There's something inherently sneaky about Thailand's annual music festival Wonderfruit. The fest, which is fast becoming one of the best in Southeast Asia, is about so much more than music. Sure, those festival memories may have started in the Quarry, but the daylight side of the fest is so packed with informative discussions about sustainability, sexuality, and healthy lifestyles, that anyone is bound to walk away on Monday with some fresh knowledge buried somewhere in their brains.
And this is exactly what founder Pranitan Phornprapha, or Pete to his friends, had in mind. Wonderfruit is, in many ways, an example of adding sugar to your medicine. It's not that the panels and talks aren't interesting and exciting (they are), it's just that even today it takes a bit of magic to get a crowd to spend four days learning about sustainable practices and out-of-the-box solutions to aid our ailing environment.
VICE spoke with Pete about the success of last December's festival, and where Wonderfruit hopes to go in 2018 as the event organizers prepare for another installment of the four-day arts, music, and culture fest.
VICE: When Wonderfruit started it was—and still is—a bit unlike anything else in Southeast Asia. We already have big commercial festivals like Laneway, Djakarta Warehouse Project, and Ultra bring big acts from overseas to the region, but there were few fests really pushing the whole immersive, camp for the whole fest, model. Did you have any concerns going in? Did you worry that it might not work?
Pranitan Phornprapha: I come from an entrepreneur background, and not a festival one, so I wanted to make sure we were creating something with value. I wasn't concerned going into it, but I had some concerns coming out of the first edition since we didn't hit the targets we set. But it's all about learning and improving.
Wonderfruit is also unique in its heavy focus on local acts. We're in a part of the world where, sadly, local musicians are often forced to take a back seat to foreign acts. But here you are pulling from this deep well of talent. Why is this so uncommon?
Perhaps they overlook the fact or don't dig deep enough into the resources at hand. Diversity of music is not only important but it’s critical to how we perceive our brand. Having faith in local musicians and giving them opportunity is key. That's also why we created Intermission with Howie B to give up-and-coming artists the chance to play alongside headliners on the main stage. We always give equal billing to local and foreign acts.
What is funny is that the locals love the foreign acts and the foreigners love the local acts so it’s a great balance. Genre and style are also very important; you don't want all the DJs to sound the same which is what is happening globally, I feel. Every region has amazing music, you just need to hunt for it and not be afraid to not follow trends. Our music policy ever since the beginning is not to rely on headliners, and to have diversity.
This fest is also about sustainability. But how do you marry the two?
It's the reason we are doing what we do, so it comes naturally to us. We started WF with this intention and brought along like-minded people who share this vision so it forms the event rather than the other way round. The important thing is to take the ethos seriously, and to be able to have a clear outcome of what we want to achieve. Measurability and accountability is key, even if results aren’t good in the beginning. We have a clear roadmap and a sustainability manual that will unravel more as we progress. So far, I feel very positive about our progress and our records show that people are appreciating what we do. This is how we add value.
How has the fest grown over the years?
We wish to create a platform for sustainability, where Wonderfruit is just a part. It's heading in a direction where there will be a convergence of multiple things, but we’re focused on building measurable impact through creativity. And of course we will have fun along the way! Hedonistic sustainability is what we call it.
This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.