Photo by Raven Ko
Founded in 2015, Unite Asia is the website of Riz Farooqi, former member King Ly Chee. Upon the realisation of the lack of news that showcased Asian bands, Unite Asia was created as a means of changing this. With most rock sites and blogs heavily featuring content from UK or US based bands, Unite Asia was created for the display of solely Asian rock and hardcore music. It was whilst touring with King Ly Chee that Farooqi saw for himself the immense talent that Asia’s underground scene had to offer, and the fact that it remained unseen to many only pushed him further to find a means of discovery for Asian bands. With news posted daily, the site has grown to become a crucial part of Asia’s hardcore community, leading to bands being discovered not only by listeners but labels through the site. We were lucky to talk to Riz about the creation of Unite Asia, the Asian musical industry, and the talented hardcore community that resides within Asia.
For those who have not heard of Unite Asia, or know who you are, can you give us a brief background of the site and your objectives.
Sure! I run a small website out here in Hong Kong called UniteAsia.org The whole catalyst for this website was how hard it was for me to find information about bands from all over Asia. What new tracks they were releasing, music videos, records, tours, etc., I just couldn’t find any of this info. There just wasn’t one single place like the West has ‘Metalsucks’, ‘Blabbermouth’, ‘Punknews’, ‘Brooklyn Vegan’, ‘No Echo’, where I could find info specifically about bands from this region. Through my band King Ly Chee we’ve toured around Asia a LOT over the 20 plus years we’ve been around, so I already had a lot of contacts with tons of bands from around here and if I wanted to know what they were up to I would just often Whatsapp, email or DM them directly. So, I decided, in true DIY fashion, that if there wasn’t a website that met my needs, why don’t I just start one since I already have a whole bunch of contacts here. The name Unite Asia was an easy decision because when King Ly Chee had toured with NOFX in Asia we had written and released this song already, and the name “Unite Asia” fully encapsulated what I’ve been trying to accomplish with the site.
Can you tell us more about your discovery and love of music, especially the rock and roll scene?
Well, I’m Pakistani but went to an international school in a city called Hong Kong so I would say that music, especially heavy music, provided me a place to make sense of all these clashing cultures I had to deal with. My parents are quite traditional Muslim Pakistanis but they sent me to a Christian international school and I lived in a mainly Cantonese-speaking society with its own culture. All three of these cultures almost never really meshed well. The only thing that gave me comfort was when I had my headphones on and had the sounds of ‘Slayer’, ‘Metallica’, ‘Anthrax’, all those early gateway metal bands pounding in my head.
Though I for sure began as a metalhead (and still proudly am a metalhead), it was really hardcore and punk rock that shaped me into the kind of person I am to this day. Using my energy and platform to look out for those who are less fortunate has always been something that I value in my life, and it is still how I choose to live my life today. I became a classroom teacher for this exact reason choosing to leave the cutthroat world of corporations whose main goal is profit over humanity.
Bands like ‘Avail’, ‘Snapcase’, ‘Biohazard’, ‘Boysetsfire’, ‘Sick of it All’, ‘Bad Religion’, ‘Minor Threat’, ‘Bad Brains’…all of these bands taught me that music can be ABOUT something instead of just being loud for the sake of being loud. I still remember the first day I opened the CD booklet to Bad Religion’s ‘No Control’, Sick of it All’s ‘Just Look Around’, Biohazard’s ‘Urban Discipline’ and read the lyrics – I couldn’t believe bands could write lyrics that I could actually connect with, it was like they were talking about me and my experiences. And then living in the States in the 90’s and seeing tables and tables at shows with anti-racist pamphlets, food drives, straight edge/vegetarian/vegan philosophies, etc. stuff that I wish I could still see at shows today, further helped cement the idea of using music as a vehicle to bring awareness to social issues.
Since the creation of Unite Asia, how have you seen a change in coverage and discovery of Asian talent and bands?
In terms of talent, it’s always been there it’s just people had no way of finding out. I remember when King Ly Chee first started touring Southeast Asia in the early 2000’s and seeing the INSANE quality of the bands with our own eyes, the bands here are just so damn good. Having lived in the US and seeing the quality of the bands there, and then watching these Asian bands right in front of me I seriously couldn’t see a difference in terms of quality.
In terms of coverage, no I don’t really see much of a change. It’s still the Western bands, US in particular, that get all the love and attention even from out here. This is understandable because, in the West, music, even underground music, is an entire industry in itself and the scenes are SO BIG with so many bands releasing music daily that it’s hard to be able to step outside to ALSO see what the rest of the world is creating. There are pockets out here that are probably similar like in Indonesia and Japan – but for the most part, everyone out here is working on a much smaller scale but the passion, commitment, and quality are all still there.
In 2017, you created the Unite Asia Showcase concert featuring local Asian talent, are there any plans to host any events like this in the future?
