I write to you today on behalf of my friend Riz and the city that he loves: Hong Kong. Riz Farooqi is a legend in the Asian hardcore scene, and a native of Hong Kong, his parents having immigrated there from Pakistan.
Riz arrived at Amherst College in Massachussetts, circa 1994, as a metalhead … However, by the time he returned home, 5 years later, he’d become a hardcore kid through and through. Upon his return to Hong Kong after graduation, Riz formed the band King Ly Chee, who were then together for nearly 20 years and released 6 albums while touring Asia multiple times, and even reaching America once, as tour openers for Sick of It All.
In 2015, Riz founded the Asian punk/hardcore/metal news site Unite Asia which has proven to be an indispensable resource for the underground/DIY music scene across the entire region.
His current band, Dagger, has been touring internationally and recording for a couple of years now. Their latest is a split with the Thai band Ugoslabier on Blackat Records. All proceeds from the record will go to the Spark Alliance, a non-profit that is assisting Hong Kong protesters who have been arrested or imprisoned. More on that in a moment.
I met Riz a number of years ago when I was living in Cambodia. I served as the promoter/organizer for King Ly Chee’s first and only show there. The fact that they were going to be making it there even once was impressive to me given how small the Cambodian scene was (especially at that time, it’s grown a little since) and I did my best to put a decent show together, having had some experience in that area many years prior in the basements of my youth.
Putting a together a DIY hardcore show isn't rocket science but I still felt like I'd somehow gotten rusty at it having been away from it for so many years. It definitely helped that I was a regular contributor to Phnom Penh’s only A&E weekly magazine as I managed to get the cover story for King Ly Chee the week of the show. I probably should have mentioned to their readership at the time that I was also the “concert promoter” for KLC, as well as playing in one of the opening bands, and that one of my best friends owned the bar/venue it was taking place at and where I was also a part-time staff member… but I guess it slipped my mind?
King Ly Chee was fantastic. Phenomenally tight and bursting with energy. They gave it their all playing for a relatively small but still over-capacity crowd that was enthusiastic, though slightly clueless, as far as hardcore went. The room held about 50 people max but I know we sold around 75 admissions at the door (add to that total the staff and opening musicians etc) and it felt like the show was taking place in a dangerously crowded sauna. Despite that, Riz wore a windbreaker for the duration of his entire set and somehow was able to keep floor-punching, and the like, at maximum velocity, from start to finish. At any rate, the show went well and it kicked off a roughly 5-year period where I was the primary organizer of punk/hardcore/metal shows in Phnom Penh, at least the handful that took place each year involving touring bands.
My reason for telling you about Riz and his importance to the hardcore scene in Asia and so forth? It is my rambling attempt to put a name and a face to what's happening in Hong Kong right now. To try and make what might otherwise be a discussion about abstract political ideals or far away events more concrete, familiar, and personal. It is my attempt to get you interested in what's happening over there. To build awareness of what's taking place and hopefully your support for the protesters, be they persons with hardcore ties or otherwise. The protesters include people who share your passions and your interests and your tastes in music.
Have you been following the news about Hong Kong? Have you seen the inspiring mayhem, righteous disobedience, and unruly bravery that has been taking place out on the streets of Hong Kong for the past 6 months? If you aren’t caught up on current events there, you should take some time to read up on it, because what’s taking place there is a protest movement of world-historic importance, in my view. A leaderless urban guerilla protest movement that has supporters and participants from all walks of life.
I'll try to avoid burying you in details that are well documented elsewhere, but it all started off as a protest against a law that would have allowed citizens of Hong Kong to be extradited to the Chinese mainland (where there is no due process or human rights) and it has grown into something much larger than that with one of the “Five Demands” of the protesters being universal suffrage and real democracy in Hong Kong.
The citizens of Hong Kong are standing up to the Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party at great risk to their own lives, and with no thanks or solidarity forthcoming from most mainland Chinese people, who are apparently so tightly controlled or totally brainwashed at this point that they either aren’t able to empathize with their countrymen in Hong Kong or aren’t at liberty to express such sentiments due to the paranoid surveillance state that has been constructed by China’s totalitarian rulers.
