Pranitan Phornprapha: The Fruit Of His Labour
Esquire had a chat with the founder of Wonderfruit and delved into the creativity and environmental focuses behind the music festival.
BY Wayne Cheong | Feb 4, 2017 | Music
After postponing the festival out of respect for the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Wonderfruit, the annual celebration of “art, music and life”, returns to the fields of the Siam Country Club in Pattaya, Thailand. Founded by Pranitan "Pete" Phornprapha and Montonn "Jay" Jira, Wonderfruit promises fun and social responsibility via a curated selection of activities spread across four days. We wanted to know what can we expect at the festival and grilled Pete when he flew into Singapore last week.
Esquire: First of all, condolences on the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. How will Wonderfruit proceed in the wake of his death?
Pete: The first thing we did was to postpone the festival to observe the grieving period. [While there is a year-long mourning period for the government and public sectors and a 30-day period for the general public] we made a decision to observe the full hundred days of grieving.
Did that decision have an impact on what we're doing? Obviously. Many people made plans in advance so we refunded the ones who were not able to make it for the new dates but we were still able to retain about 80 percent of the acts.
So it’s business as usual. Especially now, that hundred days of mourning have passed and some people are wearing colours now, while others are still doing it out of respect.
Esquire: With regards to your line-ups, how long does it take for the curation process?
Pete: We have about 12 people on staff and they work tireless throughout the year with the programming and making the festival happen. Music takes the longest, about a couple of months. It's a bitch to work with. There are a ton of layers and red tape, especially for the kind of acts we’re after because many aren’t as famous or have their own tour schedule firmed up and all that. It’s more difficult for them to justify doing a show with us. Though it’s frustrating, we understand the bureaucracy and economics of it.
Esquire: What can we expect from this year’s acts?
Pete: This year, we have a lot of regional acts from Singapore, the Philippines… others from the UK. It's interesting to note that Asian people usually would look westward for their music and when westerners come to Wonderfruit, they are blown away by the regional acts. With the diversity of our line-up, you should definitely check out the Asian acts.
Personally, I'm looking forward to JUNUN. It's Johnny Greenwood's pet project [and it’s a collaboration with Israeli composer, Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express]. They're playing on Saturday. The Farm Stage is completely made out of rice. Overseen by the artists, PO-D Architects and Thor. Kaichon, the rice was grown, harvested and dried for the construction. It’s culturally relevant as it promotes the traditional rice farming history and promotes thinking as well.
The Wonder Kar will be cool too. Adam Pollina, the Creative Director of Wonderfruit, who is behind this art installation, will construct it out of trash and the best part of this is that crowd fund the creation of this car. You can donate to different tiers so if you're feeling generous and decide to give a hundred thousand baht, we'll name the Wonder Kar after you.
Esquire: There's also a new LGBT-friendly segment to the festival as well. Something called... "Forbidden Fruit"-
Pete: Forbidden Fruit is the name of the venue and this year's we've teamed with Thailand's gay party promoter to do an event called “Adam and Steve” and their tagline is... I think, "who needs Eve when Steve is better" [laughs].
They are a lot of fun. I went to their party two weeks ago and we have DJ Shigeki [and Uone] on board for the music. “Adam and Steve” is an interactive two-hour show and it’ll be a unique experience around it.
Esquire: Given the scale of this festival, how do you handle your carbon footprint?
Pete: The first thing we did from the beginning is to dig a lake about seven or eight acres large, filled it up with rainwater and added in a commercial-grade filtration system. The water is used for the crops on the farm, for showers, that sort of thing. We don't rely on any water from the outside.
The second thing we did is not to allow any plastic on site. You can try to bring in your own plastic but there will be searches. Everything we use in there is biodegradable, including the plates and cutleries from the food vendors. We recycle, we have a compost area, and for the first time we’re investing in the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve in Indonesia. We’ve calculated for the carbon footprint of 15,000 people for four days to arrive to the number of trees we needed to plant.
Esquire: Were you always this eco-minded?
Pete: Well, a lot of that was instilled in me by my parents, my dad especially. He started this environmental campaign years ago called “Think Earth” in Thailand. As you can imagine, back then, climate change, deforestation, global warming… these were new concepts.
Esquire: So people do not talk about global warming and such at the time?
Pete: Not many. But in the last decade, there was a shift in mentality. We understand it's a problem and there are people out there doing something about this.
Esquire: Were you actively involved with any green initiative?
Pete: I was exposed to that at a very young age and frankly, I found it quite cumbersome. Perhaps it was because I was forced into it that I found it almost boring. But later, I wanted to reignite the “Think Earth” campaign, but that got put on the back burner due to the Asian [financial] crisis. Years later, I asked my dad if I could revive it and after working on it for a couple of weeks, I realised that this campaign was his legacy. I was inspired by his work but I wanted to interpret it in my own way so that's how Wonderfruit came about.
Esquire: Given that your father’s eco campaign has, somewhat, inspired or taken on a new spin, what do your parents have to say about Wonderfruit when it first began?
Pete: It's year three now and in the beginning, they thought I was mad. My dad came to it and didn't expect it to be this ambitious. He was a little shocked, to say the least. When he came to it for the second year, he understood what it's about. I think, reading about it in the press helped. The press has been kind about [the festival] and we're grateful for that; the reputation we've amassed over the years has been positive. Not only about the entertainment aspect of it but rather about the festival’s sustainability and bringing the community together. It's not me telling him, it's a third party so, now he's supportive. [laughs]
Esquire: Any plans to bring Wonderfruit out of the country?
Pete: I think Wonderfruit will remain where it is because the land that the festival is on is owned by us and there are a lot of liberties we can take with owned land. There are, however, thoughts of doing something that’s an offshoot of our ethos into a more urban environment elsewhere.
Esquire: What is your hope with Wonderfruit?
Pete: We want to be the platform that gathers a community and push forward ideas about sustainability and positive impact. Often, too many people—and I'm also a victim of this—tend to focus on the entertainment and then wanting to do some good at a later time. I think the two can exist hand-in-hand: you can have a lot of fun and yet do something positive as well. You see that a lot in social enterprises that's popping up and we're also trying to get away from it being a music festival. We're not a music festival, we’re a festival that’s more art-driven. We are working hard on how to market it better in Asia.
Esquire: Why’s that?
Pete: European and American cultures have exposed vacationers to camping festivals. When they are young, they go to camps, they are used to living off grid. We don't have [a camping culture] in Asia. Here, most of our concerts are held in stadiums, so some people needs to wrap their heads around the concept of camping at a festival.
Wonderfruit will run from February 16-19 in Pattaya, Thailand. For ticketing information, go to Event Pop. Proceeds from purchased tickets goes to the investment in the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve in Indonesia