Cafe Democ – Back to the Source

Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Khao San Road is renowned as one of the best places for nightlife both in the Bangkok capital and elsewhere in the Kingdom of Thailand. Sitting alongside excellent restaurants and pubs, KSR’s clubs now rank parallel with Sukhumvit 11 haunts as some of THE places to visit when in town. Given the importance of the strip’s role in catering to global club officiados, the fact that Cafe Democ is seldom included in any foreign clubber’s itinerary remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

For those in the know, a trip to Cafe Democ is very much a trip to the source – to where it all began. Despite its unimposing architecture and presence (by Bangkok club standards anyway), Cafe Democ is the spiritual home of Bangkok’s club scene. Opened in 1999 and located on a corner of Democracy Monument (hence its name), Cafe Democ is no more than a 10-minute walk from Khao San Road and is where the seed of local DJ talent was nurtured into the vibrant scene that exists today.

As I sit outside the club with owner Mr. Apichart – or Tui to his friends – we talk against a backdrop of some killer homegrown Drums and Bass. “This is not really a club to me,” suggests Tui wistfully. “I also own club Culture, a big club in the center of town. That to me is a club – this (Cafe Democ) is my home! This is where I was brought up,” he enthuses.

Now in his 40s, Tui started life as a DJ at Diana’s in 1984, one of Bangkok’s leading clubs back in the day. There he pumped out Madonna, Michael Jackson, and any other commercial sound his undiscerning audience fancied. At the time the local talent for even this was limited, and UK companies would send DJs out to Thai venues to entertain the masses.

The DJs brought a smattering of club sounds that although established in the west, represented something of a revolution in Thailand. Rubbing shoulders with these DJs, Tui’s tastes changed, as did that of his audience. Slowly, seamlessly, pockets of resistance to commercial music emerged and along with it local DJs experimented. Thailand’s first real underground music scene was born.

“15 years ago Bangkok was the leading place for club music in Southeast Asia,” adds Tui. “DJs from places like Singapore and Hong Kong came over here to sample the scene. Unfortunately, as with other places in the world, in 90s the club scene became synonymous with drug culture. Drugs pretty much killed the underground. The police closed venues, and Bangkok became a bit of a wilderness. Hip Hop changed that.”

“Local artists like Joey Boy made Hip Hop respectable and brought it into the mainstream,” he continued. “Once there, the scene emerged again – it was a safe environment where people could experiment with sounds. Clubs and DJs started to flourish again, and Cafe Democ was there to help things along. Local DJs came here to play exactly what they wanted, with no commercial pressure. We brought over the occasional international act, but primarily, Cafe Democ was for local DJs”.

The scene grew to the extent that Cafe Democ DJs turned professional and a number of venues emerged to cater for the increased demand for club music. RCA flourished and places like Astra (now Club 808) went from strength to strength. Many of those venues though stuck to a more traditional format, catering for Bangkok’s party scene.

“Cafe Democ is no Route 66,”suggested Tui, talking about a famous RCA club where patrons dance around small tables to top 30 US tunes alongside more commercial local sounds. “There’s a genuine sub-culture around these days. This sub-culture has had to be resilient. It’s faced ‘Social Order’ issues that placed curfews on clubbers, political uncertainty, and of course bouts of economic downturn. Despite all of this, the scene remains healthy and you can experience it at Cafe Democ.”

These days Cafe De Moc serves up an eclectic assortment of sounds – Electro, Mash Up, Drums and Bass, and despite its proximity to KSR, caters to a predominantly Thai crowd (often based out of Thammasat University) and a few expats who speak a smattering of Thai. Things warm up around 23:30, but before that people sit around and enjoy the great local food Cafe De Moc offers its punters.

“We don’t have the marketing budget,” suggested Tui when asked why Cafe De Moc doesn’t compete with some of the brasher places on KSR. “Nowadays foreigners only stay on Khao San for a couple of days and then they are off. It’s not like before when they used to stay up to a couple of months and really get to know the area, including this place (Cafe De Moc).”

Cafe De Moc does though have a small but loyal foreign clientele. DJ Curmi (?) from Brighton, UK was there the night we visited. He wasn’t playing; he was just hanging out. “I love this place,” he confided. “This is where it all started and it’s still going strong. I come here every time I am in Thailand. It’s not like one of the big Sukhimvit clubs – it’s very intimate”.

