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Hello: Mendy Indigo

How Satika Rapimsamrong​ went from hustling bread in Thailand to touring the world as Mendy Indigo

  • Olivia Wycech
  • 4 May 2017

Who: Mendy Indigo
Where: Bangkok
Sounds like: Dark, melodic and organic techno

I was slightly inebriated and looking out over the staggering city of Bangkok when Mendy Indigo told me the story of how she started DJing. She had just finishing giving a Thai cooking class in which she taught me to make red curry with beef, stir-fried morning glory, chicken satay with peanut sauce, Japanese cucumber salad and a charred chili salsa that was quickly devoured in a feast at her dining room table – the whole experience is kind of a cultural side project that she’s in the midst of starting up for passersby through Thailand. As she recounted her story, which begins with her selling over 200 pieces of bread a day to her classmates out of the bathroom of her high school because she needed money to study, my glass of wine sat empty because I was too thoroughly engrossed in her story to notice or care. She chronicled a very personal and powerful coming-of-age story about how Satika Rapimsamrong went from hustling bread in a small town in northwestern Thailand to touring the world as Mendy Indigo.

Determined to finish school, Mendy ended up selling bread to hungry classmates for six years and that was the hustle that opened up the door to the world. She went on to university in neighboring Korat and got a job at a night market selling clothes from 5pm - 11pm everyday. One night after work she went to a nearby bar to celebrate a friend’s birthday and upon hearing her sing happy birthday to a friend, the owner offered her a job singing every night after work at the night market. Although it was late and it was singing Madonna and Micheal Jackson to a crowd of people over the age of 50 for 100THB/hour (US$3), to Mendy it was money and she needed it. This eventually led to gigs singing at multiple bars a night and was able to fund her studies in the afternoons.

Following a breakup and a momentary rough patch, on a whim she decided to move to Nepal and stay with a friend for a few months. Armed with almost nothing but a camera, there she found a job at a Thai temple as a photographer and not only learned about Buddhism but she also learned how to speak English. One fateful night over dinner in Kathmandu, Mendy was introduced to some Germans who were playing electronic music and at that time she had never heard anything like it before. Overwhelmingly drawn to it, Mendy was gifted a thumb drive with the first 12 electronic music tracks she would ever hear and play.

Mendy went back to Thailand but soon after both she and her guitar player got sick. Unable to work and still without any inkling to become a DJ, she remained enchanted and inspired by the music on her thumb drive and approached a friend about learning what to do with it. He told her she needed a computer, which she didn’t have nor did she have the money for so she borrowed an ACER laptop from a woman who worked in a salon next to her flat and went back to her friend. He loaded Traktor onto it and everyday after work he would teach Mendy how to DJ on her borrowed laptop at a shop called Indigo.

A friend from Bangkok later invited Mendy on a trip to Koh Chang so she packed up her borrowed laptop and yet another friend’s controller and arrived at Ting Tong Bar on Lonely Beach looking for a gig. She asked the owner if she could play and was refused because, well, established clubs don’t operate like an open mic night at a bar in small town Korat. But Mendy persisted, convincing the owner to let her play from 9pm - 10pm, an hour before the bar even opened. The owner conceded and Mendy played to a crowd of one, leaving Ting Tong Bar later that night having secured not just a gig but a residency. But there was still one problem, she didn’t have her own laptop.

This time Mendy went to back to Korat but with her intentions realigned. She borrowed money from an "uncle" (a common and respectable way to address an elder non-relative in Asia) that she used to play music with to buy her first laptop and promised to repay him somewhere around 2,000THB/month (US$60). She spent the next few years going back and forth between DJing in Koh Chang and, when she could afford it, studying in Korat. On recommendation, she eventually moved to Bangkok with next to nothing and embarked on an unstoppable career, right away landing gigs at clubs like Glow, Bangkok’s long time bastion of underground music. Nowadays she holds residencies all over Asia like Headquarters in Singapore and even Sri Panwa in Phuket, sharing stages with artists like Jamie Jones, Claude VonStroke and Sharam, and is getting ready for her second European tour this summer. Mendy Indigo has evolved into one of the most celebrated and sought after figures in Asia’s techno scene and her story is one the West has never heard before. Now that story has been told and her interview tells the rest. And just to bring the feels back down to techno, she's soundtracked the rest with a bangin' techno mix.

What’s in the name Mendy Indigo?

My friends started calling me Mendy because of the song 'Oh Mandy' by The Spinto Band, which was the first song that I used to sing in my band before I started DJing.

'Indigo' is a group of artists in my hometown of Korat. We all used Indigo as our last names and this is how my artist name Mendy Indigo came about. I just misspelled Mendy instead of Mandy haha...

What’s the best and worst thing about living in Bangkok?

Firstly, being Thai, I love my country and its capital city. Bangkok has so much to offer beneath the surface. If I had to narrow it down though, I definitely could not live without the food scene here. Nothing beats the 24-hour street food found all over the city after a night spinning. Also, Bangkok is a major hub in Asia and this makes it especially convenient for traveling around and playing gigs from Hong Kong to Sri Lanka. Lastly, what's better than a Thai massage on a Sunday after a good weekend.

As with any city, there is always pros/cons. Bangkok is always full with traffic, which can be a bit annoying at times, but I guess you get used to it. Also, the laws prevent clubs from staying open late, which makes it great for house parties, but less so for actual DJ performances.

Take us out for a night in Bangkok – from dinner, drinks, party to after party?

