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How Thantawan Festival strives to empower Chiang Mai's local communities

"The north of Thailand is a special place for many. Without over-emphasising its beauty and charm, we would also like to highlight just what a great part of the world it is."

  • Words: Amira Waworuntu | Image: Miracle Holdings & Thantawan Festival
  • 4 January 2024

For over 12 years, Miracle Holdings has been a driving force in Thailand's event scene, hosting 150 music events that showcase Northern Thailand's unique sound. Now, with the upcoming Thantawan Festival, they're about to take it a step further.

Inspired by the sunflower's symbolism of hope and happiness, Thantawan Festival (which translates to Sunflower Festival) is a beacon for Chiang Mai's cultural revival. Miracle Holdings envisions it as more than just a festival, but a platform for Northern Thailand's musical prowess.

Championing local talent has been the cornerstone of the company’s philosophy, putting Northern Thailand's musical prowess on a pedestal through numerous events. Thantawan Festival, as their latest endeavour, stands as a testament to their commitment to elevating local artists onto a global stage.

Speaking of music, Mixmag Asia will also be joining the first-ever Thantawan Festival, taking over its Sunflower Stage with an exciting line-up of tech house, techno and progressive sounds. Check the details below.

The festival's inception was a collaborative effort by industry stalwarts Richard Crotty and Damian Johnston, who recognized a shared vision during the success of Reawakenings 3 in 2022, one of the rare music festivals that weathered the storm of the COVID-19 era. Richard’s subsequent role as a partner and non-executive board member in Miracle Holdings solidified their partnership, resulting in a series of noteworthy events in Chiang Mai.

As the decision to embark on Thantawan Festival materialised, Miracle Holdings assembled a dream team led by CEO Kung, administrative manager Ploy, design and marketing liaison JJ, stage designer Nicky, and talent managers Yui and Eddy, with logistics manager Toby ensuring the seamless execution of the event.

Partnering with Tonight Media and 25 local and global entities, the festival promises an unforgettable experience that not only invites over international heavyweights but also highlights local Thai artistic diversity in all its forms.

Amidst their busy preparations, Richard and Damian share with Mixmag Asia their efforts in creating awareness and bringing impact to communities in Chiang Mai — all while having a good time.

In your opinion, what makes your event stand out from the rest; what’s the “unique selling point” that’ll grab people’s attention towards the newcomer among a sea of established festivals in Asia?

Our biggest selling point is Chiang Mai, the artists here and the level of creativity in this incredible part of the world that needs to be enjoyed and nurtured. Adding to this, we are not trying to copy or recreate any other festival but to put something totally unique to Chiang Mai incorporating many facets of what it has to offer, with of course many of the winning aspects of previous festivals that have inspired us.

The festival will showcase some of the best international DJs out there — a first for Chiang Mai. Additionally, the scale and size of the production is unprecedented in this area. However, it's not solely about the music, of course. It's about introducing festival goers to the arts in Chiang Mai. Whether it be live art being created, static art exhibitions, dance and fire shows, drumming circles, a flea market for local vendors to sell their creations, a food fare with 44 different kinds of cuisine, bee conservation seminars, jewellery making seminars, breathing workshops, yoga, meditation, zoomba classes, VIZR therapy and an incredibly immersive kids zone that will both entertain and educate their minds. The list goes on and on…

We believe we have curated the perfect balance between a music and arts festival with lifestyle elements unique to Thantawan Festival and Thailand as a whole. What sets us apart for sure is the well-rounded experience people will have of all ages.

Chiang Mai’s Lanna Rock Garden looks amazing! How did you come across it and how did you all agree on it as the venue for your event?

There have been a number of events held at Lanna Rock Garden. It is the perfect place to build our festival. It is nestled in the mountains just outside of Chiang Mai and the festival grounds are located in a valley between the mountains. It has a beautiful river that flows through the grounds and has areas at different elevations which will make the festival grounds fun for the festival goers to explore, relax and enjoy. Remember, we are taking a raw piece of land with nothing on it and building our festival from scratch. We will then leave the grounds the way we found them until next year again. Environmental sustainability is at the heart of the festival as well, of course.

Chiang Mai itself is well known for its scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage; can you share with our readers your personal thoughts and/or experiences on what makes the destination so special?

The north of Thailand is a special place for many. Without over-emphasising its beauty and charm, we would also like to highlight just what a great part of the world it is. The outcome is of course a double-edged sword, as bringing tourism and people to the area will help the local people economically, but without careful expansion, it could change the very nature of the area which is so enticing.