Cafe De Moc opens nightly until about 1:30 in the morning. If you are looking for a slice of the local scene, it’s well worthy of a visit. It’s usually free to get in and there’s a solid line up of acts.

Check out the much less than pretentious Cafe De Moc website to see what’s on offer.

Check out the toilets for excellent graffiti!


Nightlife in Thailand

Nightlife in Thailand
Nightlife in Thailand
Nightlife in Thailand
Nightlife in Thailand

From fantastic costumes and gorgeous girls, pumping beats and delicious cocktails to simply relaxing under the stars, Thailand offers a wide range of entertainment options for those out and about in the evening.

Most of the more vibrant nightlife can be found in Bangkok, but there are also colourful options in Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai and large towns. On the islands, wild beach parties and bar hopping form the main types of entertainment. It is worth remembering that most bars, restaurants and clubs have a 1 am curfew. However, there are usually one or two places around where you can continue drinking if you want.

Here is a rundown on some of the types of entertainment available.

Cabaret Shows can be found in the cities and large tourist areas. This is an extremely colourful affair where dozens of stunning women dance on stage in dazzling sequin covered outfits. Thailand also offers Tiffany Shows, a own unique twist on the traditional cabaret show. Now world famous, these transvestite or ‘lady boy’ shows are extremely entertaining. The performers are stunning and the shows contain comedy and dramatic displays as well as singing and dancing.

Bangkok is by far the best place to go clubbing in Thailand. There is an incredible variety of clubs where you can dance the night away, from the classy Bed Supperclub in Sukhumvit, to the male-orientated DJ Station in Silom. Another great option is Royal City Avenue (RCA), where there are dozens of clubs and bars playing everything from Thai disco music to hardcore Drum and Bass, Hip Hop and Techno. Expect to pay a cover charge at most clubs (300 baht+) and take a photocopy of your passport for identification.

Go-Go bars can be found in most cities and large towns, especially Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya. They are generally located in special areas and can be easily identified by the flashy neon signs and scantily dressed women in the doorways. In Bangkok, head for Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza or Patpong.

Karaoke Bars can be found all over Thailand. Imported from Isaan, these bars specialise in loud Isaan music, flashing coloured lights and sexily dressed women crooning on stage. Many bars also have a selection of Western songs and Westerners are welcome to sing, although be aware that a charge for this is often included in your bill.

Full Moon Parties are another Thai speciality. The most famous of these can be found on Koh Phangan, where is it so popular that they now hold a half moon party as well. Other good places to party on the beach include Koh Phi Phi and Raleigh Beach. Bars usually play loud music until dawn and you can expect a selection of DJs, spectacular decorations and fire shows.

Alternatively, if you just want to take it easy, there are movie theatres all over Thailand. All show movies in English with Thai subtitles, even in small villages. When booking, make sure you ask for the ‘subtitle’ movie. A tribute to the king is played at the start of the movie, and you are expected to stand and show respect along with everyone else. The movie theatres are highly air conditioned and can be a bit chilly, so it is a good idea to take along a light jumper or jacket.

Hooky in Wonderland

Hooky in Wonderland
Hooky in Wonderland

A couple of years ago Peter Hook (Hooky) played a DJ set on RCA, Bangkok. When asked me to interview him, I mentally prepared an informative and detailed preamble about New Orders highly credible impact on the music scene and the pivotal role that their nightclub The Hacienda played in the dance revolution of the late eighties and early nineties. However, after some consideration I decided to keep it brief and just say that New Order are the best band in the world and Hooky’s their bass player.

If you want a history lesson get a copy of the film 24 Hour Party People or read Dave Haslam’s book “Manchester England”.

Here’s what happened when I hooked up with Hooky.

Myself and a few other journo types congregated in the Cy’an Restaurant at the Metropolitan Hotel and waited anxiously, a rumour went round that Hooky was in the pool and we made polite conversation amongst ourselves until a slightly damp Hooky arrived carrying sunglasses and wearing a bathrobe insisting that nobody took photographs until he got dressed.

This is the transcript.

Q) Have you been here before?

