Pranitan "Pete" Phornprapha is thinking big. As the team behind Wonderfruit, a massive lifestyle, sustainability, and music festival on the outskirts of Pattaya, Pete is thinking less about the headliners (of which there are many) and more about what it takes to turn the festival grounds into a "pop-up city"—a living, but temporary, experiment in alternative living. This means devoting a lot of brainpower to the kinds of stuff that would rarely get discussed by other festivals, like wastewater management and urban planning.
"We’ve always thought of Wonderfruit as a pop-up city and it’s even more apparent each year because it keeps getting bigger and bigger," Pete told VICE. "Looking at a city, we can go nerdy and get in with it but how do we make it exciting for people? Recycling and compost for example, every year we actually had that, but this year we’re going to bring it out as part of a larger scale workshop."
With anyone else, this would seem like a strange detour for the founder of a growing and incredibly popular festival. But Pete and his team have long been concerned with creating a festival that is more of a curated experiment in ecological living than one focused on getting the biggest names on their stage.
"What I realized along the way is that with headlining acts you are always chasing the next big thing," he explained. "But we really want it to be about Wonderfruit and I think people come to enjoy Wonderfruit because it is this huge city that just pops up so we want the appeal to be the city. We want to make it so that wastewater management and recycling are a part of it too."
Wonderfruit is obsessed with sustainability. Its stages are made from reusable and sustainably harvested materials like bamboo. Its water comes from a pond located on the festival grounds. Unlike other festivals, Wonderfruit doesn't sell plastic water bottles, it sells reusable water bottles instead. It's plates and cutlery are biodegradable. Its carbon footprint is neutral.
"Obviously for us the focus is on the environment and sustainability, but creating culture that is based on that, that’s really based on design and around music and all of that, and in a context that’s really specific to the region," Pete explained. "In terms of cultural context of it that is something we’re really interested in, the whole cultural context because festivals, huge gatherings, it is almost like we’re creating a culture that comes with it."
This culture is something of an antidote to the kinds of massive commercial festivals that typically pull crowds across the region. It's an event full of shared experiences and well-curated musical performances that are as moving as they are memorable—the kind of space where you can lounge in a massive geometric beehive structure listening to Malaysian R'n'B midday, catch a mesmerizing set by Tuvan throat singers at night, and break dawn in the Quarry with some of the world's best DJs.
"The comparisons to Burning Man, it’s been a compliment," Pete said. "I also go to Burning Man. I have been the last four times, but obviously we are going to create something that is unique and practical in the context of where we are and the people we work with."
This year is no different. Wonderfruit is bringing dozens of acts to Thailand, including sets by the eclectic and unpredictable Acid Pauli, Massive Attack's Daddy G, and dance floor favorites Floating Points. The festival is also expanding beyond Pattaya with an arts and music project in Bangkok where artists will compose music based around eight different locations in the city before coming together for an extended performance at Wonderfruit.
"We are trying to grasp music as more of a concept like that," Pete said. "These things will have a life of their own, it’s not just about booking an act. We would like to do more of those things than just ‘oh let’s book a big name,’ for us, this is more exciting.
"The way I like to think of it is that over the last couple of years we have gained the trust of people and we have slowly been pushing it more and more. Now that we have established trust, we can bring people on a journey."
This article was written as part of a paid partnership between VICE and Wonderfruit. To buy your tickets for this year's fest, click here. To learn about last year's fest, read this story here, and to figure out how to plan for your trip, check out our handy guide.