King Ly Chee is a Hong Kong based Chinese Hardcore band fronted by a lead vocalist of Pakistani origin. They’ve been around since 1999, and are considered one of the pioneering acts of Hardcore in Chinese speaking regions. They’ve played alongside a lot of big acts, and their vocalist Riz has helped pave the way for a lot of hardcore bands since initiating the band. I got in touch with him after seeing a flyer for a Chinese HC festival and decided to interview him. We talk about how he got into the music, his VISA problems because of his ethnicity, as well as juggling being a father with his musical responsibilities.
– Hey Riz! Hope everything’s going great with King Ly Chee.
Yo – thanks so much for interviewing us man! Means a lot that finally after 15 years of doing this shit that we’ve got some interest from my fellow Desi brethren from the motherland! Hahaha…
Things are going well right now – in our 15th year we’re about to release our 4th record and we’re finishing up all the recording now and trying to plan out the first music video and record release shows. It’s all super exciting because we’re not a full-time band at all…we’re still just doing it for the love of the music we play and what we do. So it’s not a job, but a very serious and passionate part of our lives. It’s still exciting this many years into the game…
– Your band has been around since 1999. 15 years of spreading Hardcore Punk in Hong Kong/China, can’t have been easy? How’s the journey been thus far?
Hmmmm…don’t know how PMA I can be in answering this! Hahahaha…it’s been hell to say the least. We started this in ’99 when nu-metal was king and kids out here were labeling anything heavy with a screamer as “hardcore”. It was a confusing time and for me to come out and be like “dude – you’re so wrong” and be totally in people’s faces about hardcore in a city like Hong Kong steeped in Chinese culture, let’s just say that my band nor I were met with open arms. Hahahaha…we rubbed people the wrong way from the getgo and still do.
Having said that though, the first few years of this band in Hong Kong was actually always on an upward trajectory. Little did I know that there was going to be such a tragic death of our popularity years later. For the first few years it was a lot of educating people about what punk/hardcore actually stood for and introducing the culture/sound/bands/ideals to a huge non-English speaking public hence the need for my bilingual zine called Start From Scratch. I to this day do not consider myself “Mr. Hardcore” and am still continuing to learn about the history of the earliest bands and how similar our paths have been that led us and brought us to this little underground world. But because I feel the cliché statement “hardcore saved my life” is so true in my case, giving back is the only thing that has made sense. Giving back in the way that by promoting this shit to 100 kids, maybe ONE kid will find something in it that connects with them.
Anyway, like any trendy/commercial city Hong Kong is all about what’s the “in” thing. Our “in” time was in 2003 and since then we’ve never gotten back to that level again. 2003 was a crazy time for us in Hong Kong and had I known that all those who supported us were also going to quickly drop us a year or two later, I would’ve figured out other ways to get them to re-think what hardcore meant to them. Did it actually mean anything? Or was it because their peers seemed psyched on it so they jumped on the bandwagon? Clearly, it was the latter.
It hasn’t all been bad though man…we’ve had some accomplishments that I never even considered would’ve been possible. Playing in front of 32,000 people at Philippines’ biggest music festival two years in a row, and countless other music festivals throughout Asia – Baybeats in Singapore being one of our all time favorites. Having people all over the world buy our merch and wear it proudly even though we’re just a small Asian hardcore band. Touring with NOFX for two weeks in 2007 and being featured in their Backstage Passport DVD. Putting on shows in Hong Kong for so many hardcore bands and befriending them all…Bane, Comeback Kid, Backtrack, Wolf Down, Born From Pain, No Turning Back, the list goes on and on…building some Asian hardcore pride throughout this time by bridging scenes in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia…
My most fondest memory of this band will be how our relationship with my all time hardcore heroes Sick of it All transpired.
