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Dancing Green: 10 events in Asia that are setting the stage for sustainability

These music events aren’t destroying the planet, they’re fixing it

  • Rylee Chow
  • 22 April 2020

Our planet has blessed us with some breathtaking landscapes that the music industry is quickly tapping into to use as backdrops for some unforgettable events. Sometimes that means getting lost in the woods, and other times trodding up a mountain and above the clouds — yet how we've treated the planet in return is often the other way around. Between the litter left behind in the wild, the energy-consuming events and the carbon emissions stemming from travelling to some of these far-off destinations, the music industry is leaving behind an outsized carbon footprint. So why aren't more people talking about it?

A report from Powerful Thinking in 2015 showed that British festivals created more than 23,000 tonnes of waste in a year, 68% of which either ends up in landfill or incinerated. Coachella creates somewhere around 106 tons of waste on each day of the event, which is more than a fully loaded Boeing 757.

Asia is more or less the same. Extrapolated by the hundreds of festivals that take place in the region every year, you have yourself a climate catastrophe. In addition to that, imagine that somewhere around one metric ton of CO2 is emitted every time a festival-goer flies to another country for an event (audience travel counts for 80% of festival carbon emissions in the UK). Or that 2,000 plastic bottles are bound for a landfill after a single day at a small scale festival.

Fortunately, movements are unfolding in front and from behind the scenes in music communities around the world with some pretty big ideas to save the world. There is a real and concerted effort to protect the planet, as people begin to understand how profoundly important it is to preserve the world we live in. And there are an increasing number of events and festivals that are re-thinking old habits and doing their part to minimise their impact. From measures as small as banning plastic and setting up recycling bins to greater initiatives like offsetting carbon through tree planting, event curators are increasingly elevating their #LittleGreenSteps, and sustainability is now being nurtured into their ethos — it's not just about the rave anymore.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we wanted to shine the spotlight on all the people, festivals and brands — the eco architects — that have been working tirelessly to better the music industry in Asia and championing efforts to enhance a positive karmic cycle for this planet. And if Glastonbury can go plastic-free, so can your small event — learn from them.

1. Wonderfruit

Wonderfruit paints a bigger picture than an eye-catching festival and sustainability is their raison d'etre. As creator Pranitan "Pete" Phornprapha said, the festival stems from the idea of a "pop-up city", an experimental act to infiltrate ecological living of the city into the festival itself. Once you're in, you are immersed by the convergence of music and wonderful surroundings — imagine yourself enjoying the sun setting across the horizon while being gently hit with organic sound waves, but with great impact. It leaves you to create your own irreplaceable moment. It's also one of the reasons Wonderfruit has done major work in advocating for sustainable living, from treating all liquid waste before it hits the drains, composting 100% all food and packaging waste as well as recycling up to 48% of all created waste — all of these measures have resulted in its neutral carbon footprint and its goal for creating zero landfill waste. Last year, Wonderfruit used 200,000 fewer single-use cups, saved 95.4kg of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, diverted 95.4% of waste from entering a landfill and offset more than 1,000 tons of the CO2 generated by festival-goers travelling to The Fields. FOR 20,000 PEOPLE. Want to go deep? Read their 2019 sustainability report here.

2. Karma Klique

Karma Klique has become one of Thailand's beloved brands, and despite accommodating only a select and avid few, their ethos and principles nest high on the Karmic scale. The organisers behind KK, as they are locally known, have been rallying up karma points through their charitable endeavours: they've been sharing profits with charitable initiatives since their debut event four years ago. They have raised more than 400,000THB for charities like Bangkok's Duang Prateep Foundation and Chiang Mai's Warm Heart Worldwide. However, their collective minds didn't stop at donation; instead, they are also rewarding the community with sustainable measures like cutting single-use plastic, introducing vegan foods and scaling back on waste (they reduced their waste by 65% with a little bit of effort in sorting and recycling). Like at their neighbouring Thailand-based festival, Wonderfruit, they also sell metal cups emblazoned with the brand's logo to reduce plastic usage during the event and committed to offering over 75% of vegan-friendly cuisines. A huge shout out to their eco-coordinator, Vivi, who is also the Marine Plastic Project Coordinator at IUCN Thailand, for furthering the push for this local festival to going green.

