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?"
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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