That showcase was mainly for bands in Hong Kong. There was something brewing at the time here and I wanted to put something together to get some eyes on these bands. I wouldn’t say that specific event really was a true “Unite Asia Showcase”. A true Unite Asia Showcase would DEFINITELY include bands from all over Asia and be something that I could host pretty regularly because there are just SO MANY BANDS. But there is a lot of money involved in that not to mention the logistics of making sure I pick a place that would be easy to fly in and out of for people. COVID has pretty much shut all that down and I live in a city with an idiotic 3-week quarantine for all arrivals. So everything is on hold.
At Underground we use our Never Known Live Music Nights to highlight underground and emerging talent. How important is it to you to shine a spotlight on emerging bands and artists?
It’s one of the main reasons I run the site. But not even for the site, for me as a musician, listening to new bands is what continues to keep writing music fresh to me. I love the classics for sure and fully respect when bands try to bring back a certain sound of yesteryear, but for me, it’ll always be what the newer bands are doing and what elements they’re adding to bring something new to the table.
The site has become more than just a platform, but a community across Asia. Do you feel that the alternative scene is one with a far greater camaraderie than that of popular music, and if so, do you believe these ties are due to subcultural influence?
Well, as mentioned above, all of my ethics and ideals come from hardcore and punk rock, and I 100% have built the site on those same ideas. So in terms of Asian hardcore and punk, yes, because the site was born out of those ideals, I do see a lot of camaraderie. I can often joke around with complete strangers on the site in the comments section because we all come from the same mindset even though some of us live in India, the Philippines, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Dubai, etc. In terms of more mainstream music, I have no idea what kind of bonds they may have with similar artists and their fanbase. The mainstream world seems to be way more competitive and about individual development instead of the development of a collective that would benefit everyone. I fully believe in the idea of “rising tides raise all ships”.
In the same vein as highlighting Asian talent, how important do you feel it is for women and LGBTQ+ musicians in the music scene to have more representation?
Oh – this trumps everything. As an ethnic minority in Hong Kong, I have always had a lot of empathy for fellow marginalized people and fully believe that the doors to hardcore and punk rock should be wide open to everyone, especially those who don’t feel seen or heard in the regular world. So on the site, I search my heart out looking for better representation. There are days that I get so many submissions from bands that only feature males that I actually choose not to publish those posts because there are just too many that keep coming in. I fully admit that the majority of bands out here still seem to be straight males, but anytime something comes across my radar that veers from this, I jump all over it. Like when I first heard of LGBTQ band ‘Shhhh…diam’ out of Malaysia, ‘Nightmare A.D’ out of Cambodia, or ‘Billy Carter’ out of South Korea who fully tackle sexism in Korea head-on, or ‘Disobey’ out of Indonesia who totally stomp all over the Muslim woman narrative portrayed in the West by their vocalist who proudly wears a hijab and screams in a hardcore band, that’s the stuff that really moves me and I’m always SO proud of being able to write about them on my small site.
There have been difficulties surrounding Asian bands breaking through in the west. Do you feel like there has been a change in this recently and is that something you are pioneering?
I don’t think there’s been much of a change. I feel like it has been GREAT to see some bands that have been able to break into the Western “market” but seriously, how many can you count? Not that many…of course, you have the legends like ‘Envy’, ‘Chthonic’, ‘MONO’, ‘Toe’, ‘Shonen Knife’, and most recently a band called ‘Bloodywood’, but even on the hardcore level bands like ‘Kruelty’, ‘Palm’, ‘Sand’, ‘Slant’, ‘Sial’, have all been making names, and there are some labels like ‘La Vida Es Un Mus Discos’, ‘Quality Control’, ‘Damnably’, ‘The Coming Strife’ funny enough all out of the UK who’ve been helping release Asian bands, but it’s still very few and far between. I really don’t have any contacts with movers and shakers out in the West to be a valuable enough bridge between Asian bands and Western scenes. I just hope they come to the website often enough (I update this daily!) to find things that resonate with them and that they want to help release – like the label ‘Not For The Weak Records’ out of the US who is releasing SICK Indonesian hardcore band ‘Crucial Response’ on 7”.
I guess it will be difficult to choose but give us a “Top 10 bands to watch in 2022 “and any artist that merits a special mention.
That is way too hard…there are so many bands from all over Asia that I’m hoping will be releasing new music this year.
What is next for Unite Asia?
Keep doing what I’ve been doing…I don’t make a cent from the site. There are no ads and no one has ever offered, so there’s only so much I can do as one person with limited funds. All I can hope is that if for some weird reason people anywhere on this planet seem to accidentally stumble onto this site and are stoked at what they see and hear, they’ll keep sharing it with people. I have no marketing/promotion budget for the site. I literally put up posts daily like I have been doing for the past 7 years and that’s it…the audience has all been organic and grown through word of mouth…so any growth or eyes on the site have all grown organically.
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Underground Soundwave presents an ongoing series of reports on emerging and established bands with close-up Q&As, new release reviews and gig reports with a special emphasis on supporting diversity in music, women in music, independent labels and venues and the local music scene.