Screamo legends King Ly Chee slated for Yuyintang on April 8
By Kyle Lawrence
Shanghai may not seem like a hardcore haven but Riz, head of legendary Hong Kong punk troupe King Ly Chee, says he can’t wait to play here because the town he calls home is “full of racists.”
“The most recent bullsh*t that I had to deal with was on a (HK airline) Dragonair flight where my band members, who are all Chinese, were not removed from the plane— but I was,” the Pakistani born, but Hong Kong raised, frontman says of the endless discrimination he faces in his begrudgingly adopted hometown. “The incident has to do with one of my guitar players supposedly saying something rude to one of the air hostesses. He didn’t, but she got upset and was yelling back at him, which was totally unnecessary. I got involved, protecting my brother in the band.
That noble gesture lead him all the way back to the tarmac, as security escorted him off the plane, alone.
“It turns out she (the hostess) didn’t like my attitude and realized that she had a perfect way to get me kicked off the plane by saying that I was ‘unstable’ in behavior. The captain decided to kick me off but allowed the rest of my band members to stay on board. It was just awkward.”
The city’s shortcomings have, in one way or another over the years, sparked constant ‘unstable behavior’ from Riz— prompting him to write screamo lyrics when everyone else in the local scene was covering Limp Bizkit, publishing an underground magazine to educate the masses about what ‘hardcore’ truly means, and even passing subtler lessons along in the classroom as a teacher because the local scene isn’t lucrative to support him fulltime. Below, Riz answers our questions about why he’d prefer to play in a city like Shanghai, and how Hong Kong has spurned and inspired him again and again.
What recourse did you take after Dragonair kicked you off their plane?
I came back to Hong Kong and fought Dragonair via Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities
Commission, which handles issues of racial discrimination in Hong Kong. It’s a racist city though, there’s been so many things happen to me there.
If Hong Kong is a racist town, what about the rest of China? What about Shanghai?
I have never felt any sort of discrimination in China, and I have gone up to China many times. It just seems people are so much more open-minded there, maybe because China is such a vast country anyway that people who don’t look at all ‘Chinese’ are still considered ‘Chinese.’ I never had an issue there.
Tell me about the importance of making your latest album, Time Will Prove entirely bilingual by recording an English and Chinese version of each song. Was that an effort to break down culture barriers, and if so why is that necessary—isn’t music a universal language anyway?
When I first started this band in 1999 the main focus was to allow Hong Kong kids an opportunity to check out what hardcore stands for. But that first year, all my lyrics were in English and I could see people weren’t getting it. The following year we had a line-up change — the bass player at the time worked with me, and we decided to include Cantonese in each song. So we were bilingual, but all within one song, which was nuts. But it did exactly what I set out to do, because it was a more common language, people were able to dig deep into the music and lyrics. Kids were quite literally going nuts once the language was something that was more comfortable to them.
Fast forward to 2007 and I had had enough of putting English and Cantonese all in one song, because either one would have to be sacrificed in order to pack a more profound punch. Since we were centered on the Chinese community, it was mostly English that had to take a backseat in songs. But once we started touring outside of Chinese speaking areas that was a huge downfall, because we couldn’t connect with non-Chinese speakers. So in 2007 I decided that we were going to start recording two separate versions of each song, one entirely in English, and one entirely in Mandarin. We decided on Mandarin for the exact reason that I’ve stated before, allowing language to not be a barrier for the masses to be getting into hardcore. It’s been going great so far, it’s just hard as hell on me since I have to memorize the lyrics for both versions. Hell I tell you. But incredibly worth it.
Tell me a little more about that process, and why it’s challenging.
I write all the lyrics in English first and then pass it to our guitar player (Brian Chi Wong), who has to go through hell to figure out how to best translate it so that the Chinese version makes sense. He even keeps the same rhythm, so it’s easier for me.
That work ethic stretches far beyond that band—in fact, all of you work regular 9 to 5’s to support yourselves, aside from playing in King Ly Chee. Tell me about your day job. Also, are you resentful that Hong Kong’s hardcore scene can’t support you as a fulltime gig?
I’m a first grade teacher, and I teach 20 beautiful 6-7 year old children. It’s one of the best things I do every single day of my life, because this is the best way to really leave an impact on this planet. These little kids are tomorrow’s leaders. Hopefully, when they’re in places of power, they will have remembered some of the things that I taught them.
At least the current hardcore punk scene keeps you guys gigging regularly, even if it’s not strong enough to let you quit your day jobs. But before all that you had another career as an amateur publisher of the underground magazine, Start From Scratch. Tells us more about those days.
It was an underground ‘zine that I put out to get into punk and hardcore much deeper then just listening to the music. I got some great interviews and articles written up about straight edge and other alternate lifestyles. The whole zine was bilingual, so that opened a whole different world up to local kids.
It was funny dealing with feedback from people who are not used to ‘zines.’ They didn’t understand why everything was in black and white, and why I only talked about this type of music. Some local shops were really not into stocking the zine because they couldn’t believe it wasn’t in color. Either way, it was incredibly successful. Fans still talk about those zines to this day and ask me to start it back up again – but it’s just too much with all the sh*t that’s on my plate right now.
What faux punk show did you go to that was the last straw, the one that made you realize you had to show Hong Kong what punk truly was with your zine and your own band?
It was just a bunch of local bands talking about hardcore on stage, then jamming out on Korn and Limp Bizkit cover songs. After 10 of these shows I was done.
What exactly made you realize the magazine wouldn’t be enough, that you had to form your own band?
Words are incredibly powerful, but the true power of hardcore is watching it live. It’s all about watching the singers and band members kill themselves on stage, screaming their hearts out. Screaming today has almost become so ‘normal’ that there isn’t anything dangerous about it. But true hardcore is about this release that we all need– so to give kids a chance to hear the loudness of the instruments, the speed and energy, the delivery of the music, it’s all incredibly important to me.
King Ly Chee will perform at Yuyintang Sunday, April 8. For more information visit