Hong Kong’s King Ly Chee first caught my attention with their video for “Lost In A World” which is a great song backed by a really cool video that incorporates 15 years of past and present band members. On further check their sound can range from anywhere to full on rage styled hardcore to songs with more melody and punky. This July King Ly Chee makes their first trip to the United States where they will open for Sick Of It All on a short 4 date East Coast jaunt. The story comes together a little better when you read here that King Ly Chee’s frontman Riz was the person instrumental in bringing Sick Of It All to Hong Kong for the first time in 2013 with a bond being made early and now the favor being paid back. Riz has been a true pioneer and hardcore trailblazer in Hong Kong having done zines, booked shows, the Unite Asia website and also fronting a band that he is very proud of. This is a very long interview but one we hope will get some attention brought to a band that has paid their dues half way across the world and is a major player in the Asian Hardcore scene.
Interview with Riz Farooqi May 2016. Graphics by: Bas Spierings.
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IE: Hey Riz, King Ly Chee has been around since 1999 and are considered by many to be China's first real hardcore band. Please give us a brief description on what King Ly Chee is all about... Both musically and lyrically. For people who have never heard your band what can they expect when they put on one of your records?
Riz: What’s up everyone out there in the US! In a nutshell, we’re just a highly motivated hardcore band out here that is most definitely steeped in the ethos of hardcore and punk rock. Hardcore and punk rock both don’t have very long histories in Hong Kong (punk rock has a little bit longer of a history within China) so most of us that got into this type of music were probably raised on metal. I definitely was. So what got us into hardcore way back when was what really differentiated it from metal: the relatability of the lyrical content and awareness of social issues - music with a message. So as a band that has been doing this since 1999, we definitely adhere to that same belief system. We use our music, lyrics and whatever stage we get on to both have a good time, and to continue that tradition of raising awareness. Musically, since we are so far removed from any real “hardcore scene”, I feel it’s been a blessing and a curse at least in terms of musicality. Since we don’t really have a “scene” (we certainly do have a very passionate underground community here - I just mean technically a “hardcore scene”), we really are free to create whatever music we want. So if you listen to any of our tracks from fast stuff like “We Come Alive” to heavy stuff like “Unite Asia” to melodic tracks like “Lost In A World” to straight up punk rock numbers like “Scream For Life” or “In My Life”, hopefully we’ll leave you scratching your heads going “what IS this band all about?” You can blame bands like Sick of it All, Avail, CIV, H2O for making it okay for heavy screamy hardcore bands to include melody, allowing bands like us to feel comfortable embracing their punk rock side. These bastards just had to be so damn influential releasing records that married punk rock and hardcore so seamlessly! Hahahaha…
IE: Not long ago it was announced King Ly Chee would be making your first trip as a band to the US and will be opening for Sick Of It All on 4 East Coast dates in July. How did this trip become a reality and do you plan on playing more shows on the East Coast while you’re visiting?
Riz: Yeah - it’s insane that this is happening. It’s insane that THE band that got us into hardcore in the early 90’s when we first heard of this stuff out here in Hong Kong, is the same band that is making our first trip to the US happen. It’s crazy…long story short, it all happened back in 2013 when I put on Sick Of It All’s first show ever out here in Hong Kong (China). Like most bands you revere, the thought of finally meeting them was frickin’ daunting. I remember waiting at the airport to pick them up thinking “please be cool. please be cool.” meaning, I was trying to tell myself not to be some stupid over the top fan AND was hoping that the SOIA guys were down to earth dudes. I’ve been promoting shows in Hong Kong for 17 years and have met some really cool bands that have come through, and some not so. Luckily, from the moment I picked them up through that entire first experience in Hong Kong for them, it was SO awesome. We just hit it off…that experience was so good that the summer of 2013 they allowed me to join them on part of their European tour. That was my first ever experience being on a legit tour bus - the things that I had only seen on TV or in magazines! Then in 2015 I booked their Asian tour and King Ly Chee got to open the whole thing. While on that tour, as any SOIA tour, there were a lot of hilarious conversations/banter/shit-talking between each other and for some reason Lou jokingly said “You guys should just come out and play our anniversary shows”. I was like what?! I took out my phone, hit the audio record button and said “Say that shit again”. Hahahaha…
Now, as most bands from around the world who have put on shows for touring bands will probably attest, this type of “we’ll hook you up!” often doesn’t materialize to anything more than just in the moment talk. But here we are living proof that Sick Of it All at the heart of it all is a hardcore band based on friendship first…they honor their word.
