DUSSELDORF — Something happened on a Friday night in the atrium of Düsseldorf’s most beautiful hotel that caused DJ Antoine"s normally enviably good mood to sour.
He was talking about a few of the items he’d bought now that he earned the kind of money to buy beautiful things. Then, somewhere between the very expensive cars and the astronomically expensive watch, he spots the famous presenter of a TV pop culture show. He suddenly sinks deeper into the hotel bar couch, and his mood with him.
It has to be her, he grumbles while tapping on his constantly vibrating smartphone. Here, he says, holding the phone up, showing the missive in which she wrote that she couldn't attend tonight's big event. Because she was sick. Supposedly. "The big event" is his concert that's supposed to start around midnight. Worse, not only is she obviously not sick but she's having fun with a young guy not her husband. In fact, they just disappeared together into an elevator.
DJ Antoine’s real name is Antoine Konrad. At 39, he's one of the most successful DJs on the planet. The facts speak for themselves: more than 60 CD releases, over three million audio recordings sold, 39 Gold Awards, seven Platinum Awards, four Double Platinum Awards, and the list goes on.
He is no underground legend whose music is known only to insiders. And musically he doesn't break any molds. What DJ Antoine does is create sound for the masses, music on which everybody can agree. People who like DJ Antoine usually also like David Guetta, Avicii and Mike Candys. And all club goers today like David Guetta, Avicii and Mike Candys. Ditto DJ Antoine.
His biggest hit is "Welcome to St. Tropez." As with most of his tracks, it deals with money, lots of it, and the party life that having it permits. In the refrain, a woman's voice sings: "Whoa, party now / Too much money in the bank account / Hands in the air make you scream and shout / When we're in Saint-Tropez."
His new album, We are the Party, perhaps will become part of the DJ Antoine success story, that of a guy from Sissach (population just over 6,000) in the Swiss canton of Basel Landschaft who owns his own record label and produces a running string of Top 10 hits. In view of all this, that a minor glitch like the one involving the TV presenter in the Düsseldorf hotel should still get to him is understandable only if you're familiar with the self-perception of the new type of DJ that Antoine represents.
Popular with fans
A man approaches Antoine, who is still sunk in the bar couch, saying he's a well-known real estate broker and that he'd like to take a couple of photos and get some autographs. For the women who work at his office, he says. There are seven of them. Antoine obligingly writes seven messages on cards and then has his picture taken with this guy who can't seem to remember the names of his employees. At least the distraction has improved the DJ’s mood.
As he orders some mineral water, Antoine mentions offhandedly that Paris Hilton will be coming to tonight's concert. He knows a lot of people, he says, including Bruce Willis, whom he met once. He wasn't very nice, Antoine reports, in fact downright arrogant, but maybe he just got him on a bad day because normally he gets along with everybody.
Getting along is important in his line of work, he says, because the perfect party is one where everybody is in a good mood.
Antoine knows this and that's why his world, or at least the one he shows the outside, is inhabited by such colorful folk. Like Jackson, who is sitting nearby and keeps waving at us. He's with some very blonde women wearing very little. He himself is wearing an extravagant red suit with a white bow tie and a black that doesn't leave his head once during the whole night. Jackson is just there, a regular feature on Antoine videos standing in the the background in bright outfits and partying.
Antoine himself is wearing a black T-shirt with a laughing Mickey Mouse on it, and a leather jacket with a cobra appliqué in glittering stones. Sometimes photographs show him wearing a necklace made of plastic Swatches. He has a weakness for trashy.
Today he says, DJs aren't just DJs — "they're rock stars." That things would turn out this way for DJs was something he figured out in the 1990s, Antoine says, when he saw DJ Jermain wearing a white suit perform before thousands of people who were eating out of his hand. "I was so impressed," he says in English, and from that moment on he knew that's what he wanted. And he is a rock star, if the number of drunk groupies he has to push out of his face during the course of the evening is any indication.
Shortly before the concert is due to start, a vehicle pulls up in front of the hotel to drive us to the club just across the street. It would take two minutes to walk over. Antoine wonders aloud if it's worth driving, but the car looks really awesome and the driver is saying how proud he is to drive the DJ. And anyway, Jackson doesn't want to walk, so we all climb in. Backstage, Antoine chats with the club owners. Everybody knows each other, of course. Jackson is given two bottles of glow-in-the-dark Dom Pérignon that he will hold up for photographers during the event.
The club is full of beautiful people wearing the best luxury brands, as you would expect of people at a club located on the very posh "Kö" (Königsallee). When Antoine comes onstage everybody in the place turns towards him as if he were a magnet. From behind his DJ console, he starts jumping up and down and makes rowing motions with his arms to get people to dance, party, experience the best night of their lives. Every party should at least have the potential of being the best night of all time, and Antoine is giving it his best shot, working the stage like a high-performance athlete.
When he plays his hit "Meet Me in Paris," Paris Hilton suddenly appears onstage. Everybody loves it. You could wonder why Paris Hilton happened to be sitting in the VIP section of a Düsseldorf club and ended up onstage dancing with the DJ, but after being with Antoine for two hours you somehow give up wondering about anything in showbiz.
Anyway, Paris Hilton is dancing. Well, actually she's sort of moving from one foot to the other and running her hand through her hair as she does so. She's just a bit blonder than the blondes in the first row near Antoine’s DJ console, but no woman in the world looks as good as Paris does running her hand through her hair. Then she picks up a fire extinguisher. The idea is that she's going to spray the other dancers with the foam, but the thing jams. So Paris — who's planning her own career as a DJ — goes back to the VIP section and takes some selfies instead.
She spends the rest of the night lining up her large entourage to leave. The music here is too loud to talk on the phone. Jackson, meanwhile, is standing behind Antoine holding up one of the now-empty Champagne bottles, determined to help keep everybody in a good mood. He used to be a presenter, he confides, but now he travels around to Antoine's gigs.
What makes a good DJ? Good production and good performance, Antoine tells me after the concert. "You have to have an aura when you stand on the stage," he says. Not something that Avicii projects, for example. "Don't get me wrong," he yells over the loud bass notes of the music, "his sound is fantastic, but the stage show is banal."
Music evolved, and so did musicians
The DJ's role has indeed changed. In the 1980s, a DJ was basically a manual worker whose role was to get people to dance. The music he played was the important thing, and there was no cult of personality. Things changed in the 1990s, and DJs became artists who didn't just mix other peoples' music but created their own too. In the new millennium DJs went from artists to rock stars and became classic pop products.
Along with David Guetta, Avicii and all the other DJs whose sound is all over international hit parades, Antoine is a prototype of this new model. People don't attend his concerts because they want to hear what he'll play or how he mixes music (that sort of thing is for discos). They come because they want to hear how he presents the hits he himself has produced. He's used to being the center of attention.
There's a story Antoine enjoys sharing — a story that is as telling as his reaction to the TV presenter who didn’t show up for his concert. One night right before he went on, he noticed the turntable wasn't working. So he got a mix tape out of his car and faked playing the music live during the performance. People loved it, he says.
DJs have become presenters themselves, and some two hours after his performance he's still writing autographs on all manner of body parts. Paris Hilton left a long time ago, and by this time the famous TV presenter has been forgotten.
He's the center of attention. He poses for selfies with his fans that they will then upload onto social networks. He takes a sip of Champagne and says, "Like a real rock star, right?"