3. Shi Fu Miz

Hong Kong is usually not the first city one looks to for sustainable initiatives; however, that is not to say that positive change isn't in motion. Shi Fu Miz, a festival that attracts upwards of 2,000 guests every year, has adopted a new eco-mission with the help of lifestyle-based social media platform Green Is the New Black. Now, the festival is readied and aimed at bringing sustainability to their homeland. The event takes place at Sai Yuen Farm, an ecological green farm on Cheung Chau, and which has created an organic opportunity for more sustainable measures to be implemented within its community. Namely from waste management, they have banned any single-use plastic and collect organic waste for the farm, bringing positive pushing force for the community to follow. But their surroundings allow them to go a little deeper than that, and even their toilers are using ground-water at the height of 50/60%, instead of freshwater like the rest of the island. Tree tokens made from wood and biodegradable glitter are some of the eco-twists they add. The team is also determined to pass the torch to the others, providing workshops and educational programs for schools (by Sai Yuen Farm), which we believe will bring sustainability issues out in the open and into impactful trends in the future. 2020 is set to be all systems go this October with a heightened push for the planet — we can’t wait to see what unfolds.

4. Garden Beats

Certified by Environmental Solutions Asia (ESA) as the Singapore's first and only carbon-neutral music festival since 2018, Garden Beats is truly a head-to-toe eco-friendly event with big bragging rights. ESA helps calculate their carbon and environmental-related emissions from all sources — from generators to the airplanes that fly the artists in — which allows them to make educated decisions about their production. To offset their carbon, the festival partners with One Tree Planted for a comprehensive tree planting activation. Aside from this really big green step, their sustainable on-site measures are certainly evident — from recycling and compost stations, plus a single-use cup ban and a collaboration with rental dealer Revolv to sell reusable cups, from which a $1 donation goes to supporting their reforestation initiative.

The festival also offers yoga and meditation sessions for mind restoration, and you can also get inspired with conscious talks hosted by experts from sustainability movements like Green Is The New Black, the World Wildlife Fund and more. Vegetarian food and free NEWater is also available. Prepare yourself to be impressed by positive mindfulness and care for our friendly planet — Garden Beats is essentially a mind and body experience.

5. Desa Potato Head

Potato Head Beach Club as you know it is gone. Its successor? Desa Potato Head, a sustainable kingdom of epic proportions. The transformation first saw Katamama open its doors, and the hotel's facade is made up of 1.8 million bricks that were handmade by Balinese artisans, essentially breathing life back into a community. Then followed its carbon-neutral certification, the first in Indonesia. Then came Ijen, a zero-waste restaurant that recycles its food waste to reuse as fertilizer in local farms. Its commitment to sustainability unfolds at the bar as well, where their "conscious cocktail" programme minimises the possible waste of every ingredient and uses only locally sourced ingredients and spirits — even kombucha. Naturally, we weren't at all surprised when the beach club was awarded the Most Sustainable Bar award by Asia's 50 Best Bars 2018. A creative village by the ocean, Potato Head sees music, art, design, food and wellness play together in a way that sparks good times while doing good for the planet, too. And they also throw some pretty rad parties, just wait until Kylmax opens.

6. Fujii Rock

Apparently, rumour has it that Japan's largest festival, Fuji Rock, is adopting a more sustainable policy and is even being dubbed as one of the most environmentally-conscious music festivals — and we are here to tell you that it's actually not a rumour. Tracing back to 1999 when the festival was still in its infancy, it was credited with being 'the cleanest large-scale music festival in the world', based on a clean-up campaign that was set up after the event. Founder of Fuji Rock Masahiro Hidaka has always been about having a green mindset to reward nature as it is that very same nature that hosts the event.

