a proper location which would be suitable not just for a one-time event but to settle permanently. After several attempts, we finally landed on Phu Quoc, working together with the great people from Mikhail Danilov’s Sagrado Corp. from Moscow. So this is essentially a continuation of Kazantip, but better and more exotic than ever before! The name “Epizode” came to us in 2016 and I think it matches our ideology even more. I have been personally heavily involved since this year’s edition, while having the honor of playing Kazantip festival and organizing events there many times before so was already really familiar with the team. It was always a highlight of my touring schedule for obvious reasons.
Why Phu Quoc Island specifically, and how difficult or easy was it to get the country on board for a week-long electronic music festival?
Actually, we had little to no problems with the authorities. We have a great team working locally with them. The economy of the land is currently growing drastically and they welcome new projects that can develop the land further. Besides that, their approval was also heavily influenced by the fact that we are not a festival in the common meaning of the word but rather a gathering of people who just want to have fun, not only dancing to the high-quality sounds from the best world-known DJs, but also to enjoy the happiness, relax at sunsets, exchange emotions, experience each other and the unique atmosphere we create. We bring a certain unmistakable vibe that people long for. You can compare it to Burning Man; it’s just not so extreme and takes place at an ocean beach instead of a desert with a lot semi-clothed people running around and having the time of their life.
Considering Vietnam’s music scene is still developing, did you feel as though you were taking a risk by creating a strictly techno festival in a country where the genre is less prevalent?
Believe it or not, this was often the kind of question Nikita was asked for any place where they made the event before, regardless if it was in Crimea, Georgia or Cambodia. After a short period of time, our event always changed the whole region around it. Kazantip/Epizode can be compared to those terraforming projects from sci-fi films about the future — we land on uncharted lands, build tremendous art installations, bards, decorations and dance floors and literally transform the space, time, minds, people and attitudes around us. We have done it many times before and with Vietnam’s current growth potential are sure to do it again. Also we aren’t sticking to a strictly techno paradigm — we will also have trance, drum’n’bass and breaks artists, along with a proper representation of the local scene and other great asian and related acts. We are going for a balanced schedule that could appeal to different groups.
What are some reasons fans from abroad should consider going to Vietnam to check out Epizode?
With everything that has to do with Kazantip before and Epizode now the aim was to create something unique. Epizode is our creation, same as all past projects, and it is definitely incomparable to anything else currently existing in the world. Look, sometimes in the movies you see those “perfect moments” when everything is just right. It sounds impossible but we’ve really always managed to give this feeling to people inside the reality we created, regardless where it was. And we will do it again, even better than before. So if you are a fan of amazing music, exotic beach locations, quality people that understand you and sunsets that will make even the hardened skeptic cry, then Epizode is definitely for you. You cannot find a more hedonistic festival on that side of the world and we take great pride in that — our sense of freedom that we provide!
Initially, many people drew comparisons between KaZantip and Epizode, considering both festivals are produced by the same team. What differentiates the two, and in what ways does Epizode stand out?
It can be considered as our next level. The difference for us is probably that we don’t have to struggle with any authorities, their laws, or any kind of corruption. Phu Quoc is a really safe place where we can breathe freely. For people who are coming to us who you would call participants or visitors and we call “the great nation”, it’s also almost the same as Kazantip, only in even more beautiful place with nice specialities and unique Asian touch. Kazantip was well-known for its tradition for people to experience and enjoy sunsets together, many thousands gathered at the beach each afternoon. Now at Phu Quoc we have easily the best sunsets on this planet, amongst other things.Also the food is just incredible for those moments when you need to refill between your favorite artists’ sets!
What worked really well this year, and what didn’t? What additions or improvements will attendees see next year?
Last year it was our first landing at that location. We had to learn it from scratch, got our first experiences, and managed to establish our authentic atmosphere within the shortest time. You see many of our unique art objects on photos over the whole Web. Besides that, we also built really cool forward-thinking dance floors equipped with top hardware, various awesome bars, a food court and so on. I am satisfied with our achievements from last year. We invested hard into basic things because we wanted this location to be our place not only for a year but for many to come. This time we can concentrate more on perfecting everything, for example our lineup will be much more powerful, we will do everything possible to guide and inform the new coming visitors, there will be even more special events and happenings, and so on.
What is your strategy when curating Epizode‘s lineup?
I am not a fan of names for the sake of names. There is a lot of bullshit on the market and a lot of fake artists getting undeserved hype and fees for nothing, while real musicians struggle. For me, it’s a basic question of “is the music good or not?.” I always said, a really good track must give you goosebumps, going deep into your heart. So for this year we tried to do a balanced approach. We have things like a crazy 3-day HYTE takeover with major headliners, Carl Cox for New Years celebration, personal events from Luciano and Dubfire, Dixon closing out the festival and other amazing artists and showcases spread out through the whole 10 days. It really has something for everybody and we tried to stack a massive line up, so hopefully festival goers won’t have much time for sleep haha.
Has Epizode considered going abroad – such as Europe, or possibly even the US? Ultimately, where is the festival headed?
Epizode, as well as Kazantip or Befooz, is not a place or location. First of all, it is about people. People who are doing it and people who take part. Our mind is always open for any next change as long as we believe that it will be better for us all. It is good to have some special place on the planet that is unique like Phu Quoc, but besides that we definitely are now able to establish this authentic atmosphere anywhere else within just several months. Somewhere in the future we see a world expansion, nothing is impossible when you have a great idea, а strong team and a true community.