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Makam Made an Album About Life on a Secluded Thai Island

We talked to the skilled Dutch producer about how life off the grid led to 2016's standout album 'Than Sadet.'
November 28, 2016, 9:25pm
Timo Pisart

This post ran originally on THUMP Netherlands. All photos by Timo Pisart.

Feel free to disagree, but Makam's Than Sadet is the best Dutch dance album of 2016. There are moments throughout the album when you hear an off-kilter Balearic beat coursing through the record's grooves; other times he dives into the deep end with spacey house and techno. Oh, and then there are moments when album makes you chuckle. Just take a listen to the chants on "Chihuahua," the sample of Tekken's video game character Yoshimitsu on "Mr Singh," or perhaps the flapping birds and water tones on "When Light Gives You Hope."

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Above all, this album is free, jazzy and almost spiritual, like a distant relative of Hunee's breathtaking Hunch Music from last year. It's a record that works on the dancefloor, but could also soundtrack your mushroom trip through a bustling forest. Makam, real name Guy Blanken, has always been a skilled producer. He's given us cheerful disco tunes like "Good To You," punchy house bangers like "What Ya Doin,'" as well as tougher beats from his techno alias Talismann. But Than Sadet, released this month on Dekmantel, really feels like the next and most notable step in his already impressive oeuvre.

Because I had to find out everything there is to know about this magical record, I visited Makam in his apartment in Amsterdam. After sinking into his couch between two gigantic ferns, it wasn't long before his cat Zip jumped onto our laps to join our chat. Check out the album stream below, and the Q&A after that.

THUMP: Hi Guy! So, Than Sadet is a beach in Thailand. What kind of place is it?
Guy Blanken: Yes, that's right! I'm going there for the fourth time in January. I try to go every year. It's a bay located on a rather commercial backpacker's island called Ko Pha Ngan. But there's one beach that I fell in love with: Than Sadet. It's a remote place you're not likely to stumble upon; there's no paved road that leads there, and no popular tours either. There are a few huts on the beach, but the sea is very rough, and there's a fierce wind most of the time. The island's beautiful, but also kind of mysterious. Large rocks sit next to an abandoned resort, chihuahuas are running loose, alongside stray dogs and chickens. Sometimes you might stand eye to eye with a pig after you wake up. There's also a waterfall that used to be a holy place, where the seven kings of Thailand met. Lastly, there's a bridge that leads to a small temple called Buddha's Bridge. It's a marvelous place. A lot of people that travel look for new places every time, but I'm happy to return here every year.

How did you first end up there?
I ended up there with some friends by accident. We were looking for something untouched on Ko Pha Ngan. We ended up [in Than Sadet] and a year later I returned with a MIDI keyboard and an MC909. I spent a week there in a small hut, and that led to the beginning of this album.

What does that place mean to you? The record sounds almost spiritual.
Not spiritual per se, but I do have a lot of imagination [he picks up the record]. "Riding High" is about riding across the island stoned on a scooter, "Romantic Blazer"is about messing around with my girlfriend, "Waves of Ten" is about vibing in the ocean with a joint in my mouth. As long as I could justify it in my mind, I could fit it into the picture of the album. When you know what you're doing, it makes it more than just messing around. I've worked my ass off for six months, but this was a relaxed way of working. It started going smooth when I got into it. I just thought it was fun to have theme for this record and run with it, to make it almost over the top.

Speaking about over the top, it's also a very funny record.
Yes, it has to be a bit breezy, right? After all, we were on holiday. We're not being fed to the lions!

It struck me the most on the song "Mr Singh." Who is he?
Mr Singh is a man who gives crazy fire massages. He puts some sort of oil on his feet, lights them on fire, and walks on your back.

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Wow! Did you record him?
No way! That's a sample from Tekken 3, it's a classic. I believe it's the character Yoshimitsu.

You're kidding.
Nope. It's Japanese, right? I visited Japan a while ago. I was traveling in a car with a guy and I asked him to translate what Yoshimitsu says. He said something like: 'You're making a mess of it again, I will have my revenge!'

That's exactly what you would say when giving someone a fire massage…
If the image fits in my imagination, it works. What I hear is still Mr Singh.

Still, Tekken… that's a bit of youth nostalgia for you. How old are you?
I just turned 30.

I interviewed party monster Jackmaster a while ago, and he said that 30 was a weird milestone. A conscious reminder to start taking it easy.
Haha, I didn't experience anything like that. I'll have that moment when I'm 40. I like a party, but everything has its time. I can't go all out every week.

Let's talk more about the album. It seems more removed from the dance floor than your earlier work. And all in all it's a very complex and layered record. Was that intentional?
Indeed. I wanted to make something I hadn't made before. Besides, there weren't any techno raves on the beach of Than Sadet, and no full moon parties. I came to a point where this is what I wanted to make. It's a bit more experimental, perhaps.

I'd call it free.
Right. A club record doesn't do it for me. I mean, that's ugly. Right?

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It's a pitfall for a lot of producers. They make albums with only club bangers, the same BPM throughout, and endless intros and outros for mixing. I wouldn't call that an album.
Exactly!

I like Than Sadet because it's really a universe. Thanks to those beach and bird sounds—which could've made it cheesy—it really pulls me in.
I recorded those myself. I have an audio recorder that I brought to Than Sadet. I was walking around to record the sounds of the sea.

With whom did you go last time?
My girlfriend.

Ha, when I go on holiday with my girlfriend, she hates it if I'm doing music related stuff all the time.
Mine was totally ok with it. She had a lot of fun, and she helped me record. It's such a special place, and I go there to rest. I'm not the type to sit all day and think. When I'm there, I can clear my head and just be. I mean, I'm already thinking about stuff so often in daily life.

Do you worry a lot?
Well, I'm a thinker. I can think a lot. You're trying not to laugh, right?

Sorry! You just seem like a very relaxed person.
Yes, but I can also be the exact opposite. I'm not a neurotic—that's exaggerating—but I want things to go the way I want them to. Anyways, I'm going back to Than Sadet this year. I'm going to mess around with my Roland. I always wake up at five in the morning when I'm there; I see the sun rise and sit outside. That's how days start. I never do that here. I'm so excited to go back.

'Than Sadet' is out now via Dekmantel.