I remember the first LEGIT hardcore show I ever saw was in 1994 when I just arrived in Massachusetts for university and watched Black Train Jack and Sick of it All at this tiny venue near my university where the stage was like a foot high. Sick of it All was THE band that got me into hardcore and by that point I had already heard them for a couple years in Hong Kong. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that one day I would be on stage watching them. The crowd was so intense that I just got caught up and I ended up on stage like 2 inches away from Lou (their singer)’s screaming face. It was SO surreal…one second I’m staring at this dude’s face on the back cover of a CD booklet in Hong Kong and the next here I am on stage with the band and the dude’s face was right there. Fast forward to 2013 and I’m putting on their first ever show in China. Not only that, but I hit it off with them so well that they allowed me to come on their tour bus for almost two weeks while they toured through Europe. They treated me totally like one of the guys and all I could think the entire time was – “Holy fuck, I’m hanging out with Sick of it All EVERY SINGLE DAY and watching them play every single day…” I don’t even know how to express how insane that entire experience was.
On our new record, Lou even sings on one of our songs…the song that we’re going to launch the new album with. THAT to me is the craziest shit ever…as a teenager I listened to them on my discman here in Hong Kong, now I’m friends with the band and they’re singing on OUR record. Crazy…
Sick of it All is the definition of hardcore to me. Don’t argue with me on this. Hahahaha…I’m a SOIA kid through and through.
– You’ve been through a lot of lineup changes since the inception of the band, with you remaining the sole original member. How does the vision of the band remain the same throughout the various changes?
The vision has always stayed the same regardless who is in the band. We’re a hardcore band and we’re about promoting this shit to people throughout Hong Kong and China especially. So when people come in I tell them straight up what we’re about. We don’t make money from this nor is it a fulltime job. If you’re coming in, you should expect to work hard, we go out and play as much as possible and tour at least once or twice a year. We throw our own money into making merch, printing records, going on tour – luckily, anyone new that comes into the band is coming into a pretty nice situation since myself and the members before have laid down TONS of groundwork for where we are now in terms of recognition (at least in the world of Asian hardcore). I will say straight up – that it’s MUCH easier being in this band now then it was over 10 years ago.
So no…from day one we have never strayed from this path that we’ve chosen. We’re certainly much older now – I started the band when I was 22 and I’m 38 this year…the way we handle things have certainly matured over time! Hahahaha…I’m much less a time bomb when shit doesn’t go right, and am more into taking the time to figure out how to make the band work for band members so it also becomes part of their lives like it has been for the past 15 years of mine.
– I’ve always been a fair big ignorant about the music of China unfortunately, so how’s the Hardcore community in Hong Kong/Chinese speaking areas in general? I’m sure a lot of our readers don’t know much either, haha!
There’s no hardcore “scene” in Hong Kong. There is certainly a beautiful “underground” scene with huge support for metal and metalcore especially. Hong Kong is just a strange little place where anything related to the arts really is built upon people with a lot of passion for what they do. I don’t know many people involved in the arts here that do it for a living. Everyone has a full-time job. But after awhile of banging your head against a wall, even that passion gets tested and filters away. Slowly but surely most people leave this world of underground music which is understandable when you consider HK is one of the most expensive places in the world to live and work. People have to manage their basic living necessities and work 10-12 hours a day and even on weekends sometimes, so what time do they have left to pursue music? It’s just the cards we’ve been dealt in terms of music and the arts.
China on the other hand is where hardcore has EXPLODED. And of course it would explode there when you consider all the suppression of personal freedoms. Kids are always on the edge ready to explode to get their voices heard because everything is so controlled and censored. When we play in China, it is SUCH a visceral reaction in the crowd. “People losing their minds” is not an understatement and as a hardcore band, THAT is the type of reaction you want. We’ll do soundcheckwith a general E-chord chug riff and kids are already moshing and stagediving! Hahahaha…we haven’t even started our set and kids are going off. THAT’S our type of crowd and we love that about China.
Beijing has the biggest scene with a lot of great hardcore bands: Unregenerate Blood, Return the Truth, Fanzuixiangfa, Own Up, It Never Happened, and so many others. Shanghai has the next biggest scene with awesome bands like Spill Your Guts, The Loudspeaker.
– I’ve always felt Hardcore as a music genre and lifestyle, transcends racial/religious/linguistic barriers. The music and message is something everyone can get into. A testament to that fact is Hong Kong based band have a Pakistani/Desi guy as a founding member and vocalist, singing in both English and Chinese. Apart from the VISA issues in Taiwain, has your Pakistani ancestry caused any problems for you?
