Hundreds of headbanging metalheads go wild to the roaring guitars and thunderous drums of Thai band Defying Decay, singing their latest politically charged track.
The band’s single “The Law 112: Secrecy and Renegades” is a raucous, defiant anthem with a taboo-defying message – defying Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws.
Criticizing the royal family is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, but calls for royal reform – once totally banned – have come to light in a series of large street protests led by youth against the government in 2020.
Bangkok’s energetic Saturday night crowd was the first in Thailand to see a live performance of the song, which had already found audiences on US rock stations in November.
The 112 in the title refers to the lèse-majesté section of the Thai penal code, but the song’s lyrics avoid criticizing any person or institution by name.
“I like that the lyrics are open to interpretation and that each one has its own meaning (…) when I write my songs,” singer and lyricist Poom Euarchukiati told AFP.
A line in the song about corruption could also find support from royalists or the police, not just anti-government protesters, the 25-year-old frontman said.
Despite the song’s controversial title, the main inspiration comes from the plot of the fantasy video game “Dark Souls,” in which corruption is a major theme, Poom said.
– Political music –
Protests calling for political reform that rocked Bangkok in 2020 exposed a generational divide in Thailand between young people yearning for change and a more conservative older generation.
Poom said his mother was not happy when news of the song’s controversial title surfaced.
“My mum first said ‘you can’t do that’. But then I showed her the lyrics and she agreed,” he said.
Defying Decay are the latest Thai band to use their music to challenge the establishment.
Released over three years ago, Rap Against Dictatorship’s “Prathet Ku Mee (My Country Has)” has made headlines at home and abroad with its political lyrics and aggressive rhymes, telling a multitude of stories. corruption cases.
The hip-hop collective’s in-your-face music video, which includes a re-enactment of a famous 1976 student massacre, also sent a powerful message to global audiences about the country’s dark past.
With a limited market for their brand of alternative metal in Thailand, the seven-member band mainly focuses on touring overseas.
– Calls for reform –
At their peak in the second half of 2020, protests demanding royal reform and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha – who seized power in a 2014 coup – drew tens of thousands of people on the streets of Bangkok.
But the movement faltered as coronavirus restrictions hampered gatherings and protesters were hit with lèse-majesté charges.
According to the organization Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 170 people have been charged under the Royal Insults Act since November 2020.
Political activist Parit Chiwarak, known by his nickname “Penguin”, faces the most charges with 23. He has been in pretrial detention since August.
At a UN human rights meeting last year, the Thai government official defended the lèse-majesté legislation, saying it “reflects the culture and history of the Thailand, where the monarchy is one of the main pillars of the nation”.
But from a musician’s perspective, the law needs to be “updated” to be compatible with the modern world and prevent “abuse,” Poom said.
A “clear standard” of wrongdoing under lèse-majesté legislation should also be established to ensure fair trials, Defying Decay lead guitarist Chitipat Wanyasurakul, 26, told AFP.
But the imminent change could be a long way off.
“People who listen to (rebellious) music are mostly teenagers and young workers. Society is not just made up of this group of people,” 29-year-old viewer Chawanut Rattanaphun told AFP. .