A weekend of music, architecture, food, ice baths and discourse | Wonderfruit 2022 review
It’s difficult to describe Wonderfruit to the uninitiated; it’s the ‘Asian Burning Man… but not like that.’ ‘It’s ‘Glastonbury levels of production… but without the interminable main stage headliners.’ It’s ‘Womad without erring too heavily on the ‘world music’ tag.’ It’s ‘a wellness holiday in the sun-drenched fields of southeast Thailand.’ It’s ‘a weekend in Pattaya…’ but not ‘that’ Pattaya.’ What Wonderfruit is, is a diverse gathering that challenges the senses on a sonic, visual and intellectual level.
Stepping on-site after a 3-year hiatus on the Thursday feels like stepping back into a second home we forgot we had….or even needed… also it’s minus 10 back in London right now and the snow is falling all around, so we’re good. The weekend begins with a day of ‘mind mapping’ at the WonderBarn.
Led by Will Travis, WonderBarn is more of a summit for creating thinking for positive change for today and the upcoming world and it’s something I’d return to the festival just for that.
It’s a day that lurches from intense breathwork at the beginning with Walid Aboulnag – that ends in us heading off on some sort of vision quest (yes we did say that), from just our breath – to a diversity session on unconscious bias with Pam Phornprapha and Woody Milintachinda. One of the most interesting discussions that day centres around the idea from Bo Sucharitakul that Thailand could and should grow away from mass tourism by drawing on its Buddhist heritage, creating a ‘tourism of the mind’.
The middle of the day is punctuated with a Wild Minds lunch at the Theatre of Feast – home across the weekend to Michelin-starred and local chefs performing in an open-air kitchen.
Lunch by Chef Gee is “metaphorical food for awakening in silence”.
A beautifully constructed meal from all things lotus plant, we’re guided through the engagement of food, being invited to eat in silence and “feel and taste the food”.
It’s an interesting experiment that is commonplace in all Thai monasteries – the idea being that rather than focusing on conversations and essentially ‘shovelling’ our food we create an appreciation and relationship with our food. You realise this has often been lost in our modern way of consumption.
The lack of litter is striking across the site over the weekend. An, admittedly expensive, yet sustainable reusable cup system replaces any single-use on-site. The zero-plastic approach means all packaging is zero-landfill, with any food waste going to feed the animals on the farm onsite and all grey water used for the newly planted Miyawaki forest, more on that later, to offset a large proportion of the footprint.
Admittedly there’s an argument that many of us will have arrived here on planes and in taxis to the site and our footprints are naturally a lot higher than just that forest if we’d all stayed at home. But there have been efforts on-site to minimise the impact that 25,000 people gathering each day in a field can do. Participants are invited to calculate and analyse their emissions and donate to charities to offset this footprint.
Just like in any living city, design and architecture are crucial to the way we experience modern living. This applies in the context of a pop-up city such as this and what it brings with it. The creative and often fully organic, sustainable structures are a strong aspect of Wonderfruit, with local and international architects drafted in to imagine and create new spaces in which to gather. Many have been reused, reinvigorated and reimagined from previous editions of the festival.
With music performances and programming setting is often as important as the type of sound system – which are excellent too I’ll add – when experiencing music and these structures give way to new ways of seeing and hearing. From Boonserm Premthada’s striking new Neramit Stage, built on rails allowing architecture the freedom to move, to the wave-like structure of the Theatre Pavillion and the vibrantly constructed Forbidden Fruit stage; each of these key areas has been dreamt, designed and crafted with a view to, positioning the relationship of sound, feeling and movement at the forefront of its purpose.
The fact that the result is something so beautiful, mapping a stunning canvas across the full site is a bonus.
Sonic Elements by MSCTY (Nick Luscombe & James Greer) merged field recordings with immersive installations. Air, Water, Metal, Earth and Wood elements are all represented in their installations dotted around the site. WOOD accompanied the Ancestral Forest that Wonderfruit planted in Autumn 2022, along with Sugi.
“A less frantic part of the site that Wonderfruit wanted to reclaim was using the Miyawaki method of forest planting (which is based on reclaiming land to nature via indigenous tree planting), notes Greer. “Nick (Luscombe) and I went to the original Miyawaki forest in Yokohama University, Japan, and spent a couple of days gathering sound materials that we used for the forest installation. We hoped this would enhance the experience of festival-goers taking time out within the series of “listening pod” shelters dotted around the forest, created by Thea Rae. It felt like the nearest you could probably get to be up in the trees or nature beyond the site. “Being a living installation, the exciting part is that every moment that passes, the forest is developing very fast, and we plan that the installation will change and evolve with it.”