On this trip we’re only doing these 4 shows and are bringing family out because this is a momentous occasion for all of us, and to the entire Hong Kong underground music scene as well, so we just want to enjoy these 4 dates and have a good time. Hopefully this will only be the beginning. Yes, we’re paying for our own flights to come out but who gives a SHIT! We’re coming out and opening SOIA’s anniversary shows! You can’t put a price on any of this…just the memories will be worth their weight in gold.
IE: Before this interview we were discussing the fact that you guys are a pretty established band in Asia and that you were a little concerned that people coming out to these East Coast shows who have never heard of your band might not give you their full attention when you play. If you could send a message here to anyone who may see your bands name on one of those dates and think that is a good time to go outside for a cigarette or a drink, food or whatever it is they want while King Ly Chee is about to go on what would you tell them?
Riz: I think first of all it’s important to make clear that a band coming out from Hong Kong isn’t going to get on stage and start doing kung fu, hold a microphone with chopsticks, or play out of traditional Chinese instruments! Hahahaha…So if people are expecting something “more Chinese” then you’re going to be bummed as fuck. We are a hardcore band - that means we get on stage, plug in and rip into our set. We like to have a good time so there will be some stupid banter as always (Craig Ahead loves that I talk so much on stage - NOT, he hates it! hahaha). But in all honesty, we’re going to do a short set and get off the stage because these 4 nights belong to SOIA and the 30 years that they’ve put into hardcore. We’re just happy beyond belief to be on the bill. Even if y’all step out when we play, it’s still our name nice and big on those flyers man! That’s more than enough to come back to Hong Kong inspired and be like “You know what, we’ve accomplished more than we’ve ever set out to back in 1999. What else can we do?”.
IE: You guys are going to hit DC, Boston, Philadelphia and NYC. When you all talk about what things you want to see and do in those places what are the things that have come up the most in your conversations?
Riz: Well, I actually lived in the US for about 4 years while I was going to UMASS Amherst so I’m pretty familiar. The only thing is that I left in 1999 to come back to Hong Kong and haven’t been back since then! So I’m pretty sure I’m going to be in for a culture shock, but not as much as the rest of the band and family members who have NEVER been to the US. Man…the list is endless to the things that we want to see while we’re there. I can’t wait to take my wife and 4 year old daughter on a road trip up to UMASS Amherst on our way to Boston so they can see where I went to university etc. We’re all flying into NYC a couple weeks before so we’ll be wandering up and down that city. On those specific 4 dates I think these are the things that we want to see/experience - a baseball game (and we might go all cheeseball and buy those big stupid foam fingers, deck ourselves out in Yankees gear from head to toe), I want to find the Dischord House and get a King Ly Chee photo recreating the famous Minor Threat photo on the porch, and do the same thing in the alley where SOIA took the Alleyway Crew photo, go raid Bridge 9 if possible, get tattooed at NYHC Tattoos, I’m also trying to book time to be tattooed by CIV at his joint, I want to buy records!!!, Being a skateboarder I’d love to see Love Park even though I heard they’re tearing that whole thing down…I don’t know man - those shows in itself are going to be crazy because we get to watch Street Dogs and Sick of it All night after night, and Murphy’s Law is on the NYC date…that is crazy enough as it is. At the NYC show just being able to meet and see hardcore luminaries is going to be a trip - we’ve only seen them in photos or online videos but to meet people in the flesh is going to be nuts. Dying to talk some shit with Stigma! Hahaha…
IE: Another thing we were talking about before this interview was the fact that in China you guys are on a government blacklist where they will not allow your band to play at major festivals. I know laws are different from country to country but try to fill us in on when you first found out about this and what exactly is going on with it? How many festivals or bigger shows would you estimate you missed out on because of this?
