Review by Scott Murphy
This year Wonderfruit returns to the Siam Country Club in Pattaya, Thailand from December 14th-17th for the fourth year running. The four day festival bills itself as a celebration of arts, music, food and ideas. It’s produced by the collective “Scratch First”, who aim to create a platform for positive change. That means there will be plenty of eco-friendly policies and social awareness platforms, including a new partnership this year with the Plastic Pollution Coalition, whose goal is to rid the planet of pollution from plastics. As such, no single use plastics will be allowed on the site this year and people are encouraged to bring their own reusable flasks.
This year’s event will be divided into four camps, which will include the hip hop themed “Straight Outta Thonglor”, the “Rainforest Pavilion”, an area dedicated to raising awareness about rainforests, ALTN8, a trippy Alice In Wonderland styled music area and the “Neramit Camp”, a cultural area which will highlight Thai food and music.
Speaking of music, there will be plenty of noteworthy acts performing this year, including Roots Manuva, Richie Hawtin, Wild Beasts, Chronixx and a wide range of buzzworthy DJs (David Dorad among others). In addition, yoga sessions, art installations, chill out zones and inspirational talks by such figures as Bea Johnson (author of “Zero Waste Home”), Tony Fernandes (CEO of Air Asia) and Chatri Sityodtong (Founder and CEO of growing Asia-wide MMA fight group One Championship) will also be held. To further showcase the theme of the festival, every drink purchased will mean a mangrove tree gets planted in the Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park in Myanmar.
If it all sounds like a unique socially conscious Asian event that aspires to be similar to Burning Man – the 30 year old week long festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert – it could be because event organizers do regularly attend that event. “Burning Man is the mother of transformational festivals,” says Hong Kong resident Jason Swamy, one of the current partners at Wonderfruit. “Wonderfruit is highly influenced by it. It’s about sustainability and eco-friendliness, but it has that bohemian vibe and a do-good mentality and it’s very arts driven…a highly inspired progeny of Burning Man.”
Burning Man, for those who don’t know, has grown from a small event on a beach in San Francisco to a world renowned extravaganza that attracted more than 70,000 people in late August this year. The name stems from the 40 foot wooden effigy (“the man”) that is burned in celebration at the end of the event. Over the course of the eight day event, attendees roam the city-wide grounds (maps are now needed) celebrating art, music, creativity and self-expression as they are guided by 10 main principles that lie at the heart of the festival – which include self reliance, community cooperation, participation and leaving no trace.
Swamy, a music promoter in Hong Kong, first visited a decade ago. “A lot of people told me to go,” he says. “I thought it was a hippie, drug fuelled sex thing, which wasn’t interesting to me. What I learned is that it celebrates creativity. It’s a life-changing experience and a mind opening experience of what life can be like. It’s about the challenge, paying your way, contributing, participating, and it resonated with me. It was a long lost family of people that I’d been looking for.”
In part due to Swamy’s extensive background in New York with electronic dance music, the contingent that he got involved with helped build a bus called “Burning Part”, which formed the crux of what is now known as “Robot Heart”. Today, Robot Heart is reputedly the largest sound camp at Burning Man, attracting 10-20,000 people who want to dance and enjoy themselves for the eight day duration. “We revolutionized the music scene at Burning Man,” he says. “We ushered in music programming and professional sound, attracted top talent (like Diplo for example). It’s about gifting, about contributing.”
Over the years, a growing stream of Hong Kong residents have been making the Burning Man trek to either cross it off their bucket list or become yearly converts. They learn about self sustainability by camping on the grounds, see any number of exhibits at diverse camp cities, visit man made structures ( like the yearly temple) and deal with desert temperatures that scorch during the day and freeze at night. “It’s an awe inspiring experience, like going to see the Sistine Chapel or a Michelangelo,” says Swamy. “While it’s going on, it’s a full sustaining city, a collective fantasy of everyone’s contribution. I call it harmonious cacophony. It’s a randomness that comes together but it works beautifully.”
In other words, Wonderfruit would do well to aspire to be like Burning Man. In some ways, it’s already making steps towards that. This year, camping will be allowed on the grounds (with some facilities in place) and there will be an on-site water filtration system and farm to encourage sustainability. “Wonderfruit is a full on multi-dimensional experience with 72 hours of programming,” says Swamy of the event. “There’s a tremendous amount of complexity and dimension.”
And not that anybody wants it to, but to become the Asian version of Burning Man, Wonderfruit has to grow exponentially and morph to a whole other level. In short, for now, Wonderfuit is a promising and growing annual lifestyle festival in Thailand. Burning Man is…Burning Man. “The future of Burning Man is…it’s not going anywhere,” says Swamy. “It resonates with so many people. They have a mini-burn in Israel and there’s a China burn. I’ve been asked to set up India burn. There’s definitely going to become a balancing act so that it doesn’t just become people with a lot of money who want somewhere to go.”
Wonderfruit will take place from December 14th-17th at the Siam Country Club in Pattaya, Thailand. Tickets range from $2,88-6,300 baht. More details can be found at www.wonderfruitfestival.com. Next year’s Burning Man Festival will be held from August 26th-September 3rd. The theme is “I, Robot”.
Over the past two decades, Scott Murphy has talked to many of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, in addition to vital up and comers. As a long-time producer at MTV-Asia and Channel V, he created several programs and produced many long-form documentaries on such acts as U2, Metallica, Madonna and more. He’s also been published in many newspapers and publications around the world. Currently, he’s a Creative Director at Dragon 8, a Hong Kong based auction house.