“I remember when I was little in Hong Kong in the eighties and I saw this guy on television with a huge head of black curly hair and a top hat and he was just killing it on the guitar. And this is something you would never see on t.v. in Hong Kong like, ever. Turns out it was Slash playing the opening of “Sweet Child of Mine” and it blew my mind. That’s when I fell in love with music,” says lead singer Riz Farooqi of the hardcore band, King Ly Chee.
Affectionately dubbed “the godfather of Hong Kong hardcore,” Riz and his Asian bandmates will be taking the U.S .by storm this week when they join the bill for Sick Of It All’s 30th anniversary shows. Their first time performing in the States, the trailblazing band is sure to erase all doubts that an act from the other side of the world can be as powerful as any of our American fare when they hit the stage at Webster Hall on Saturday night.
“Asia is a massive continent and there are a few specific areas where hardcore and punk is huge, like Singapore and Malaysia, where they have had a big scene since the eighties. But there are other places in Asia where there is nothing going on, like Hong Kong. I literally had to start from scratch in that scene,” says Farooqi. After attending UMass Amherst in the mid-nineties and falling in love with the accessibility of live music while seeing legends like Sick Of It All and other metal/hardcore acts perform, Riz took that passion and translated it into a zine aptly named, “Start From Scratch” and began to build his musical clout in the almost non-existent Hong Kong hardcore scene. His DIY approach forced him to learn promotion, marketing, production, merchandising and business management all on his own in order to begin the grassroots movement that would result in an ever-growing acceptance of the hardcore/punk scene across Asia. In the past 17 years, King Ly Chee has headlined festivals, put together shows to welcome established acts from the US with attendance in the thousands and bridge the gaps between Asian countries’ hardcore scenes with the website uniteasia.org where bands from all over Asia can submit their material to promote their existence. Building a fan base from practically nothing, Riz has poured his blood, sweat and tears into this endeavor never losing sight of the necessity that this type of music needs to have.
“Asia, especially in China and Hong Kong, can be really constrictive and kids need an outlet. Something that allows them to just let loose and experience life.” A musical entrepreneur, Farooqi taught himself Cantonese so he could release bilingual hardcore music to reach not just the ex-pat kids whom he had grown up alongside in the international school setting, but the thousands of Chinese fans who could now gravitate towards something completely different, and in their own language. “There aren’t that many venues in Hong Kong where bands like mine can play,” says Farooqi. “So we had to figure out other places to perform and build the underground that way. People go up north in Hong Kong now and they rent out these old, abandoned factories or empty lots and put on these huge shows. Thousands of people come out. It just wasn’t like that when I was starting out so I was literally forced to come at it from a DIY approach. You gotta do what you gotta do.”
King Ly Chee music is one with a message speaking to oppression and the struggle to build a better life for oneself without selling out to society. Over its 17 year history, the band has hosted fifteen different members all who have left a lasting mark on the overall sound. The group has found the perfect balance between guttural hardcore screaming that rattles your ribcage with its ferocity and a melodic strain which permeates all of their songs.
But what is most startling about King Ly Chee is their successful development of a movement in music where virtually none existed. With the changeover from British rule in 1997 back to China, the music scene in Hong Kong began to wane. “A lot of the things that we did in Hong Kong were happening for the first time. Like circle pits and mosh pits. In the beginning, the audiences would just sit down like they were watching a movie. Eventually I got sick of it and told the audience that if they didn’t get up, come to the front and starting moving we weren’t going to play another song,” says Farooqi. “They just stared at us like, ‘ooh he is so rude,’ but I just thought if I’m standing up and screaming and running around like crazy, they needed to get up and really feel the music.” The high -energy act has paved the way for other hardcore acts to involve the fans in their shows and now moshing, stage diving and crowd surfing has become the release the Asian base has so desperately needed for years. King Ly Chee has opened windows when the doors were locked. King Ly Chee has brought together multi-lingual audiences uniting them under the all-encompassing flag of music. And now they are poised for the next evolution in their existence by taking the stage on American soil for the first time.
“American kids can be kind of “whatever” about going to see shows in the US because they have access to them all the time. One of the cool things about moving back to Hong Kong in the nineties was my love for music and performing was tripled. When a band I loved came to Hong Kong I wouldn’t miss it because it was so rare. And that’s how we became friends with Sick Of It All,” says Farooqi. When Riz heard that Sick Of It All would be coming to Asia for an unprecedented tour, he scrambled to assemble a showcase for them in Hong Kong. He had come full circle with a band whom he had loved after first seeing them in Massachusetts back in the mid-nineties to hosting an event where he could introduce their music to Asian fans for the first time. Lead singer of SOIA, Lou Koller, suggested that King Ly Chee join their four-city tour for the 30th Anniversary shows. “I took out my phone and hit the record button and asked him to say that again!” Farooqi laughs. “I couldn’t believe it and this is literally the biggest thing my band has ever had the opportunity to do. This is the moment when you just go, wow.”
King Ly Chee will be performing shows with Sick Of It All in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. with the final show in New York City on July 9 and they are an act not to miss. This is a chance for the over saturated New York market to host something new and fresh and the band promises to bring a little of their Hong Kong flavor to the Stateside stages. “We have this really cool opening that I had a DJ from Hong Kong put together for us and it is so awesome. It’s something having to do with Bruce Lee, which is so Hong Kong,” says Farooqi. And if that’s not enough of a reason to attend, the NY Webster Hall show will also host Murphy’s Law, The Street Dogs and Manipulate.
“We didn’t set out to be this historic band in Hong Kong,” reflects Farooqi thoughtfully. “All we knew was that hardcore and punk music was so important to all of us and honestly, if I didn’t have this music in my life I would be a basket case. This type of music gives people so much purpose and that’s at the heart of it all.”
Article: Hannah Soule