The sights and sounds of Wonderfruit, a rising music and arts festival in Thailand
PATTAYA, Thailand – By day, Pattaya, an hour or so away from Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, is a picturesque and laid-back beach town. It’s as if the tranquil, azure sea invites you to abandon all worries.
Far from being backwater though, the city’s roads bustle with the rumbling of scooters and songthaews, or pickup trucks converted into mini-buses. Tourists flock to its beaches and temples. A huge shopping mall and hotel skyscrapers are a stone’s throw away from its iconic crescent bay.
At night, however, Pattaya is awash with the glow of neon lights, like a Vice City of sorts. The bars flanking its streets come to life with the chatter of hostesses and tourists – those who have clearly come to the city for more than sightseeing.
But about half an hour away from Pattaya’s urban center, at the Fields at Siam Country Club, an incredible arts and music festival just on its sophomore year pitched camp: Wonderfruit. (READ: Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand: 8 fantastic things to see and do).
Even with its out-of-this-world Coachella and Burning Man-esque vibes, Wonderfruit chose an unlikely setting – all the more making it the new, bright, and shining example, as it seeks to veer away from mere spectacle and revelry.
The festival took place a few days’ shy of Christmas, from December 17 to 21, 2015, but the weekend whizzed by like a dream.
Dance on a mission
On verdant meadows and rolling hills, Wonderfruit stands like a village from a fantasy.
Tents, bamboo pavilions, and colorful flags dot the landscape. Sculptures out of recycled materials take the shape of fantastic beasts. At the center of the festival grounds, a creek flows.
Festivalgoers, clad in garb as comfy or as bohemian and outlandish as can be, flocked to the Thai countryside for a party that went on all weekend.
While the sun was high up in the sky, they gathered under tents, where they did yoga, meditated, made crafts, listened to inspiring lectures, and took part in all sorts of innocuous things.
There was a lot of quality grub and booze that weren’t just grab and go – like bare sustenance before another live music set. We could do an actual food trip at the festival if we wanted to.
Some folks from Bangkok’s hip, cosmopolitan dining scene set up stalls and food trucks. One corner of the grounds had traditional Thai cuisine, and another had dried, crunchy insects as snacks for brave festivalgoers. At the Theatre of Feasts, top chefs like Gaggan Anand, and duo Bo Songvisava and Dylan Jones (of Bo.lan) served up scrumptious banquets.
Across the sprawling fields, there was indeed plenty to do. Almost everything we needed was in one place – kind of a self-sufficient commune, but this was absolutely no ‘70s hippie-esque gimmick.
From the get-go, I saw that Wonderfruit was determined to come up with something progressive.
People from diverse cultures all over the planet gathered at Wonderfruit as a community that celebrated the arts, and the art of living a good life. Going by a few thousands, these festivalgoers already posed a challenge for distributing and using resources, making Wonderfruit akin to what indie magazine Mr. Wolf describes as “a microcosm of the real world’s challenges in promoting sustainable development.”
One of its founders, Pete Phornprapha, told Vice Media’s Thump that the festival was conceived from the idea of “responsible celebrating.” He said, “There's a very clear purpose to what we're doing. […] Our intention is to merge social responsibility with the dance music movement.”
As more festivals with superstar headliners pop up around Asia, Wonderfruit poises to be the beacon of fun-meets-social-responsibility in the region. It has anchored itself on an ethos of eco-friendly and sustainable living, and a flourishing creative community.
With initiatives such as the organic farm at the center of the grounds – whose harvest goes straight to feast tables, or the on-site water filtration system where we could refill biodegradable bottles, the festival was clearly committed to concrete action and making a difference.
24-hour party people
The party had to go on under the scorching sun and throughout the breezy tropical nights. So, it needed the perfect soundtrack.
Underground producers, avant-garde instrumentalists, Thai folk acts, and indie rock bands were on the eclectic but well-curated bill. Admittedly, the lineup was mostly left field, but it “never got too ravey, nor too-cool-for-school indie hipster,” in the words of Pulse Radio’s Henry Johnstone.
It takes an open mind to get the most of something like Wonderfruit. It’s also rewarding to widen one’s horizons by watching live music – a mind-altering experience that’s way different from what you can get from YouTube or Spotify.
We looked forward to the headline acts playing at the main Living Stage, designed by Coachella and Burning Man artist Joel Stockdill, whose two colossal phoenixes soared majestically above the proscenium.
Submotion Orchestra impeccably melded unlikely bedfellows: the deep, throbbing bass lines of dubstep with the smooth trumpet solos of jazz. The result was utterly spellbinding, with some help from a Basement Jaxx collaborator, the phenomenal Sharlene Hector, while the band’s regular vocalist Ruby Wood was away.
"It's Not Me, It's You" – Submotion Orchestra pic.twitter.com/iUrOfx69fF— Out of Tune (@outoftunelive) January 16, 2016
The Faint’s stick-it-to-the-man, synth-laden punk rock certainly stood out among the Wonderfruit acts. The way they shredded on those guitars and keyboards kept the mood electric and high-octane.