Riz: I think we found out that we were on some sort of Chinese government blacklist back in 2006. Back then we were getting invitations to get on some HUGE music festivals within China. The organizers were super stoked to have us because of our history etc., but then once they submitted all the paperwork (bands have to send lyrics, music, videos, a band profile, and website links to be approved by the Ministry of Culture of China) the response was “All these other bands you submitted are allowed to play. THIS one from Hong Kong can NOT”. We were never told what we did to acquire the wrath of the Chinese government but it’s been 10 plus years and to this day we get denied. I would say that every year we miss about 10 massive music festivals in China because of this. We mean massive too - attendance figures of over 20,000 at each festival. A couple years ago one of China’s biggest music labels were on our ass to sign us. We mulled it over heavily for a LONG time and then decided to try them out. Like most places around the world, labels don’t make money from records anymore and so this label is heavily in the music festival business. Well, since they could NEVER get permission to get us on any festivals, even the ones they organized, they quickly lost interest in us and so we mutually ended that partnership pretty quickly.
So yes…it’s a bummer and a real pain in the ass for us because we’re pretty well established up in China and kids are super stoked to see us. Plus, not to get all business here, these festivals pay really well. We were going to use a couple festival appearances this year to foot the bill for the US flights. But none of those festival shows got permission for us. This blacklist doesn’t impact our club appearances though and we have always been free to tour and play club shows throughout the country. It’s just any massive event in China requires governmental approval, and in that process we always stick out.
IE: Have you or any of the band members tried to make contact with the people who make the decisions on things like this and to try and reverse this blacklisting?
Riz: Yes. We’ve tried many avenues to find a way to meet the right people to help us figure out how to get off this blacklist but all to no avail. There is no real system up there for pretty much anything so you’re held at the will of the powers that be. We’ve also been told that we should never just go straight to the office to inquire - we’ll probably be carried away and not be heard from for months. As mentioned, there is no system there and saving “face” is a BIG issue. They will not allow anything to challenge or question their power and decisions.
IE: I wanted to touch on your past a little bit... You are of Pakistani decent and left Hong Kong in 1994 to go to school at UMass Amherst. You returned back to Hong Kong in 1998 and what was the spark that got you thinking about starting this band? Were you born in Hong Kong?
Riz: I was born in Pakistan but my family was already living in Hong Kong so when I was a couple months old they brought me here. I can speak Cantonese much better than I can speak Urdu but that’s because that’s the environment I grew up in even though my family at home always spoke Urdu. The real spark that set me down this path was in 1994 when I first arrived in Amherst.
I will say that my experience in Amherst was pretty strange for the most part because I had never been in a place where I stood out like a sore thumb. Back then the school population was predominantly Caucasian, I don’t know what it’s like now, with like maybe a single digit ratio of foreign students so it was weird to me. Hong Kong is a pretty damn international city and I attended an international school in Hong Kong where in any given class you probably had 25 students from all over the planet in there - so race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc was never a big deal. The cool thing about my time in Amherst was that since there was never much going on IN the city, I always found ways to get to NYC or Boston or to anywhere shows were taking place. Going to shows in itself was something I had NEVER experienced in Hong Kong - as weird as that may sound! I grew up listening to metal, played in metal bands and would play our own little shows at our school maybe twice a year - that’s it! NO bands toured Hong Kong so I never saw ANYONE prior to getting to the US. And a month into my stay at Amherst you know what my first show was? Napalm Death and Obituary at Pearl Street in Northampton! Holy shit…I couldn’t believe what I was watching and experiencing when I showed up there. I sat right under the guitarist on stage. It was so surreal - very much an out of body experience where I was thinking to myself “what the fuck is going on right now”. I was just reading a magazine on the other side of the planet with this guy on the cover, and here I was watching the band right in front of me.
Then a couple weeks later the show that pretty much changed my life took place at the same venue. I went to see Black Train Jack and Sick Of It All…must’ve been November ’94. I had never seen anything like this before and wasn’t prepared at all…we didn’t really get zines or anything like that in Hong Kong back then man so I didn’t even have any visuals to get me ready. SOIA got on, Lou picked up the mic, and next thing I know the entire venue was turned upside down. I got so caught up in it all that I remembered somehow being carried on stage with hundreds of others and I was like inches from Lou screaming into his mic with everyone else. Dude…I will never forget that night. From then on I tried to watch every show possible…I remember the next show after that I got into a friend’s car and we drove to Providence to watch Bad Religion who had Samiam opening.
