Story and Interview by Ben Goldstein
I happened upon Hong Kong Fuck You when they shared a bill with Machine Girl Christmas 2019.
And thank fuck I did then because their three releases the following year pretty much got me through the pandemic.
As drummer for the Tijuana-based powerviolence outfit, Christian Hell has a knack for playing fast. The rhythmic bombardment he delivers, paired with the combined low-end of the band’s three bassists will make you reevaluate your conception of heavy; HKFY is absolutely punishing!
It may come as a surprise, but the first thing that caught my attention when seeing HKFY live was not Hell’s meat flailing about — in a manner much akin to those colorful inflatable tube men that beckon customers into used car dealerships — while he ripped through a blast beat at a breakneck tempo.
It was how he applied gospel licks to the metal format, and it was his economic approach to playing powerviolence — or nü-metal with blast beats “the length of time it takes someone to prematurely ejaculate,” as Hell so eloquently depicts HKFY’s aggressively dynamic start-stop style that leaves no room for post-nut clarity.
Hell’s skill is impressive in its own right; playing buck naked to a room full of people, save for a blindfold, while also bellowing into a mic is just him showing off.
And, hey, I’m all for it!
Metal drumming is not just about playing loud anymore. As genres have evolved to become more abrasive, the role of timekeeping has progressively become more physically demanding. The creation and implementation of the blast beat has greatly contributed to expanding the envelope for technical metal drumming.
Playing fast requires control. Speed demons who play this music develop techniques to make it through their sets without tiring out. They also refrain from wailing on the kit because the harder they hit, the more energy they exert. The drum industry accommodates these players with an expansive market for drum triggers to achieve their sound. For many, triggers are a divisive subject.
Blast beat: Common metal drum beat that traditionally consists of a single-stroke roll played between the cymbal and snare. A kick hits simultaneously with every cymbal hit (played with one foot or alternated with a double pedal).
Gospel chops: A term characterizing the extravagant linear fills that gospel drummers often incorporate into their playing.
Drum shed: An organized forum in which drummers meet up to play together and trade licks.
Interview with Christian Hell:
What’s your drum origin story?
I’ve been playing guitar seriously since I was 12 and listening to songs on the radio and learning them by ear. And for drums about the same time.
Who are your influences for playing?
My dad was a fusion head, so he’d be listening to anything with session drummers: Billy Cobham, Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Weckl.
I wouldn’t expect those for your style.
I definitely implement them a lot in my drumming.
Yeah, that’s something I’ve noticed. You don’t really adhere to traditional grindcore or powerviolence drumming. It’s very tasteful, gospel choppy stuff.
Definitely, I shed with gospel choppers. I used to go twice a week and shed with those guys (Brian Evans and company) and just get my ass kicked. Every once in a while [Brian is] like “that was cool what you did,” and I’m like “thanks,” and I focus on that thing. It’s great. Those are like the best drum lessons you can ever receive, just sitting down with someone more skilled than you, and they show you something that you’ve just never comprehended before. It’s one thing to watch other people playing…, but it’s a whole other energy and way more beneficial to actually sit down with someone. You absorb it way differently, way more effectively.
How did you transition into playing powerviolence and heavier stuff?
All the shitty nü-metal bands… I’m just kidding; I actually love nü-metal… so all those great nü-metal bands and pop punk bands I was listening to in the early 2000s. And I guess you could say System of a Down and Slipknot as well. It was particularly technical death metal and old school death metal that got me into blast beats, and that eventually led towards powerviolence. I actually discovered Neanderthal in the MySpace days cause I wanted to see if that name was used. I was like ‘this is definitely my jam.’ I didn’t even know what powerviolence was. I just thought it was generally called “fighting music” at the time. Charles Bronson and Spazz came naturally. But what really got me into powerviolence was criss crossing over from the grind world. My first band was actually a death grind band (Shoot Em in the Head!). And seeing grindcore bands popping up in 2008 and 2009… and meeting all the west coast powerviolence kids on our first tour was what really sealed the deal, got me into the culture.
You’re a really fast drummer. Tell me about your technique blasting. I know you studied with Ricardo Merlini (World’s Fastest Drummer awarded professional). Can you talk about the “doorknob” thing, as I’ve heard you call it.
