July 25 and 26 saw hoards of Bangkok’s hip crowd congregated at GMM Live House on the eighth floor of Central World for the debut of Mangosteen Music Festival. From socialites to the indie-loving youth, chances are you saw a familiar face among the crowd. Headlined by none other than viral electro-soul duo HONNE, whose shows sold out within days during their first visit, it’s no surprise that their return saw tickets sell out just as fast, and the venue jam-packed with an eager audience. The rest of the lineup was equally impressive, featuring acts from local indie sensations Polycat, The Toys and up-and-coming band MEAN.
The festival marks an exciting period in Bangkok’s music scene as new contenders emerge in the musical arena. Thailand Tatler got to have a chat with Sasicha Walanaraya, the young and talented founder of Mangosteen Music Festival, regarding her thoughts on music in Thailand, local artists and how she kicked off her journey. We also managed to fit in a few questions with the faces behind HONNE. Keep reading to find out more.
James Hatcher and Andy Clutterbuck, members of HONNE
What can we expect from your latest album?
For our new album, we wanted to bring in new flavours to our music. Our first album was quite one-dimensional, so we really wanted to experiment with this one—we wanted to change the sounds we were using with every song.
Love Me / Love Me Not? What is your new album about?
It’s a tale of two sides, an album that highlights the highs and lows of everything—love, touring, life. On the one hand it gives you positive stories of love, but it also shows you how there’s always another side. Like touring, for example. While on tour we have a great time with our fans, we also miss home.
What’s behind the half-filled circle as your album logo?
It’s actually a bit of text in unicode, but it also represents the two different sides: love me and love me not. Kind of like how you pluck the petals from a flower as you try to figure whether you’re in a “love me” or a “love me not” situation. Our album is split in half—half the songs are represented by the half filled-in circle, and that’s a “love me song”. The other half has a half-empty circle, those songs are “love me not”.
What do you think of today’s music industry?
The industry now is very fast-paced, and we try to cater to that by experimenting. For example, with our latest album we’re releasing the tracks two songs at a time. This meets the dynamic needs of our consumers but at the same time also makes each song a creative work of art.
What inspires you?
We try to be as honest and as real as possible—our songs are written about real stuff that’s happened, and our name HONNE comes from the Japanese honne and tatamae, which describes the difference between a person’s true feelings and desires and what they display to the public. Because of this, especially with this album, we wanted to make it relatable but also create a heightened sense of emotion.
It’s almost Mother’s Day in Thailand. Is there a song you would like to dedicate to the mothers out there?
Our song Woman is actually an ode to all the women in our lives. When we wrote it, the song was actually released between Valentine'Ss and International Women's Day, so it really hit that spot where it can be related to all the women around us.
Sasicha Walanaraya, CEO of Mangosteen Music Festival
Why did you decide to start the Mangosteen Music Festival?
It’s all about passion. In our team, we share the same love for music. I attend a lot of festivals like Laneway Music Festival, Tomorrowland, EDC in London, and I love listening to all kinds of music—especially EDM and indie. As a group, we spent a lot of time exploring different festivals all over the world, so one day we thought to ourselves, wouldn’t it be awesome to create our own journey.
‘Mangosteen’ Music Festival? What’s the idea behind the name?
A lot of people wonder about this, because mangosteen doesn’t have the same Thai ring to it as durian. We chose it because it’s hailed as the queen of fruits—it’s unique and good for you, just like what we wanted our music festival to be like. When we started this festival, we wanted it to be created for Thailand and so we thought about what kind of name we could use to represent the people and culture here. The mangosteen is a very unique seasonal fruit with strong colour and characteristics, and there’s also the word “teen” hidden in the name. This, along with its many health benefits highlights what the Mangosteen Music Festival is all about. We want to be able to push the boundaries of the Thai music industry and inspire the music scene throughout the country.
Why did you decide to feature Honne on your festival’s debut?
Everyone in our team graduated from the UK, so we’re all huge fans of Honne. We realised that they were going to be a big hit in Thailand as the band has become such a sensation since their debut in 2016 with their Warm On A Cold Night album. We love them and wanted to bring them back to Thailand again—plus, they also just released their newest album and are having a tour in Asia, so it was perfect timing.
What about the other participating bands—Polycat, The Toys and MEAN?
To us, these are some of the best performers in Thailand’s music scene, and their style really suited our festival’s vibes. They all have this music style that’s laid-back but very romantic at the same time—same as HONNE. The Toys andPolycat, these bands are known for their deep love songs. For MEAN, they’re still quite a new band but they’re very good, and we wanted them to be able to play in the same festival as HONNE.
So you wanted to highlight the local talents as well?
Yes, that’s why we created a music festival, instead of just a HONNE concert with Thai opening acts. With other concerts like this where they bring in international artists, you usually have Thai bands featured as just opening acts with only around forty minutes on-stage, but that wasn’t what we wanted to do. We’re really looking to elevate Thai bands so they’re equal to international bands—at the Mangosteen Music Festival, the Thai acts play for a full hour, while HONNE plays for an hour and a half, so it’s really like a festival.
Were there any challenges in the beginning?
Quite a lot (laughs). As we are new to the industry, it was our first time hosting such a big event, and we had to deal with a lot of obstacles along the way. I think the most difficult thing was actually the fact that it was my first time doing so many things. I had no experience being a promoter or being an event organiser and suddenly I had to work with so many people. We weren’t just working with one team but had to deal with operations like backstage installation and then things like event marketing, reaching out to media representatives and dealing with sponsors. It was a lot of things going on at the same time.
What motivated you to stick to the project even when things got tough?
I decided to carry on and do it anyway because I already started half of the project, it made sense to stick to it and get it done. It’s also again about passion—I wanted to do it. I wanted to help Thai bands gain recognition for their strengths and also bring in great international bands for Thai audiences to enjoy. Someday, I hope to create a big festival, and that’s why this is a really good start for all of us. Mangosteen Music Festival is like a stepping stone—it’s good for us to have faced all of these problems with our first event because we really became stronger. I know a lot more now about how to operate and how to deal with people, so our next event will be even better.
What do you think of the music industry today?
We think Thai people, especially teens, have become more open-minded. They don’t listen to just one general genre of music anymore but want to explore new types of music. I think different styles of music are also more accessible to audiences because there are more promoters bringing in less mainstream bands to meet the demands of our industry. People plan more varied concerts and events, and we get a lot more international bands visiting us.
Is there anything you hope to change?
I don’t think we’re trying to change anything per se, but it’s more like we want to introduce new things to the Thai audience. We want to expose them to a variety of different experiences and bring in something unique that they might otherwise not have experienced before. With the Mangosteen Music Festival, for example, we tried to create the experience of a true music festival instead of just a concert in a normal hall, so you’d see these trees decorating the space outside and light installations and all that. We’re really trying to bring freshness and unique music to Thai fans while also elevating the Thai music industry onto the global stage.
What’s next? Anything for us to look forward to?
Of course! We are now working on our next project, which will feature Wolf Alice, YellowFang and V Violet on September 15 at Voice Space. Next year we’re also planning to create an even bigger festival, so be sure to stay tuned. We promise it is worth the wait.