Visit Wonderfruit: Thailand's music festival with a difference

Eco-consciousness is the message at tent-based event south of Bangkok inspired by UK's Secret Garden Party

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 October, 2015, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 October, 2015, 5:01pm

There are essentially two types of festivals. One type involves assembling a big bunch of bands, putting them on a few stages, pointing them at the punters – and that’s about it. And then there’s Wonderfruit.

Wonderfruit, which takes place for the second year at The Fields at Siam Country, a couple of hours southeast of Bangkok, from December 17 to 20, takes a maximalist approach to the essential challenge of developing an identity, a vibe, an atmosphere all of its own. The music this year includes American indie rockers The Faint, US rapper Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), the downtempo electronica of the UK’s Submotion Orchestra and Jon Hopkins, and also from the UK, electronic production legend Howie B.   

But Wonderfruit includes a huge range of interactive art installations; talks and lectures on a variety of subjects both philosophical and practical; meditation, creative dance, massages, healing and the self-explanatory Yoga of Bass; and some seriously gourmet food. There’s even a lake festival-goers can swim in, and bicycles to explore the site.

Behind it all is a uniting theme of eco-consciousness, and a rather chic, fairly grime-free, glamping-heavy, somewhat upscale approach to a tent-based festival not seen much before in Asia but growing increasingly popular in Europe. One such event, established 11 years ago as an alternative to entirely music-led festivals, is the UK’s Secret Garden Party, and it was a trip to that particular event that persuaded Wonderfruit’s founder, Pranitan “Pete” Phornprapha, that he should give it a go. “It was in such a beautiful setting, and it was so well done,” he says. “The atmosphere was great, not rowdy at all.”

Wonderfruit’s environmental focus followed naturally, he says. As a child, Phornprapha visited environmental projects run by his father, and was seduced both by the cause and by the need to communicate it in a way that makes it palatable. “I realised that it was important to make it fun. I didn’t want to do a festival without a focus, and in fact the focus came first. I wanted to create positive social change, and one way to engage youth is through the arts. We don’t say we’re doing a festival; we say we’re a social movement – and I really believe that. The festival is a mechanism.”

Burning Man says it leaves no trace, but actually all that rubbish is just moved to Los Angeles. Once you engage people, and they start to question why the bottle they’re drinking out of says ‘Put me in the compost’, then they’re part of the movement
Pranitan “Pete” Phornprapha

The venue is owned by Phornprapha’s family, giving him an extra incentive to look after it. Water is recycled from the lake, all packaging is biodegradable, and there’s even a farm on site, supplying some of the ingredients for the so-called Wonder Feasts prepared by a range of chefs from top restaurants, and hosting permaculture workshops. The eco-awareness even extends to the reverse graffiti used to advertise the festival, selectively cleaning off existing graffiti to spread its message.

“What does it mean to be sustainable?” says Phornprapha. “Burning Man [the world-famous festival in the Nevada desert] says it leaves no trace, but actually all that rubbish is just moved to Los Angeles. Once you engage people, and they start to question why the bottle they’re drinking out of says ‘Put me in the compost’, then they’re part of the movement. We are practising what we preach, without preaching.”

Last year’s inaugural Wonderfruit, lasting three days, attracted a mixed crowd of tourists and Bangkok movers and shakers, including a fair number of families, numbering about 7,000; this year the organisers are expecting more like 12,000. “For Asia it’s such a new thing – outdoors, exposed to the sun and dirt,” says Phornprapha. “But we got all the right people there last year and it went viral.”

The event’s curator, Hong Kong-based   Jason Swamy, says that the absence of corporate branding at the site also helped. “When you plaster logos everywhere, you shoot yourself in the foot,” he says. “When you do an event with authenticity and integrity, people notice. The number one thing that went right last year was the magical vibe. There was such a great energy.”

Wonderfruit, Dec 17-21, The Fields at Siam Country, Pattaya, Thailand. For more information, visit wonderfruitfestival.com