For festival goers before and after Thantawan, there are a plethora of amazing activities available that we believe will entertain both local Thai people from other areas of Thailand and foreign tourists.

We’ve heard that you’ve also previously collaborated with Burmese tribes and locals in past events; tell us more about that, please!

All of our events historically have been fundraising events, and Thantawan 2024 is no different. We raised money for the hill tribes during COVID-19 to help them through what was a difficult time for everyone. We have supported the Chiang Mai Life School and the hill tribes around Chiang Dao. We normally do not donate our support in cash but rather by purchasing tangible items that can be used in a practical manner and that are desperately needed by those communities.

This year, we're supporting the Free Burma Rangers with 5% of our profit and any donations from festival goers, being used to purchase sleeping bags, female hygiene products, children's school supplies, clothing…the shopping list goes on!

The Free Burma rangers will then take what we and the festival goers have donated and distribute it to the Burmese Refugees displaced and hiding in the jungles of Burma close to the Thai Border. They are doing such an incredible job and we are humbled and enthused to be working with them.

On the official Thantawan Festival website it says you aim to challenge boundaries and foster inclusivity by promoting PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity and Respect); can you tell us how?

We believe in creating a safe environment for anyone from any background, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. We will enforce that mantra and ensure that our festival grounds are safe for people to express and be themselves, whilst at the same time sharing themselves with other people. It's as simple as that!

Can festivals and Mother Nature go hand-in-hand?

They most certainly can! Festivals can be a messy affair as history has shown — the amount of waste generated by a couple of thousand people over three days can be staggering! We aim to keep this waste to biodegradable waste instead of plastics. It is not always 100% possible, but we strive to achieve this.

We'll also ensure that our footprint on the actual land is as light as possible and endeavour to leave the land the same way that we found it. We plan on exploring ways to become more and more sustainable over the next few years. This is an iterative process, but one we are committed to and will learn from each and every year going forward!

What about festivals that directly benefit and even empower the local community; is there such a way to realise this?

For Thantawan Festival, we've included and embraced the local community as there is a village literally on the festival's doorstep. We've employed members of the community to work on our festival grounds — they will be in control of and will benefit from all the festival parking as well as various other employment opportunities before, during and shortly after the festival.

We're also donating to the local school and the Department of Forestry firefighters. At the festival, there will also be many locals selling food, products and services!

Let’s talk music; can you tell us a bit about the curation process for the line-up?

We spent an incredible amount of time planning and deciding how many stages to have. Next came the genres each stage would support and the schedule (order) the artists would perform in. We believe we've got it just right. The proof will be the smiling faces and dancing feet come festival time….and the pudding!

With 72 DJs and 14 bands performing at the festival this year, there will be something for everyone when it comes to music. From hip hop, rap, reggae, rock, folk, indie rock, disco, house, d'n'b, psytrance, mainstream EDM, trap, techno, tech house, deep house, progressive and minimal house music, too — almost too many to mention!

The trick is ensuring there is a good flow to the festival on each stage to carry people through from a Friday and keep them coming back on Saturday and Sunday for more. We know we have the talent, and we're especially certain of our headliners!

This question is for both of you, individually; who are your personal favourite DJs/electronic music producers?

Damian: My personal favourites coming to perform at Thantawan have to be our three main DJ headliners and band headliners. Personally, though, my highlight will be Dubfire for sure. I have loved his music for so long and admire him as a DJ. Some names to look out for during the festival and my personal favourite DJs in Thailand for sure have to be P.O.T, Fred Canal, Jules Blons, Casper, April, 4th, Optikz, Liam, Kittikun, Acid Man, Dorjie, Hellblueboi and Bonita Everitt. There are so many others, but these will for surely be the highlight for me!

Richard: Hardfloor (the track titled 'Acperience' being my defining moment with their use of the TB303), Sven Väth, most artists on the Rising High Records and Tresor label, Colin Faver (RIP), Orbital, Lab 4, The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and Aphex Twin to name a few!

We can all agree that local representation in the line-up of festival performers is a must. Can you share with us your thoughts on Thailand’s talent pool when it comes to electronic music?

Damian: I've been lucky enough to travel the world and party in clubs and festivals on every continent and every major city I visited. Let me just say I'm not exaggerating when I say that Chiang Mai’s music scene for me is the best in the World. Hands down.

There is a different sound here that's totally different to anywhere else in the world — this is true for all genres. The DJs here push the boundaries in every aspect of their production and performances. As I said earlier, you have to come and see (and hear!) to believe what I know to be true!

Tickets to Thantawan Festival, which takes place on January 12-14, 2024, are currently on sale; get yours here.

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