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And Mixmag Asia's MVP of 2020 is...Wonderfruit (despite no Wonderfruit this year)

Our people of the year. Here's why...

  • Mixmag Asia Crew
  • 31 December 2020

2020 will go down in history as the year everything was cancelled. Our MVP of the year goes to the brand that didn't exactly cancel anything, but instead adapted to everything. Wonderfruit is a music, design, wellness, art and ideas festival in Thailand that spent a whimsical six years curating an experience like no other in Asia and beyond. They entered our hearts, dug holes and planted seeds that would eventually grow into a forest of families, uniting all those around the world in possession of that seed in perfect syncopated harmony. Regardless of where and when you are around the world, we are all Wonderers and our connection a wildly special thing. No matter your flavour, Wonderers are all one in The Fields. Whether you like rock, techno, men, women, have kids, are a vegan, or have six toes — at Wonderfruit, it doesn’t matter. Wonderfruit is our place, and where we belong, every December.

Every year, we leave The Fields of Siam Country Club with our hearts full and our minds bewildered. Last year’s edition really cemented the festival’s position amongst the big players on this planet. Wonderfruit’s trajectory has seen it evolve from a humble affair with just a few thousand people to a 20,000 person extravaganza living up to its nickname as the Burning Man of the east. The concerts, the culture and the camaraderie — Wonderers spend all year preparing and planning for this ultimate crescendo. 20,000 hearts were shattered this year when Wonderfruit announced the postponement of its 2020 event. Yet there was no debate when it came to selecting our person (or people) of the year. From completely transforming the livestreaming experience, to launching a fresh epicurean brand and shapeshifting Wonderfruit into a multi-weekend affair (while never losing sight of sustainability, traditions or their local community), the organizers of Wonderfruit and all its evolutions are our MVPs of the year, despite there not even being a Wonderfruit.

They took livestreaming & reinvented it

Livestreaming took hold of the music industry this year. It became a lifeline for artists, promoters and brands to connect with and deliver music to their audiences. Sometime in March, China became the first region to begin livestreaming performances from inside their barren clubs to audiences at home, since their clubs were the first to close. As the rest of the world began to shutter their clubs too, livestreaming picked up and fast. And while the West was just discovering the trend, by April, Wonderfruit was already teasing their new and improved livestreaming concept, an idea that had actually been conceived years ago; yet somehow, it took a pandemic to get it off the ground. Fruitfull was launched as an interactive dining series to pair livestream content with offline dishes.

The interactive event allowed diners at home to interact with DJs and Michelin-starred chefs as far as the UK via a Zoom call for a completely novel experience. It was designed as a way to have people think, feel and engage beyond the plate while making a mindful connection to meals…virtually. Season One was called Lockdown and was spread out over a couple of weekends, with Michelin-starred kitchens like Gaa and Bo.lan delivering feasts to the guests’ homes — who were dressed up and waiting in the virtual dining room together — guiding them through the assemblage of their creations. In one experience, British DJ and broadcaster Nick Luscombe threw a socially responsible lockdown couch party over Zoom as people indulged, and in another, diners were invited to make drum ‘n’ bass with Suitman Jungle using items found around the house. Sustainability was at the core of the dishes, and the delivery process embraced a zero-waste concept.

While the idea of launching a brand dedicated to food wasn’t new, the experimental concept built around livestreaming designed for the isolation era while adhering to lockdown protocols and supporting a local culture — from planet to plate — was completely new. Wonderfruit reinvented the livestreaming experience at a time when livestreaming was still being discovered. Fruitful’s first incarnation was a game changer, joining people from all over the world together for a dinner that flowed as any dinner should: with conversation, stories, connections and music, just...virtually.