A) I came here for six hours in 1981. It was funny because we came out the airport, there were hundreds of taxis and they came running at you, we were like ‘f***in’ ell. What ‘appenin’ ‘ere?’ – They were trying to get you in their taxis so we got in one and told him to take us to a bar.
Q) What do you think of the place?
A) It seems alright I’ve not really seen that much of it. I’ve got a lot of friends that come here though.
Q) How do you think it compares to Walkden or Worsley like?
A) It was Little Hulton actually. That’s a strange question I’ve not been there for a long time either.
Q) Where do you live now then?
A) Alderley Edge.
Q) What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen since you’ve been here?
A) You! (laughs)
Q) A skinhead from Wigan in Bangkok, I mean when people get here there’s always something that blows their mind, something out of the ordinary.
A) Well, I’ve only been here half an hour and to be honest it’s just like being in the Metropolitan in London, so I’ll have to reserve judgment on that one.
Q) Had you thought of bringing the rest of the lads over to do a gig like?
A) It isn’t like that really. I think it’s pretty well documented that New Order don’t really do a lot of gigs, so er the chances of it’ll be quite slim really.
Q) I heard Bernard Sumner saying that one if the reasons you don’t tour much is your bad guts, do you anticipate any problems on that front tonight?
A) I bought some Imodium at the airport. The reason we don’t tour much is because of Barney’s bad head, his bad attitude to touring.
Q) Is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing while you’re in Bangkok?
A) No, not really, it’s a funny thing. I’m very lucky in the way I get to travel to a lot of places and I really enjoy my job and I just look forward to doing it well wherever I do it. It’s like that. It’s quite a strange thing, I live in England and I’m happy there and I know that my job takes me everywhere which I love, so the thing is that I come here I do my job I go home. If I want to come and see things I’d come when I wasn’t working it’s a different mind set.
Q) One of the things Bangkok’s famous for is its racey nightlife are you considering indulging?
A) My racey nightlife days are pretty much over now. I’m an alcoholic, so I don’t drink, which is quite ironic. I’ve been tee total now for eighteen months, now I have a different way of looking at life. You see having been through the Hacienda, Madchester and all the things like that in Manchester I’ve found that there’s other things in the world. I actually found that it was stopping me working and I wasn’t enjoying it, so I’m on the other side of it if you like.
Q) Have you reached the point where you enjoy being sober?
A) I wouldn’t put it that way. It’s like a child not being able to have sweets, even though you know it’s not good for you, you still f***ing want it don’t you.
Q) In an interview before you started DJ’ing you didn’t give much credence to DJ’s
A) No, I didn’t, I thought they were all a***holes. I still do, and now I include myself.
Q) So now you’ve become a rockstar DJ do you sympathise with any of them?
A) Oh no, I don’t sympathise with them. They don’t deserve your sympathy, they’re a bunch of arseholes. I’m being facetious; the thing is there are different things that people do. I count myself as a live musician my first love in the world is playing live music and I’m not able to do that for one reason or another so the next best thing to that is to DJ, and whilst it’s different it is still a performance and Bernard (Sumner) is still right when he says that what we do as ‘celebrities’ that’s a horrible word, is a PA and people come and stare at a geek that used to be in a band (laughs). I mean I’ve realised how difficult a job it can be, how lonely it can be, I mean if it goes wrong, you’re like ‘F***in’ ‘ell. Sh**.’ You just want to dissolve. I mean I found it very difficult it took me a long time to get used to not being with people because for 28 years I’ve had about 30 people with me. The worst thing is when they just stare at you, you have 200 people staring at you it’s very unsettling. It’s alright when you’re on stage you’ve got a guitar and can hide behind it or ponce about. It took me a long time to get used to people staring at me.
Q) So now you only do major gigs like Glastonbury?
A) Yeah. It’s like Naomi Campbell, we don’t get out of bed for less than fifty grand. (Laughs again)
Q) Do you think the Hacienda would have stayed open a bit longer if you’d saved a few bob by Dj’ing yourself?
A) (laughs). No, the interesting thing about the Hacienda was it created the superstar DJ they had the record for paying the most.
Q) Like Dave Haslam?
A) We didn’t pay Dave Haslam the most.
A) It was an enormous amount. I mean the interesting thing was that the Hacienda closed because of its debts. It’d been ran so badly for so long and basically Factory and Rob, Rob Gretton bless him had been using New Order’s money to keep it open, without New Order knowing. As soon as New Order found out then they stopped. It was almost as simple as that.