The Faint pic.twitter.com/yE9aUFSnc5— Out of Tune (@outoftunelive) January 16, 2016
Evil voices lie when they say you're alone! – The Faint pic.twitter.com/SFWVk7Cfhk— Out of Tune (@outoftunelive) January 15, 2016
The Lucent Dossier Experience had a few old tricks up their sleeves, but they were much more than an ordinary circus troupe. Donning otherworldly costumes, this performance art collective defied gravity and amazed the crowd with fire shows and dance – creating something magical and sensual at the same time.
The Lucent Dossier Experience pic.twitter.com/9akjBcrG1P— Out of Tune (@outoftunelive) January 16, 2016
Jon Hopkins was absolutely something else live. He and renowned light artist Chris Levine wove something mesmerizing and unforgettable in their iy_Project. Colorful lasers pierced the air and undulated hypnotically – the motions reflecting Hopkins’s lush, cinematic piano sounds, punctuated by vigorous techno beats.
"Breathe This Air" - Jon Hopkins, visuals by Chris Levine pic.twitter.com/rvfNwHPsah— Out of Tune (@outoftunelive) January 16, 2016
Rhye’s bluesy stylings – Mike Milosh’s wistful vocals, plus the melancholy of the cello and violin – were just dreamy. The duo, composed of Milosh and instrumentalist Robin Hannibal, gave everyone a dose of the feels.
"Shed Some Blood" - Rhye pic.twitter.com/zl4CKdD3Ws— Out of Tune (@outoftunelive) January 16, 2016
Blonde Redhead navigated the intensity of their early days’ post-punk sound, and the somber, shoegaze-y art rock of their more recent outings. Kazu Makino’s haunting, Björk-esque vocals with Amedeo Pace’s moody croon, kept the crowd transfixed.
Just a short walk from the main stage, the Soi Stage played host to influential electronic acts as well as up-and-coming homegrown and regional musicians. Punters huddled around this fabulous setting, raring to discover some new tracks.
Here, I managed to catch prolific Los Angeles beatmaker Daedelus who played a set that was just mind-blowing. He conjured rich and dense soundscapes, and was really into it with his animated and twitchy motions. Plus, it was awesome to see the mythical Delaydelus, an instrument of his own making, in action.
Daedelus pic.twitter.com/TbTZTRCjAJ— Out of Tune (@outoftunelive) January 16, 2016
Techno is usually associated with mixers, synthesizers, and the like. But Austrian three-piece Elektro Guzzi, a self-styled analog techno “tanz-band,” got festivalgoers on their feet with just their guitar, bass, and drums.
Tarsius did the Philippines proud at Wonderfruit. The electronic duo, composed of Pedicab frontman Diego Mapa on the decks and Radioactive Sago Project drummer Jay Gapasin, definitely gained some new fans in Thailand.
By the time they went into overdrive with the ultra-catchy track, “Deathless Gods,” some festivalgoers, who were just casually passing by the area, joined the crowd to have a little dance.
D e a t h l e s s G o d sTarsius @ WonderfruitPosted by Paolo Abad on Sunday, 20 December 2015
I was also able to see Roscius at the Forbidden Fruit tent, where a substantial crowd was grooving to his so-called “world minimal disco” music.
Roscius pic.twitter.com/pebBgC1DPD— Out of Tune (@outoftunelive) January 16, 2016
Past midnight, some festivalgoers trekked a dirt path that led to a virtually hidden dance stage: The Quarry. In this surreal and trippy setting – a clearing in the woods, they transformed into party animals and raved until daybreak, as DJs from around the globe took to the decks.
Even as the sun rose over the Solar Stage, top electronic acts like Viceroy and Goldroom were still playing, and the crowd there seemed to be still pretty gung-ho.
Even as the dust has long settled – with the hardcore festivalgoers reeling from their hangovers and sore feet – the sights and sounds of Wonderfruit remain indelible.
The experience was nothing short of magical. It was like exploring a small town where you get to meet really amazing individuals: the shopowners manning the food stalls, travelers and backpackers from all corners of the globe, the wise teachers heading the workshops, or even the hospitable locals (with their friendly, soft-spoken greetings of “sawadee khá”).
Going beyond hype, the festival has focused on a clear-cut vision. Even if we steer away from the jargon of sustainable development, it actually still all boils down to building a community – in all its abstract and creative beauty. A killer music and art lineup, tasty food, and eco-friendly initiatives, of course, support this cause.
Even in its early years, Wonderfruit is already shaping up to be a titan of the festival scene this side of the planet. Other music festivals better take a page from Wonderfruit’s book: that festivals can be so much more, and that they can take up a noble cause. – Rappler.com
All photos by Paolo Abad/Rappler, unless otherwise stated
Paolo Abad is a film/television editor and motion graphic designer. He is also a self-confessed concert junkie. Follow his Instagram for live music @outoftunephoto
Note: This writer was part of a trip sponsored by Third Culture Music and Air Asia.