How Wonderfruit Became One Of Asia's Biggest Festivals
Once judged largely by the quality of the acts gracing their lineups, music festivals have come a long way in recent years. Led by the likes of Burning Man and Coachella, a new breed of festival has emerged in which gastronomy, art, health and wellness, talks and workshops, and even sustainable living are every bit as important as the music.
Often likened to the two aforementioned US mega-festivals, Thailand’s Wonderfruit has been flying the flag for Asia in this respect while forging a distinctive path of its own. Founded in 2014 by Bangkok-born entrepreneur Pranitan “Pete” Phornprapha and Thai DJ/musician Montonn “Jay” Jira, with the help of Hong Kong-based entertainment guru Jason Swamy, Wonderfruit has grown steadily over the past four years, earning a reputation as one of Asia’s most compelling—and progressive—festivals, and attracting a steady stream of conscientious hedonists from across the region.
Held on a large and verdant stretch of land owned by Phornprapha’s family 30 minutes’ drive from Pattaya (his father is Phornthep Phornprapha, CEO and president of Siam Motors Group), Wonderfruit runs for four days each mid-December. Although not a music festival per se, it features a supremely eclectic music programme that runs 24 hours a day throughout the festival’s duration across an array of outlandish stages. Previous editions have featured hip-hop legends De La Soul and Roots Manuva, indie rock acts José González and Yeasayer, Malian world music stars Songhoy Blues and heavyweight DJs Richie Hawtin and Gui Boratto, while this year’s lineup includes Fleetmac Wood and Libella.
As well as the music stages, the festival site is peppered with weird and wonderful art installations, cosy chill-out zones, a dedicated family area and various tents housing wellness programmes such as yoga, meditation and gong baths. For those looking for something more cerebral, there is a programme of TED Talks-style presentations by innovators from fields as diverse as tech, filmmaking and environmentalism and workshops on a wide range of sustainability-driven crafts. There’s also a smorgasbord of food and drink options, ranging from healthy organic eats to indulgent comfort foods.
All of this is underpinned by an ethos that champions eco-awareness and sustainable living, from the locally sourced or recycled materials used to build the stages to the water used throughout the festival site, which is drawn from the on-site lake and filtered. In 2017, the festival was certified carbon-neutral and this year will see a complete ban on single-use plastics. It’s a philosophy that seems to have struck a chord with festivalgoers as Wonderfruit attracted around 13,000 people last year, a number the organisers are expecting to see rise when the festival returns for its fifth edition from December 13 to 16.
“When we create content, we always think about how we can either create awareness for an issue that we’re passionate about or how we can perhaps even provide some solutions
“When we create content, we always think about how we can either create awareness for an issue that we’re passionate about or how we can perhaps even provide some solutions, or how can we showcase the innovations in that process,” says Pranitan “Pete” Phornprapha. “So the core of what we do is based on environmental protection, awareness and progression.”
One example of this ethos in action is Wonderfruit’s use of Tree Coin, a cryptocurrency created by Swiss fintech company Lykke. With each coin representing the planting of a mangrove tree in Myanmar, the cryptocurrency helps to offset the festival’s carbon footprint while providing attendees with an innovative way to buy drinks and interact with the festival’s content. It is, says Phornprapha, part of Wonderfruit’s drive to create meaningful and immersive experiences that can stretch beyond the duration of the festival.
As a founding member of acclaimed arts collective Robot Heart (best known for its iconic mobile stage at Burning Man) and co-founder of invite-only music, lifestyle and technology festival Further Future in Nevada—dubbed “Burning Man for the one per cent” by some—Jason Swamy is a man who knows a thing or two about progressive festivals. To him, the concept of “mindful entertainment” is central to the Wonderfruit experience.
“There’s what I call mindful entertainment and then there’s mindless entertainment,” says Swamy. “Mindless entertainment, you go out, you have drinks, you party and you come out with less than you came in with. But as you mature, you’re really looking for something more and there’s no reason why there can’t be mindful entertainment, where there’s a reason why you go and you can participate and absorb and interact and come out with more than you came in with.”
Indeed, it is this balance between hedonism and promoting positive change that sets Wonderfruit apart from most other festivals in Asia. But while Wonderfruit’s socially conscious and environmentally aware elements are certainly appreciated by the majority of attendees, it is undoubtedly the festival’s reputation as a rip-roaring party that draws the crowds.
To this end, one of last year’s highlights was the Altn8 stage, which was hosted by the team behind Hong Kong’s annual Altn8 electronic music festival in partnership with fellow Hong Kong-based music-lover Archie Keswick. Featuring a helter skelter-style DJ booth manned by DJs from Berlin’s famed and now-defunct club Bar 25, and a towering 360-degree sound and lighting rig, it was one of the festival’s most popular stages.
“Wonderfruit is a brilliant blank canvas,” says Charlie Toller, co-founder of Altn8. He adds that the abundance of space available is quite unlike any venue he’s seen in Hong Kong, while the ease of getting and staying there (the festival site is less than two hours’ drive from Bangkok and accommodation options range from air-conditioned bell tents to nearby luxury villas) makes it a convenient long-weekend jaunt.
“It can be whatever you want it to be,” adds Altn8’s other co-founder, Roger De Leon, who also deejayed at last year’s Wonderfruit. “You can do yoga or you can be up till sunrise partying. There were a lot of different options and you can see it in the type of people that are there.”
Ah, yes, the people. As with any event, Wonderfruit’s atmosphere is only as good as the people who attend and this is where the festival truly excels. “We attract a well-behaved crowd that’s intelligent and affluent in the right ways,” says Swamy. “I’m not talking affluent in terms of economics. I’m talking affluent in the way they think, in the way they’re educated and so on.”
Phornprapha agrees. “I think the thing that makes Wonderfruit most unique is 100 per cent the people that come—and not only come but get involved as well,” he says. “We attract a lot of artists and architects and designers, so it’s more people who actually like to think about content rather than just see content. We’re not a festival where people will come for the main headliner. We’re not that type of event. We’re more like the thinking person’s festival.”
Wonderfruit takes place from December 13 to 16 at The Fields at Siam Country Club, Pattaya. For tickets and information, visit wonderfruit.co.