Review: Wonderfruit Festival 2014
Remembering the refreshing sights, sounds and smells of the inaugural Wonderfruit Festival in 2014
Wonderfruit Festival can be best described in just one word – otherworldly.
There was something to see and do behind every tree and around every tent. In one, midgets served up gin cocktails, in another secret-keepers sat on shiny seats and listened to your indiscretions, and in yet another there were grapes to be stomped and wine to be drunk. It was a vision completely different from most festivals not just in Asia but also around the world, in an industry where everyone has become so consumed with convenience, capital and stature that it has forgotten the principal ethos upon which festivals were built.
But for the thousands of people that made the pilgrimage to the grassy fields of Siam Country Club, just minutes from Pattaya in Thailand, that likely came to Wonderfruit Festival’s inaugural year with standard music festival expectations were instead treated to a whimsical labyrinth of exploration in a carefully curated environment designed to stimulate all the senses and also tap into individual creative experiences. It was surrealism combined with sustainability and self-sufficiency, and an experience completely novel to this part of the world.
And all this comes before getting to the entertainment. The festival also boasted a bold lineup that coalesced the best in local and international talent, and not just in music but also in food, art, performance and all things creative. The execution was seemingly flawless despite a few frustrations with camping that quickly vanished with vibe, and the attention to detail was meticulous from the hay-bale seating to the impeccably arranged boutiquey pop-up tents where you could do anything from nurse your hangover with shots of kombucha to escape into the 1940s.
The weather was sublime as the sun began to set for a Friday afternoon start and lacquered the festivals grounds with a warm glow. As people began to trickle down the dusty path from the car park, illuminated only by a lone set of white fairy lights, it made for an enchanting start to a hedonic weekend that kicked off early Friday with performances by Hugo and Hercules & Love Affair at the Living Stage.
But it was only when New Zealand dub band Fat Freddy’s Drop took to the stage that the crowd began to get comfortable and the buzz first peaked, also in large part due to the oversized bottles of wine that were for sale (a surprisingly suitable fit). For an hour and a half, eight members of the band serenaded warm and fuzzy fans with the soft sounds of dub, reggae, soul, jazz and blues, and the experience of such an epic performance under the mood set by the Thai moon was bar none.
At midnight crowds flocked to the Green Quarry Stage, a late night dance music location nestled deep in the woods that took people on a meander through a few pop-up stages along the way. The stage was an alliance between the organizers and popular Bangkok based underground music brand Trust, who together managed a line-up reminiscent of Ibiza that included Jamie Jones and Seth Troxler playing until the sun rose overtop of a jutting bamboo frame that had been constructed over the dance floor and draped with dangling disco balls. Troxler’s sunrise set struck chords in a dance floor that was still going strong at 6am. An honorable mention also goes out to Kimball Collins who sparked life into the first signs of a crowd and was lauded by his DJ peers for playing one of the best sets of the night.
The Soi Stage was the highlight of Saturday night, which saw members of the Crew Love family from New York play under colossal cutout buffalos that along with the rest of the rustic tow-colored stage was built out of recycled materials. Together Nick Monaco, Pillow Talk and Soul Clap commandeered the night and gave performances that up until then may not have been considered suitable for a festival. But they sped up their mid tempo tracks and out came warmhearted dance music that worked the crowd over and the Crew Love mantra spread infectiously as the hours ensued.
But naturally, not all the scheduling was perfect because at the same time Little Dragon was playing on the main stage and lead singer Yukimi Nagano put on such a captivating performance that her onstage presence kept your eyes glued to her and you ended up feeling bad for not dancing as much as you should have. Woodkid and his quintet came on shortly after and epic would hardly be a strong enough word to describe his powerful performance. It was an ethereal experience that was complemented by haunting visuals, which all together kept a tight grip on the crowd until Yoann Lemoine released them with his final song well past midnight.
The jungle rave (literally) over at the Green Quarry Stage once again went until dawn but this time it was the musical home of Crosstown Rebels head honcho Damian Lazarus who turned out a solid performance before handing over to Subb-An and Citizen and between the two of them, they managed to keep the crowd full and dancing until after 7am. Meanwhile Lazarus continued on at the Solar Stage, which embodied a bit of a Burning Man feel with its spiritual setup and sunrise yoga sessions.
Things quieted down on Sunday but local loves T-Bone and Paradise Bangkok still saw strong crowds and seeing Francesca Lombardo perform with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra was a pleasant way to wind down on the final day. But for a fleeting moment it seemed that the grounds would be empty for headliners De La Soul however people crept out from inside their tents and De La Soul delivered a performance that leaves little to wonder as to how the hip-hop group has maintained icon status for more than two decades. Interactive and igniting was the way they worked the crowd and there wasn’t a soul who didn’t get involved.
At the same time but back over on the Soi Stage, The Gaslamp Killer lent the festival one of the most interesting and energetic performances of the weekend and took his show around the world with music from Turkey, Syria, and L.A. and even included a 15-minute tribute to local Thai beats. Both stages ended with a bang.
The night finished comparatively early and the festival closed with organizers jumping on stage and promising to be back every year “forever”. With permanent structures in place and long-term goals to be fully self-sufficient within a few years, Wonderfruit was well received by the local community in how it managed to weave culture, values, ethos and environment in with a stellar lineup and turned a music festival into a lifestyle experience.
Wonderfruit boldly but quietly did something previously unbeknownst to the region and managed to attract the right kind of free spirited folk that make living and traveling in Asia such a unique experience. Surely the thousands of attendees are now settling back into their everyday lives and subduing withdrawals by already thinking into next year, when the festival should hopefully grow by a few thousand more.
And we can’t wait to be a part of it too.