Then they launched a full on weekend-long festival dedicated to food

Launching anything during a pandemic is risky business but Wonderfruit has always been known as the ultimate risk-takers — we would never have expected them to take any kind of break, even during a pandemic. When they were awarded a small window of time for large events to go ahead, they put on their aprons, got in the kitchen and whipped up a weekend-long festival dedicated to Thailand’s gustatory greatness (because nothing typifies Thai culture better than its food), and washed down with some natural wine. The event took place in November and unfolded as a masterclass on food, culture and sustainability. Crossover experiences from back soi heroes paired with Michelin-starred names flocked en masse to the teakwood Jim Thompson house where they filled up on the culinary comforts of organic markets, sustainability-driven street food pop-ups, workshops, dinners, feasts and more — all delivered with that whimsical Wonderfruit touch. And because it’s Wonderfruit, the experience was finished off with music for likes of the Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band and a selection of DJs.

We knew from The Fields that Wonderfruit could be trusted to throw a feast, but we didn’t know how they’d fare replacing DJs with chefs as the main attraction. If we had to guess, we expect to see many more Fruitfulls to come. The event’s success really boiled down to their ability to adapt, again. They fast assessed their situation, found a gap in the market and window of opportunity, and executed their ideas fast. They worked with what they had, kept it local (and supported farming communities during a crisis) and kept it green. There was no waiting around to see if and how things would improve, they just rolled with punches. And the punches were delicious.

They reasserted the importance of wildlife with a loud voice

Standing firm by one of their most valued pillars of sustainability and conservation, the Wild Card Project was introduced as an all-encompassing online event focused on the plight of wildlife around the world through trafficking. The impact of the neglect has resulted in extinction warnings, spreading disease and destruction of our complex and interdependent ecosystem, and all in the name of human consumption. As part of the build up to the The Wild Card Show that would take place each weekend at Mooban Wonder, The Wild Card Project set out as an integrated online event on November 17, with a compelling content programme (as you would expect from Wonderfruit) that included talks on the urgency of the issues, live music by Polish pianist Hania Rani, and the premiere of their short film with animators Fossick Project. Wonderfruiters were given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the grave issues at hand with some the strongest voices in the region through discussions moderated by esteemed panelists: Dr. David Olson of WWF Hong Kong, Steven Galster who heads the International Chair for counter-trafficking group Freeland, Dada Bacudo, an expert and advisor for ASEAN and Dr. Jan Schmidt of World Animal Protection. They then premiered the short film animated by Fossick Project, a collaborative-media duo made up of illustrator Cecilia Valagussa and singer-songwriter Marta Del Grandi, which focuses on the plight of the pangolin in a portrayal that symbolises the balance between man and the animal world. The online finale featured Polish pianist Hania Rani, who is highly admired for her harmonically unique adaptation and use of the piano. Building up from the much needed and urgent noise made online, The Wild Card Show took place each weekend at Mooban Wonder with the screening of the Fossick Project short film, accompanied by a 45-60 minute live stage production where performing artists rendered the film into crafty theatre.

They stayed connected to the world though natural frequencies

Just prior to officially announcing this year’s Moobaan Wonder and around the time that travel bans were really sinking in for the longer-term, the team decided to re-visit their 2019 concept called Sonic Elements, a collaborative project between Musicity’s Nick Luscombe and Wonderfruit that immerses naturescape and art installations through the principles of field recording. Last year’s project saw installations pop up across Bangkok city with a main performance at the Theatre Stage. But without any stage to engage with this year, the project was remodelled to connect musicians and field recorders from around the world to submit their interpretations of their city’s soundscape. Selected contestants had the opportunity to participate in online workshops that were led by some of the world’s best — Nick Luscombe and James Greer from Musicity Studio, field recordists Chris Watson, Kate Carr and Sirasar Boonma. The success behind how widespread and inclusive this initiative would become is a nod to the commitment of the organisers, and the results saw professional and amateur participants from 12 countries capture soundscapes for immersive art installations across Mooban Wonder’s over the last few weekends, under the names Air, Earth, Water and Meta.