I fucking gave up my Pakistani passport the moment I could bro. The amount of traveling that I did with my band and having to get a fucking visa for EVERY single country, and show my bank statements over and over again, or have to find someone to “sponsor” me in those countries, and then to stand at immigration at those countries while the immigration officer held my passport like it was diseased, was too fucking much. It was pure hell – anyone that travels a lot on a Pakistani passport knows how much it sucks.
Other then that and the typical racist stereotypical bullshit that the color of my skin may cause in public, it really hasn’t been a big deal at all.
I would like to think that because I’m a desi that kids from India, Pakistan, Nepal would be into checking out our band more – but we RARELY get any contact from those areas. Which is a huge bummer to me because I am proud of being Pakistani and proud that in a fully Chinese-speaking environment I was able to start a band that made a huge impact on the local underground music scene. But if you came to our shows in Hong Kong – you would see that our audience is 100% Chinese. Which is AWESOME – but where are my fellow South Asians? If I saw a desi dude/girl on stage playing in a heavy band – man, I’d be at every show supporting that person for stepping out of the box and creating something for themselves in a tough climate. My parents have never been supportive of my band, Hong Kong is not necessarily that supportive of ethnic minorities, so the walls are stacked against us so it’s ridiculous that “we” don’t come together in that regards.
So if you’re reading this – PLEASE do us a favor and spread the word! There’s a Chinese hardcore band with a Pakistani singer! Hahaha…
– We talked for a bit before about Backtrack’s new album. What other EP’s/LP’s from this year have managed to get your attention?
2014 has certainly had some sick records come out in terms of hardcore…Bane, Madball, Conqueror (South African hardcore), A Strength Within, Comeback Kid, Spill Your Guts…off the top of my head though I’d still say Backtrack has been my favorite record. It just hits me in the right places to get me psyched to blast that shit on my way to work. I’m not into bands that have a million parts – I’m into music that feels like songs. Backtrack does that well and I think the newest record is their best shit yet. And it also helps that they’re really really cool humble dudes.
The next record that I cannot wait for of course is the new Sick of it All record. The first two songs they’ve put up our outstanding…
– You’re also a parent. How do you manage to strike a balance between being a touring and recording musician, and being a father?
I’m also a first grade teacher by profession! Don’t forget to throw that in there…hahahaha…
It hasn’t been hard at all. I think it is all about what kind of person you are. Some people are built to handle and be able to handle a lot of things on their plates. Some people just aren’t. I’m not a partier at all – I’m straight edge and so I don’t drink or do drugs and really haven’t enjoyed going to bars and hanging out in many many years. My job also requires that I get to work at about 7:15am every morning and so I’m up at like 5:30am and in bed by like 10pm every day. So when I had my daughter I was already in that early-to-bed early-to-rise routine, so seriously, my daughter hasn’t taken anything away from my life before her. She has totally enriched it…but I also have a wife that is the most amazing person on the planet who has never ONCE asked me to curtail my music, band, touring, or anything like that. She has always been like “This is who you are – be you”.
Striking a balance is of course important and to be in a band with other people who understand that is key. My guitar player just had a baby last week so we know that he’s going to be out of commission for this month so we know not to book anything around this time. Our drummer may go off and do some volunteer work and will be out of commission for like 6 months maybe, so we won’t do any shows during that period. That’s just life man – if “hardcore is for life” then you gotta accept the fact that sometimes hardcore has to take a back seat while you handle your business. When shit’s under control, you’re always back 100%.
– What’s next for King Ly Chee? Any new recordings/releases?
New album called CNHC (China Hardcore) will be out this December. To celebrate this double record (since 2007 we release all music in English and Chinese versions) that will be out on vinyl and digital format from us and on CD format by Clenched Fist Records in Europe. That’s very exciting to us that we finally have a person/label outside of Asia who is interested in working with us – it’s been a long time coming and nice to see someone actually do something for us.
Once the record’s out we’re touring and playing everywhere for the next couple years until we hit the big 20 year anniversary!
We want to come out to India, Nepal and Pakistan! If anyone can make that happen then hit us up!
– Thanks for your time Riz! Hope to see you soon!
Thank you Hassan for taking the time to check out my band and wanting to do something to help get the word out! SHUKRIYAH BAHUT BAHUT! Pakistan meh ek din milenge!