“Being a living installation, the exciting part is that every moment that passes, the forest is developing and we plan that the installation will change and evolve with it.”
Where Wonderfruit has really succeeded in its broader appeal is by eschewing the crowd-pleasing tech-house, Burning Man bro favourites. Instead, electing for longer-term and at times pretty avant-garde musical booking policies, seeking to build lasting relationships with its multifarious curators.
Erased Tapes are one such curator and their glorious back catalogue is on display every evening as the sun dips on the Creature Stage for their ‘slow down’ sessions. “Welcome to my cello universe” chimes Anne Muller. A lone cellist, Anne is dwarfed by the cavernous stage but carries her majestic sound across the whole field. Looping and overlaying her notes and taps on the cello into something altogether ethereal.
The subsequent slow-down sessions over the weekend give over to the ethereal vibraphone of Masayoshi Fujita and Penguin Cafe whose cover of Simian Mobile Disco’s wheels within wheels sounds particularly life-affirming on a Sunday night of a festival.
Like all festivals, it’s difficult to adhere to a tick list of must-sees and as with all great experiences, spontaneous moments and lucky finds are always what catches you when you least expect it – this is a festival where this happens regularly. Wandering the site, soaking in the expertly programmed spaces we take in Floating World Pictures – Snapped Ankles founding member Chestnutt, and sound artist and designer Raimund Wong of International Anthem, TRC and Church of Sound artwork fame – wigging out as the sun sets on the spectacular Neramit stage.
Whilst discovery is what you put yourself into this world for, it’s also comforting to see the ‘usual suspects’ along for the ride too such as Tom of England, Manfredas and Ivan Smagghe’s Dresden, Yu Su, Ben UFO, Lakuti and Tama Sumo, Channel One, Jonny Rock, Bobby all taking us into the night.
Other music highlights across the weekend I can’t fit into the paragraph above:
Snapped Ankles, Snapped Ankles, Snapped Ankles!
Vanthan – an amazing Cambodian singer-songwriter
Molam International – Thai funk on the Molam Bus which is a highlight all weekend including some amazing Thai dub from Ga-Pi
Ataje – Japanese band on the Solar Stage as dusk fell on the ‘iconic’ stage of the festival.
Howie B – someone who always surprises you and his Wild Minds project with visual artist Hiraki on the cavernous Niramit with Howie playing under a sheet was an expected brain melt. Followed later on the same with the screening of House of the Unholy film. A pretty out-there sci-fi, fantasy, and live-action interweaved with anime sequences that was filmed in the jungles of Thailand.
Emanative – led by drummer and producer Nick Woodmansey a “cosmic strand of multi-cultural UK jazz with African, Indian and Middle Eastern influences”
Double header of Thai hip hop heavyweights Big Calo and Daboyway on the SOT (Straight Out of Thong Lor) stage.
Vieux Farka Toure – ace Malian singer and son of Ali Farka Touré.
Calling Wonderfruit just an event is a disservice to something on this scale. It’s a festival in the grand scheme of things, it goes on and on but it serves several different demographics throughout its lifespan. It might have a 24-hour license but arriving on site in the morning after the night before didn’t feel like everyone had been stuck at it for a full rotation of the sun already.
Besides, the fuddle of the night before is banished with singing bowls, workshops on body language – yes I hadn’t considered the way I shook hands and what it said about me – Yayoi Kusama’s Sunflowers, Toksen massages – basically being beaten with a hammer and a stick which I know doesn’t sound amazing I know…but it is – ice baths, incredible food and a whole lot more.
How can you criticise a weekend this full of EVERYTHING? Well, if you’re a die-hard Xmas fan – not putting the blame firmly at my wife’s door or anything – Wonderfruit isn’t the greatest time of year for you. Landing back in this hell hole London, you’re reminded of how all-consuming Christmas is but that’s really our own problem. Sack Xmas off next year and invite the parents and kids out here instead, that’s my advice.
Wonderfruit always leaves you feeling reinvigorated and restored and you come away with so many musical, intellectual and well-being discoveries that’s it hard not to re-examine your life and realise you need to make a change…