Hong Kong is fighting for democracy and human rights against a government that is so brutal, and acts with such impunity, that they’ve locked up somewhere between 1 million and 2 million Uighur Muslims (who are also Chinese citizens) in concentration camps in order to destroy their culture and religion and replace it with worship of the Communist Party and Xi Jinping. Torture and even the forced sterilization of women are widespread in these camps. They've been doing something similar to Tibet for decades now so in a way this is just more of the same from China's government. Except that now they've got a lot more wealth and technological sophistication to aid them in their tireless crusade against autonomy, independence, and free thought.
Do you recall the last time that a popular democratic uprising took place in China? That ended with the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Thousands of peaceful demonstrators were shot by the Chinese military in the middle of Beijing. To add insult to injury, China has spent the decades since gaslighting their own citizenry in an attempt to erase this black stain from their history books, so that it might vanish entirely from public awareness, and they have succeeded in doing so within mainland China to a disheartening degree.
China has become wealthier over the past few decades but most of that wealth is hoarded by the well connected and the party elites. There have been modest improvements in the standard of living for the average citizen but with no further rights or benefits beyond no longer being perpetually on the brink of starvation. The average household income in China is only about $10,000 per year. Meanwhile, over 100 members of China's legislature are now billionaires. Communist billionaires! "Communist" Party members in a supposedly "communist" country: Billionaires. I'm sure they all earned it honestly though, right?
I know America is currently buried neck deep in its own problems (or should I say “problem” — and we all know who the problem chiefly is) but please consider doing something - anything — to show solidarity with the people of Hong Kong and their struggle against totalitarianism.
The protesters are risking their lives and their freedom in order to champion the principles of democracy and human rights and they set this noble example in the face of such daunting obstacles and obvious danger that the totality of such dire circumstances taken together should unquestionably earn them your admiration and support.
What the Hong Kong protesters are doing is also in the world's interest generally because what goes on in China doesn't just stay in China. They are actively exporting their authoritarian ideology and their highly refined methods of control. Over the 7-year period that I lived there, I watched Cambodia go from being a democracy with contested elections and a split government along with an independent and critical press ... To being a one party state holding uncontested elections with no independent media.
The government's censorship campaign took many forms but the most shocking was the assassination of a high profile political commentator, in broad daylight, just blocks from my home, because he went on the radio to discuss the Prime Minister's family's looting of the country. Cambodia's descent into tyranny was complete when the main opposition party was dissolved by the supreme court who then handed their seats in parliament over to the ruling party and charged the party's leadership with treason.
One of the primary reasons why Cambodia took such a turn for the worse politically was the financial support — with no strings attached (i.e. no concerns about human rights or democracy) - provided by China. The powers that be in Cambodia could then afford to ignore the human rights related demands and requirements attached to foreign aid by the EU and America. China would make up the short-fall and provide all manner of assistance and advice as well as diplomatic cover to Cambodia's newly minted de facto one-party state. Why wouldn't they? After all, it was crafted in China's own image.
China's government as of late is constantly decrying "foreign interference" in China's "internal matters" while they steadily erode freedom and undermine democracy globally. I saw it firsthand. China can bluster all it likes, but the truth is that standing up for human rights and aiding people who are living under oppression is not colonialism or western paternalism, it's a basic moral obligation.
One way you could show support for Hong Kong, in terms of a hardcore scene context: Showing support for Riz's band Dagger. Here is Dagger’s track from the recent split release I mentioned earlier:
But an even more important way of showing support for Hong Kong would be to donate to this organization (the one that the Dagger/Ugoslabier split EP is a benefit for): Spark Alliance. They are providing legal assistance to protesters who have been arrested and are possibly facing up to 10 year prison terms under the charge of "rioting."
In addition to individual donations, benefit concerts, records, vegan bake sales—whatever—would all be welcome ways to show international solidarity with Hong Kong at a time when it is desperately needed.
Thank you for your time and Riz and Hong Kong thank you for your support should you choose to give it.