IE: Did you first find out about hardcore music while you were here in the US or did you already know about hardcore and going to school in Massachusetts just kind of brought it out more?
Riz: Prior to getting to the US, I was most definitely a metalhead, and I’m still proud to be, so I was mainly listening to the music that for some reason was making its way to Hong Kong. By ’94 I was fully into Pestilence, Obituary, Death, etc…but I remember early on, maybe in 1990 or so, a few of my skateboard friends would go back to the US every summer and they would come back with music and video tapes of skate videos for us to check out. One friend showed me Bad Religion’s “No Control” record and Sick Of It All’s “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” record…both these bands were my first experience listening to hardcore/punk. Prior to that I had heard of Sex Pistols and The Clash, but I was already starting my metal transition and wasn’t really feeling it.
I will say, watching Sick Of It All that night in Western Mass in 1994 was certainly what sealed my fate that’s for sure. From then on I dove head first into this world of punk rock not only watching shows but also learning about the DIY idea of putting on your own shows, putting out zines, recording your own band, putting out demo tapes/7”’s, booking shows/tours, etc. I think here now in 2016 as a grown ass adult, married and with a child of my own, it is STILL those DIY self-empowering lessons that I utilize in my day to day life, certainly with King Ly Chee, that I learned from my time in the US more-so then the stupid useless shit that I learned at university. Thank you punk rock and hardcore for changing my life.
It was also interesting for me to get to the US around that time because there was that huge straight edge explosion during that era. I’ve been straight edge from even before I knew or heard of that term. It was just a personal choice I made very young. Growing up in Hong Kong I had ZERO friends who also chose to live this way - all my friends drank, smoked and/or did drugs. When I got to the States I had no idea there was actually a “scene” for this and thought it was actually really weird. I have never built relationships with people because of what they choose to do with their lives - smoke, drink, religion they follow, sexual orientation, etc - so it was quite awkward for me to wrap my head around the idea that it would be easier to be friends with someone who also didn’t drink or smoke. What? How does that impact what kind of a person you are? It’s like religion - just because you’re religious it means you’re a good person? Really? There are quite a lot of pieces of shit out there who follow some form of code of ethics that mask the kind of crappy person they are inside. Anyway…so when I first got there and saw the more “militant” side of straight edge I really wanted to stand as far away as possible from that. But at the same time I still wanted to label myself “straight edge” because I was proud of myself AND I wanted to show anyone that met me that there was another side to this world - you didn’t have to go to a separate room from me just because you drank hahahaha…that was SO weird when people did that or apologized that they were drinking/smoking in front of me. I was like WHAT? Who am I that you have to apologize to man! You do you. As long as you respect my choice, I will respect yours.
IE: That time period of 1994 to 1998 was a good time period for hardcore especially on the East Coast. Can you remember many of the shows you attended?
Riz: Hell yeah…besides those two shows I mentioned I saw so many bands that I can’t remember. Being a kid growing up in Hong Kong with no real “scene” back then, I was really into a lot of different types of music. So yeah, I’d drive to see Bad Religion, then watch every single Avail/Snapcase/Sick of it All show that came to town (these bands were huge in my eyes, I remember SOIA destroying the stage before the Misfits came on and how horrible the Misfits looked after SOIA’s showmanship), Jawbreaker (I have a cool Jawbreaker story that I’ll tell anyone), Bane/Ignite show in Worcester, saw that famous Victory tour with Strife/Snapcase/Earth Crisis (Strife was INSANE), saw the very first Fat Music for Fat People tour that Fat Wreck Chords held that brought this insane line up to Boston: NOFX, Ten Foot Pole, Face to Face, I went to the first Warped Tour ever that was held in Western Mass, I was super into indie-rock too so I saw Texas Is The Reason, Mineral, Hot Water Music, etc. It was just such an immense time and I was SOOOOO beyond lucky to be able to experience it all. Some of those shows I saw right in the basement of my dorm! That’s where I saw Piebald, Deadguy, Weston, Silent Majority, and so many others…