Hidaka once confessed in an interview with Japan Times that it's "ironic" to throw a festival in nature as somehow it will affect the circulation; therefore there's a "responsibility to let people who come to the festival know that". Hence, there are stages advocating societal movements: the environmental issue is tackled by using solar energy to power instruments on The Avalon Stage, recycled tempura oil is used for lighting and stage power in the Field of Heaven Gypsy, and a recycling area run by iPledge leads to a waste-free festival. Last year, they even made 170,000 chopsticks and flyers from the wood collected around the forest surrounding the festival to reduce extra waste.

7. Epizode

Nestled off the coast of Cambodia and in the Gulf of Thailand, Phú Quốc is a tropical island in Vietnam that has played host to one of the most talked-about, and annually anticipated, electronic music festivals in Asia — and presumably around the world given its incredible international artist line-up. However the island was tarnished with a reputation for being heavily polluted, that is until the organisers behind Epizode took the initiative to heal, preserve and sustain the island that has played host to their ever-growing event. Daily community-based clean-ups, biodegradable grass straws, recyclable and environmentally friendly packaging for canned water (by local company BeWater) and a cup sharing system that curbs wasteful consumption were all initiatives that they've implemented since starting up. When the festival comes to an end, the organisers and volunteers return the beach to as close to brand new as they can, giving it back to the locals and to its rightful owner — Mother Nature...

​8. Rainforest Pavillion

Rainforest Pavillion installs and operates one of the most vibey and adaptive stages at Wonderfruit, but the Rainforest Pavilion concept carries over to events in Bali where they raise money to protect Indonesia's rainforests as well as other social and sustainable initiatives (like preventing and creating awareness surrounding forest fires). Originally a group of activists who combine artistic sensibilities, mainly around music, with an environmentalist approach, they now carry out a chain of actions all in the name of protecting nature. To start, they brought a fully immersive experience to Wonderfruit by displaying interactive art and hosting inspiring talks in a bid to raise money for Indonesia's rainforests. Money was raised from the power of dance music, with DJs from all over the world flying in to support and perform, and the funds are always put to their most efficient use. Now, they're upping the ante and setting up a foundation. To set the project in motion, the core team recently went trekking through jungles of North Sumatra to scout land for permanent protection. Have a peek at their noble adventure below.

9. Solar Sound System

There’s nothing new about solar power, but there is a certain something special, attractive, effective and inspiring about Solar Sound System, a brand that started out in France and is now making waves around the world, especially Asia. The system itself is made up of bicycles, speakers and a generator… and of course solar panels. Set within all of that is a comfortable mixer and a pair of decks. It shouldn’t take you much to figure out how this works, but simply put — the more you pedal, the more music you hear. The concept has been employed by over 500 events globally and taken on by Ninja Tunes, Cadenza Records, MentalGroove, Sayag Jazz Machine and Martina Topley Bird just to name a few of the bigger events that give credit and support to impactful yet straightforward technology.

10. Tropika

Tropika is a gathering of minds, music and morals. Despite their short history in Singapore, Tropika has quickly evolved into a full-on conscious initiative that aims to promote mindfulness. The driving force and unifying element is music, as well as film and art, pushing forth artists with an organic sound who not just provide sonic stimulation but also mental. Talks and panel discussions on issues like protest in Asia and contextualising tropical music often accompany their events, which are often hosted outdoors as a way to further reduce their emissions. Operate under the umbrella of three key themes: inclusivity, sustainability and wellness, Tropika is big on transparency and makes its green executions clear. Past editions of the event used 100% biodegradable cups and vegan options. They also leverage technology to promote green living and encourage the development of smart nations through a cashless system at their events. From their balcony, you could hear anything from Afro-Cuban jazz to Senegalese hip-hop, Carnatic funk, Chinese surf, Brazilian tecnobrega and Kwaito house. ....Right?

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