Q) What do you think Ian Curtis would have made of the Hacienda and the New Order of today?
A) I think he would have liked it. Ian was very much one of us anyway. I think his illness changed him and the medication for his illness did him the least help. I was reading an article about the way they used to treat epilepsy in the seventies and it was f***ing frightening. It was the cocktail of drugs. Compare it to now there’s a lot more awareness, they’re a lot more gentle, there’s more awareness about your mental health that sort of thing. So I think Ian’s probably up there having a laugh. He’s never really left me so…
Q) Do you feel any personal responsibility or guilt for the popularity of the paisley bandana in the late eighties?
A) I thought you were gonna say the death of Ian Curtis then. I thought ‘who’ve you been talking to’. The paisley bandana I never wore one, did you?
Me) Some people did.
Hooky) Let’s get ’em. That’s what I say.
Q) I listened to a radio show you did over Christmas and you played some songs by unknowns from across the world. Are there any Thai musicians you like?
A) Funnily enough what happens is, when I gig people give me things. A lot of the time I worry about having nothing, so I’m afraid of missing something, so whenever somebody gives me something I always listen to it. Even though it takes f***ing forever, I’ve got a pile on my desk f***ing this high you know, every so often I go in and pull one out and think “Thank God it’s crap” then it goes through the shredder, though funnily enough or luckily, with all the places I’ve played like Japan I found some fantastic dance music in Japan that I play. I did a gig in Mexico and met this guy who does, who’s got some f***ing fantastic Mexican dance bands. They’re great and I was delighted. I do I pick them up. There’s also a French band that gave me their CD that I play erm (drums his finger) I’ll play it tonight, I can’t remember I can see it but I can’t remember. Sh** I’ll tell you tonight I can’t remember.
Q) Are you going to modify what you play tonight for the Thai crowd?
A) No, I can’t do that. I mean I don’t know the Thai crowd. It’s a funny thing really, because I went through a phase of not playing New Order. It seemed logical to me I was in New Order, why the f*** do I want to play New Order? I mean I think I was denigrating it. I thought why would anybody want to listen to New Order, then I got so sick of people asking me to play New Order that I started looking for a way to play it and I started putting weird stuff together and stuff that hadn’t been heard before and things like that to make it interesting for me really. So the thing is that I have a spectrum that I draw from, but I don’t know people well enough. I can only tell if they’re dancing or not or if they’re all stood there like that (looks at floor solemnly), and you think f***ing hell. If you’re playing dance they want indie and if you’re playing indie they want dance.
Q) What about requests? How do you handle requests?
A) I have a really good way of handling them I just go ‘no’. I’ve not travelled 5000 f***ing miles for you to ask me for The Cure, know what I mean, f*** off. Americans get very upset when you say ‘no’. It’s quite interesting, they don’t get it. (Peter puts on mock startled American accent)
“What did he say?”
“He said no.”
“He said what?”
“He said no”
It’s like that. I mean you don’t go up to a band and say ‘oi’ do you? I know people think they can do.
Q) What are the rest of New Order doing?
A) Err, Bernard’s at Waitrose, he does the shopping about now. Stephen’ll be at the local homeless shelter he gives the soup out at 4… (laughs). How would I know?
Q) I mean like, will there be another album?
A) Oh right sorry, you meant generally… er.. It’s changed lately in that we’ve found our new records are… it’s what the record companies call a ‘Rolling Stones’ moment. Everyone wants to hear your old stuff, not your new stuff. Like waiting for the Siren’s Call hasn’t really sold many.
Q) Why do you think that is?
A) Because people don’t like it, (laughs) off the top of my head. I don’t know I think the climates changed. It depends what your audience is made up of doesn’t it. It depends if you cross over to a younger audience or if your audience is made up of forty year olds who just want to get off their tits on ecstasy to Blue Monday again. My accountant summed it up quite well he said “Peter people don’t want to hear your old stuff they just want to get off their tits to Blue Monday again.” Do you think that’s true? (looks at me and laughs).
Q) How does that make you feel?
A) It doesn’t particularly bother me, I mean I’ve been doing this a long time and I’d be really surprised if somebody surprised me. I mean with me being sober you begin to see the irony of things. Like I had this girl – I was playing a gig in Spain last week and she was screaming at me and I’d just played Blue Monday. I thought I’d better go and see what she wants, she said ‘Play Blue Monday ! Play Blue Monday!’.I got back I thought ‘F***in’ ‘ell’ That is wierd.’ So in a way it’s part of the rich tapestry of life.