It was these collective life-changing experiences that was the real catalyst for King Ly Chee and everything I did for punk rock/hardcore in Hong Kong when I moved back in 1999. I wanted to take everything that I had seen and embraced and bring it to Hong Kong - certainly the DIY concept of doing it all yourselves. Back then Hong Kong was in a pretty dire state in terms of live music. No bands came here and there really wasn’t even a local scene at the time. Shows literally were held maybe once every two or three months and people seemed really confused about hardcore. A lot of bands would get on stage and say they were a hardcore band and rip into a Korn or Limp Bizkit cover. I remember when we first started playing people would say that we were a “fake hardcore” band because we didn’t have a DJ and I didn’t rap. Hong Kong has quite a complicated social situation and quite a large divide between the local Chinese populace and the small contingent of non-Chinese who live here (around 6% of the Hong Kong population). So it was the local Chinese population that I really wanted to tap into and try to infuse some punk rock and hardcore ideals, so what I did was start a bilingual zine called “Start From Scratch” where I would try my best to write articles, columns, record reviews, to introduce punk rock/hardcore to the regular everyday people of Hong Kong and have it translated into Cantonese so it was in the local language and therefore easier to digest. I did the same thing with King Ly Chee as we sang bilingually - English and Cantonese with the idea that it is always quicker to grasp the message of the music/song when it’s being sung in a language you’re comfortable with. Since 2009 we finally decided to separate the languages and since then every song we release has two versions - a fully Chinese version and a fully English version.
IE: King Ly Chee has 4 full lengths out over the course of the bands history. If someone reading this who is going to one of the shows here in the US wants to get better acquainted with the band’s music in a crash course kind of way which album would you tell them to get first and why?
Riz: Definitely start with our last full length “CNHC” (China Hardcore) which we released on our 15 year anniversary in 2014. Soundwise, songwise, production wise that has been our best release and certainly a perfect display of what this band is about. You can check that record out on our Bandcamp and order a physical copy if you’d like through our Big Cartel store.
IE: You also run a website called UniteAsia.org. Can you tell us first when and why you started it and what genres of music does it cover?
Riz: I’ve been a fan of music since I was a young little kid. When I found the world of zines I couldn’t get my hands on enough of them to wet my appetite for learning more about music, bands, records, reading through interviews, reviews, etc. Then the beast, the internet, opened up and more than fulfilled my deep passion for reading as much as I could to learn about music. For the past almost 15 years my life has been, wake up in the morning, make myself a cup of tea, and then hop on every single heavy music news website out there: Blabbermouth, Lambgoat, The PRP, Punk News, Dying Scene, Metal Sucks, Metal Injection, etc. I religiously hit up these sites every day. The past couple of years it just really started bothering me that no matter how big Asian bands are out here, they aren’t even a blip on the radar on these music news sites that predominantly only cater to American bands and an American audience, regardless of the fact that I’m sure their stats show that a LOT of traffic is coming from overseas. I was just kinda tired of getting on those sites and not knowing about what bands in Thailand, Malaysia and the Asian hardcore capital Indonesia were up to because THOSE were the bands that I really wanted to know about. So in early 2015 I decided to stop complaining and just put a website together myself whose primary focus was to throw up news about Asian punk/hardcore/metal/indie rock bands and turn the site into people’s go to site for Asian bands. Basically, be the Asian version of any of those websites listed above. The name of the site was a no brainer – “Unite Asia” is a song that we wrote back in 2007 when we toured with NOFX on their Asian tour. That song has been a staple of our set ever since then because people know that we are proud as FUCK to be living here and carrying the Asian flag everywhere we go. Because of this site we re-recorded that track but this time invited singers from various hardcore bands all over Asia to sing on it. Totally stoked that project was so openly embraced by these insane vocalists of legendary Asian bands. Check out the “United Asia” track HERE.
CLICK IMAGE BELOW TO ENTER THE UNITEASIA.ORG WEBSITE
The site certainly was mainly a punk-hardcore-metal website but as soon as I launched it, so many bands of ALL genres started submitting stuff to the site. So every now and then you’ll hear hip-hop up there, jazz, etc…Whatever that comes through I certainly vet and then decide whether or not it’s something that works with the main mission of the site of promoting strong, passionate Asian underground music. The site has totally taken off and has more than become just a bookmarked site for Asian kids all over the world to tune into daily. It has quickly become something very valued by kids and means the world that this little idea I had has quickly filled an immense void and so utilized by bands out here. I have a waiting list of bands who want to premiere their tracks on the site etc.