For dinner I would bring you to my favorite spot, Bahrani on Sukhumvit 23. I’m not a big drinker but Iron Fairies is definitely a must-see bar. From there we can then walk to Beam or take Tuk Tuk to Glow where you can always find good music and dancing. For the after parties, you should always follow Dan Buri :)

What’s your earliest memory of electronic music?

The best memory is from when I was traveling in Nepal with some friends from Germany. One day, my friend asked me “Mendy, do you want to listen to some music?” I started listening to his music and I felt like I had just heard something I’ve never heard before. I couldn’t explain it but I was in love – love at first beat. It was 2011 and it was my first time hearing electronic music.

If you weren’t a DJ, what else might you be famous for?

I would say singing. I started singing when I was very young. My uncle was the one who introduced me to music. He owned a huge sound system and I would always listen to his music and sing along. At the age of 8 I was assigned to sing the Thai National anthem at school, a tradition that is being held every single morning before classes start. Later I joined a music band and started earning money with singing. My singing career reached a peak when I sang the soundtrack of a Thai movie called “Angels”, a Sahamongkol Film International production.

How is the state of Thailand’s electronic music scene for a budding DJ and when compared to other cities in Asia?

The Asian electronic music scene has seen a phenomenal boost in the past couple of years ; Just like in other cities in Asia, Thailand is facing a rapid growth despite of the bureaucratic setbacks seen throughout the region. We are proud to say that we have seen a massive growth in the festival scene here in Thailand. Despite the closing hours being shortened here in Thailand over the past two years , an obvious disadvantage to the clubs, the festivals however are a thriving market. The presence of new and exciting local electronic music DJs/producers are what forge the Thai electronic music market forward.

You toured throughout Germany last year, what are some of the biggest differences that you picked up on between music and club culture in Thailand from Europe?

It's not exactly comparable. The industry in Europe is already very developed, therefore the crowds are larger, the music is everywhere, and a big percentage of the population is knowledgeable and educated about music. They respect the artist's track choice and really embrace the music and the journey. In Thailand, it's still a very young market, and not all of these traits always apply... and we all hate when someone comes up to the deck asking for some hip hop while playing techno...

What was the most exciting and stand out gig you played last year?

My gig at Sisyphos in Berlin was definitely the most exciting one. The venue itself has a festival vibe and the crowd is there to enjoy the music. The response and energy I got from the audience while playing, made this gig absolutely unique and unforgettable. On top of that it was my Berlin debut.

What’s the ethos behind the party series Dark & Dirty?

Dark & Dirty is the way I would describe my own sound. Two years ago, I got the opportunity to launch this series as a way to exhibit local artists showcasing electronic music to a new crowds. It's a great way to get exposure and for true music seekers to find raw talent. I'm happy this is still an active project and I never want to lose this way of connecting with the local community of real music lovers.

You have an obvious affinity for techno. What’s your draw to it and what about it makes it different than any other genre of music?

I love techno. For me, it's the most powerful form of music. I love to just close my eyes and really listen to the music, let it captivate me and take me on a journey. It always gives me a big boost of energy I don't get from other genres. When I make a techno mix, I want my listeners to really get into the music, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Dream big, be ambitious, never give up and make it happen.

Do you feel that you have to work harder because you’re a female DJ or is the music industry in Asia equally inclusive and embracing of women?

To be honest I can’t really say that I have to work harder because I’m a female DJ, but what I can say for sure is that the perception of female DJs over here is not equal to male DJs yet. A lot of people in Asia care more about the looks than the music, which I would say is still very different compared to Europe for example, where female DJs are a lot more respected. Then again, this probably also depends on the music genre.

In my opinion, there should obviously be no difference. I believe that us DJs have one major thing in common, which is a passion for music, and this should be the most important thing to pay attention to.

I love it most when... when people lose themselves in my sound and flow with the rhythm.

When I’m performing I feel like I hold magic in my hands, that allows me to control the crowd with the power of music that I play. For a DJ, this is the best moment ever.

What five tracks could you play in your sets forever?

Alex Lario 'Isolated (Dennis Cruz Remix)'

Darlyn Vlys Feat. Forrest 'Colours (Ruede Hagelstein Remix)'

Mano Le Tough 'Everything You've Done Before (Dixon Remix)'

Ronald Christoph feat. Orlando 'Take Off, Baby!'

Recondite 'Phalanx'

Actually I have more… hehe

What other leading ladies should we be on the lookout for in Asia?

Phuong Le from Vietnam, who recently moved to Bangkok. She is part of the ME & her DJ duo and she is starting her solo project soon.

What’s been the most beautiful moment in your career thus far?

The most beautiful moment in my career has been the launch of my own project 'Dark & Dirty'. On that night I saw all my good friends coming together to support me. It’s been now more than 2 years that I've been hosting this event series and it’s really rewarding to see it grow.

What’s the most special place in Thailand that you think people should know about?

Wonderfruit Festival – it’s a unique and magic place that brings together local & international artists, creativity & arts, food & friends…

I’ve been to every Wonderfruit Festival so far and the production and vibe is at a level where I’d say we can be really proud to have such a great festival in Thailand. I have so many great memories from Wonderfruit Festival and I really think this is a place people should know about.

How do you entertain yourself away from music?

I love food and I love to cook. If I am not busy with music, you will probably find me on the market, buying fresh ingredients or in the kitchen, cooking a massive meal.

If the world were ending, what’s the last record you would play?

Bob Marley 'Don't Worry, Be Happy'

In five years, I will be...

I don’t know where I will be in five years…I’m just living in the moment. Happiness is here and now. I just want to be myself and do my best. Make today perfect because tomorrow may never come!

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