Q) Where you going next?
A) I go to China tomorrow.
Q) Do you listen to some of the new bands?
A) I listen to a lot of new bands, I mean I was very impressed by The Editors, I’m still a great fan of Razorlight although the new stuff sounds a bit weird and funnily enough when I was at the NME awards I was very impressed by Babyshambles actually, but the guy’s such a f***ing jerk (Pete Doherty) in’t he. I just think he’s a complete and utter w****r. I mean I’ve got mates like that but they’re not in the press thank God, I mean I think it’s a bit dangerous, because you’re always aware, especially as a parent of the effect that glamorising that shit has, and I get worried about that, especially when we’ve glamorised the Hacienda and the Happy Mondays and the Ecstasy angle of what we went through. I mean I think it’s a very dangerous thing because you’ll get some kid in a club going, ‘Do you want a bit of smack mate?’ ‘Well I’ve seen Pete Doherty doing it and he seems to be doing alright’ it’s as simple as that in’t it.
He’s obviously a very troubled character and he sort of needs looking after really and nobody seems to be doing that really. I was watching a documentary about the Lotto Lout, that Mike Carroll and they were saying people set him up to make a dick of himself, and they guy managing him uses that.
I think with Pete Doherty it seems like that, I mean for someone to get caught that often you’ve got to be pretty stupid haven’t you.
It reminds me of that time Liam Gallagher got caught on Tottenham Court road, he was off his trolly wasn’t he and got paranoid when he saw a couple of policeman and they pulled him over, that was his sort of cry for help. I think musically he (Doherty) is very good, he’s very interesting. His lyrics are very interesting as well.
I also like Carl Barrett although it amazes me that you can talk to him but you can’t understand a f***ing word he says and yet you can understand him when he sings, it’s quite funny.
Q) Do you think it’s useful to explore altered states to expand musically and creatively?
A) Yeah, well, I think a lot of the time when you make music like that you think it’s great, but when you wake up in the morning and listen to it you think ‘f***in’ ‘ell’. I mean some people can do, but I’m not one of those musicians so I don’t understand it. Bernard tells me all the time, ‘It was great when we were all off our heads.’ I wasn’t off my f***in’ head, what you talking about? ‘We were all off our heads when we made Power Corruption and lies.’ I wasn’t. He says it was acid album, it was more like f***ing hard work, so it is for some people, but I’ve never found that drugs and music go together, I think it’s very destructive. I mean when you look at things like Shaun Ryder and The Happy Mondays, the pinnacle they were at, they just destroyed themselves.
Q) One of the things that gave Joy Division and New Order their credibility was your reluctance to court the press. A friend of mine called it ‘anti marketing’ was that a deliberate ploy?
A) Well our manager said, ‘You two are f***ing thick – stop talking to the press.’ I mean now at the age of 50 it’s quite easy for me to talk to you lot, even though I don’t even know you, which is just practice really, but the thing is when you’re twenty-one you’re consumed with a burning anger, you’re trying to break out from your Salford roots or wherever, you feel like the worlds against you. You’re not really in the right frame of mind to talk a lot really because you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. The thing is when I was twenty one I didn’t know why I was doing it, I was doing it because there was free beer and I got to chat up a few birds.
Q) What do you think of the Hacienda being turned into flats?
A) That didn’t bother me at all. I’d rather have it as flats, if it had remained a nightclub it would have been like seeing your girlfriend out with another bloke. I actually heard a rumour that Noel Gallagher is buying the penthouse there which I thought would be fantastic.
Q) While you’re in Bangkok do you harbour any secret curiosities for ladyboys?
A) Yeah, course. Are they a local band? Part of the post punk revival? The LadyBoys of Bangkok were actually hugely successful in Salford, it was like a review, they became local stars, people used to see them out shopping and treat them like they were off Coronation Street or something.
I was hoping for something a bit more newsworthy than that.
I’ll leave that to you, you’re the one that lives here.
Peter called the interview to a halt at that point insisting that he need to go and sleep before the gig. Throughout the interview he was affable and good natured. All the points he made that could be interpreted as contentious were tongue in cheek.
The music he played ranged from Deep Dish, Chemical Brothers through to Joy Division, Sex Pistols and Johnny Cash with all the colours of the rainbow in between. It sounds weird but it worked.
I’m biased but it was one of the best DJ sets ever played. If you ever get the opportunity to see him, grab it with both hands.
Copyright: Doiminic Lavin (first appearing on