They gave Wonderfruit back to Thailand

When your main event is cancelled, what do you do? You don’t just wait it out. You adapt. Given Thailand’s quick response to the pandemic and swift lockdown, people lucky enough to be in the Kingdom were also lucky enough to enjoy its nightlife. Given that Wonderfruit is an international affair and wouldn’t be the same without the rest of the world, they came up with a similar concept that was reoriented as a pop-up celebration for the people of Thailand. Well, they said it wouldn’t be the same but from what we observed over social media, it looked very much the same and pulled on our very FOMO-filled heartstrings. Moobaan Wonder was born as a made-for-Thailand experience that was accessible to all, especially those that might not have been able to attend before. Lower tickets prices, diverse programming that celebrated Thai musicians and locally sourced everything made it an all-around celebration of the sounds, tastes, design, culture and experiences of Thailand — with all the glitz and glitter of Wonderfruit. It was marketed as a season-long village festival with actual season passes being sold, but it was cut short with respect to a new COVID outbreak in Thailand although no event ban was in place (due diligence, people). If it’s safe, they’ll continue with the final weekend in January.

What started as an idea to give people in Thailand a chance to shake off the dust in The Fields snowballed into 2020s greatest gift to the Kingdom. The experience left those outside of Thailand foaming at the mouth, but gave those inside of it an opportunity to witness the rebirth of Wonder via 200 DJs, bands and performers, 40 hands-on workshops, 40 food outlets and 80 Thai design stores. It was an extraordinary feat considering how little time they had to pull it off, and it was inspirational how quickly and how well they adapted to the climate around them. Always be prepared, be ready for change, be creative, be humbled, be a community; we will survive this.

They kept it local & gave back to the community

In the early days of the pandemic in Thailand, restaurants stayed closed, street food stalls stood empty, dance floors were barren, musicians were out of work, people were bored and spirits were low. From the get-go, Wonderfruit looked for ways to help people that were most affected. Among them there were farmers, growers, suppliers and the chefs that make our food — and by keeping it local, Wonderfruit’s food concepts directly gave back to this supply chain. Then they turned to the people of Thailand: all the proceeds from Fruitfull’s lockdown edition were directed to Covid Relief Bangkok, a Bangkok-based collective of charitable organizations bringing food, masks and sanitary solutions to some of the city’s most vulnerable during the pandemic. That’s right, it was a not-for-profit affair. Finally, they turned to their Wonderfruit community, and gave people hope when hope was hard to find. They provided experiences, gave musicians opportunities and gave people jobs when they could, and they did it for friends and families in Thailand, packing it all up in a more accessible and affordable opportunity fit for the times. All year, Wonderfruit made sure their fortunes were shared, whatever fortunes means during these strange times. Their commitment to keeping everything local and sustainable never wavered, as they continuously injected back into their economy and created awareness surrounding local trades and traditions.

& They gave us content so we could Wonder From Home

There was no downtime this year. It’s like the team Wonderfruit went straight from The Fields to the office and started on the next checkbox on their list. All year, without missing a beat, they taught us so much by delivering stories, tips, instructions, recipes, videos and podcasts, and of course, they gave us so much music to help pass the time. From playlists for every isolation moment to Soundcloud sets of mesmerizing past performances from The Fields (lookin’ at you Acid Pauli) and even allowed us to experience the sounds of cities around the world thanks to Musicity Global.

Under their Wonder From Home pillar, team Wonderfruit taught us how to cook a classic Pad Kraprao, gave us classical music, taught us how to compost and tidy up the planet and ecen taught us about shibari, the art of bondage (did you miss that? find it here).

It was an easy choice. No voting, no debate: Wonderfruit is 2020's MVP even though there was no Wonderfruit. They took a bad situation, adapted their entire business model and turned it into the best possible outcome. They didn’t do it for themselves to turn a profit, they did it for their community. While at home, they continued to inspire, contribute and create, while being cautious and sympathetic to the situation we all faced. They churned out concepts when people were stuck home while being stuck at home themselves. They considered the environment, they considered the farmers, and they considered us.

See you in The Fields, whenever that may be.

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