IE: From being in the band and doing the website you must know a lot about underground music in Asia. Almost like part 2 of the earlier question about what King Ly Chee album people should explore first... What are some of the better punk and hardcore bands from Asia that you feel people should check out and get better acquainted with?
Riz: That is an IMPOSSIBLE question to answer…there are so many bands from each country all over Asia. I think the best thing I can do is to just tell you my favorite bands from the past month or so that we’ve put up:
Stand Clear (Indonesia): http://xstandclearx.bandcamp.com/album/starting-point
Losing End (Singapore): https://soundcloud.com/powertriprecords/sets/losing-end-devils-advocate
Chaotic hardcore (think Converge-ish):
Beast Jesus (Philippines): http://beastjesusmanila.bandcamp.com/album/in-various-states-of-disassembly
Wasted (Indonesia): https://soundcloud.com/wasted-panklucu
Straight Forward (Singapore): http://straightforward.bandcamp.com/album/true-nature-of-the-vice
Forests (Singapore): http://litherecords.bandcamp.com/album/lithe003-forests-sun-eat-moon-grave-party-lp
Lindenwood (Philippines): https://youtu.be/MFz5mq2166s
TFVSJS (Hong Kong): https://youtu.be/MhXIXhMD8yU
IE: You guys are from Hong Kong which was a British colony that was returned to China in 1997. We had a few conversations leading up to this interview and one of the things you wanted to discuss was the difference between Hong Kong and China and also some of the social issues you now see in your area. The microphone is all yours…
Riz: Oh man…this is a complicated question to answer. The basic idea is the fact that because Hong Kong was under British rule one of the coolest things from that chapter was that Hong Kong has a strong tradition for law and order, and upholding our rights for free press, language, opinions, information, etc. Life in China could not, and continues to be, more different. Once returning to China of course the general population of Hong Kong was scared shitless that all of this would be taken away and Hong Kong would become just another Chinese city devoid of any freedoms with such things as websites that are deemed “sensitive” blocked just like they are up in China. A lot of people actually left Hong Kong because of that concern. But for a good ten years or so after the handover, our freedoms were all intact and people were starting to come back thinking that there really isn’t any real issue. Fast forward to today’s Hong Kong though - all those initial fears are becoming more and more true. One of the first things that is slowly eroding in Hong Kong is the use of Cantonese. Man, Cantonese IS Hong Kong. That IS the culture of the language most widely spoken here and HAS been what Hong Kong has always been known for since the dawn of time. What China has been doing is gearing itself through slowly eroding and transforming all of Hong Kong’s well established cultures and norms to make Hong Kong better “assimilate” back into the rest of China. Like anyone here wants THAT to happen! We are not an independent city nor a nation - all our government officials have to answer to Beijing hence we do not have a SINGLE person in government here who actually fights for Hong Kong and its principles. China has begun to challenge our courts saying that judges do not have final say, China has gone into manipulating local press and political parties, most recently a few booksellers in Hong Kong who have been selling controversial books that are banned in China mysteriously disappeared while they were out vacationing in foreign countries. Most of them suddenly reappeared in China on Chinese TV denouncing their actions and how “wrong” they were living the lives they’ve lived and how they’re now “correcting” their ways. Holy shit man! Full on brainwashing was being carried out right in front of our own eyes. Hong Kong people have a very DEEP mistrust of China and its government.
IE: Wow, crazy shit man. That is all I have Riz, is there anything else you would like to add before we finish up? Thanks for taking the time to do this.
Riz: This means the world that you would give us this space and time on your website for people out there in the US to check us out. It’s crazy that Sick Of It All would invite us out to open these shows and as we’ve said above, we’re under NO assumptions that people are going to stick around when we play. So, for those of you who do - we thank you so much for giving us your time and support! If you’re into what you see or have read above then please check us out! If not, at least bookmark UniteAsia.org and check out bands from Asia - shit out here is INSANELY good!
CLICK BELOW TO WATCH KING LY CHEE'S VIDEO FOR "LOST IN A WORLD" FEATURING LOU KOLLER