The “doorknob” thing is a technique that Ricardo Merlini does. He basically does 32nd notes with just pure raw wrist technique instead of using what people usually refer to as Gravity Blasts, which is a stick trick to do rolls. I barely implement 32nd note blasts with Hong Kong. In terms of my technique for blasting, it’s just wrist, honestly, a little bit of French grip. That’s a technique I picked up from Weckl, unfortunately, that I can’t shake, cause most of the guys I admire play palms down. But if you want to know my techniques for speed, I do every single one possible: Flying Finger, Merlini, and Moeller when I ride on the bell — can’t really pull it off on the snare because I like to play rim shots so it cuts through the mix.
But I just try to stick to raw power.
Yeah, I find it hard to use Moeller for rim shots without over accenting the down beats or just straight up missing.
I’ve heard you use the term “hipster blasts.”
Yeah, I think people also call them “hammer blasts,” but I just know that’s from Three One G bands, mainly just Gabe Serbian. [Hammer blasts or “hipster blasts”] are just when everything is hitting at the same time.
You usually play single kick when you play blasts, right?
Yes. I tend to record that way too. The only time I didn’t record on any of these Hong Kong songs was on the split with Guilt Dispenser because I wanted to play a lot faster on that.
And you improvised that album?
Starting off with drums, yeah. I totally improvised that. I’ve always had melodies in the back of my mind that I’d be sitting on for a while. So to be fair, while I was improvising these drums, I was thinking about these melodies in my head, and I ended up using most of them on that recording — but melodies I’d never sat down and played on the bass.
Would you consider that a concept album?
There’s really not a single song on there that’s about eating ass. I just thought it was funny to get a theme going, to have an acronym that spelled E.A.T.A.S.S. [The songs] all turned into parodies of Man is the Bastard song titles.
I always thought it was an homage to analingus, like that was your inspo.
Here’s a pretty big question: What’s the stigma with using drum triggers?
Right off the bat, people consider it cheating. You can use triggers to do anything really. You throw them on an acoustic kit with some mesh heads and basically just have an electric kit. You can do some electronic beats, some dub, some drum and bass, or you can go full metal. I’m not against it at all. That whole world of metal is something that’s just completely admirable in its own category of drumming. You either have pocket players, shedders, and then there’s metal, which is its own world of drumming. They use a lot of insane techniques like the double swivel technique to hit 32nd notes. It’s mind boggling. You’re doing two double strokes separately, RRLL RRLL at 300 BPM. I don’t care if you’re hitting those hard as hell or not; that’s incredible.
That’s the thing though. At a certain point, you overexert yourself. At faster BPMs, you have to play more lightly. That’s why Serbian is always vomiting mid-set.
Yeah, Serbian is one of those guys that’s a hard hitter. He taught Brian Evans to play blast beats with rim shots, and that got passed on to me from Brian Evans. [Evans is] basically my mentor in many ways, so I feel like if I don’t do rim shots when I blast, he’s gonna talk shit, and then I’m gonna feel like shit. I try to provide loud and proud fucking drums in the usual setting. I take pride in the way I drum. I feel like I stand out as a drummer because most of the time I’m the hardest hitting drummer in a grindcore and punk and powerviolence setting, but that doesn’t say much in a gospel setting, where I’m usually the quietest guy. Pretty funny.
That’s an interesting kind of duality there.
So, how do you pace yourself so you don’t pass out during a set — playing so fast and hitting so hard?
Honestly, I could drum like that all fucking day! It’s not that bad. What’s usually killing me is screaming and drumming at the same time. That’s been destroying me lately. I’ve been throwing up at the last two shows because our set list is a lot longer now. When we get to “Kill a Skinhead,” it’s just so many lyrics packed into each verse.
To anyone concerned about my health, I’m fine. It’s just overexertion.
I also never drink or eat a meal before I play, well like within four hours of playing, because that’ll definitely make me throw up. I don’t drink alcohol because I’ll gas the fuck out real quick.
That’s great advice. Older Napalm Death era grindcore drummers fell by the wayside because they drank, smoked and did drugs before shows, and their health was probably for shit. You’ve got to stay in shape, make good decisions if you want to play that fast.
1000 percent, dude. A lot of guys will say grindcore and powerviolence are a young man’s game, but you look at those guys and they’re out of shape, drink every day, get crossfaded while at shows. That’s a privilege. I have to front the band and sing. I do like 98 percent of vocals.
Do you have to practice singing and playing beforehand, or does it come naturally?
Definitely when I’m playing flawlessly, I practice at least three times a week and chronically keep up my blasts, doing single rolls with my hands on my thighs or on any surface — practice, practice, practice. I wish I had more time to practice vocals and that at the same time, but whenever I’m at the studio with the band, I’ll bust out the microphone.
How do you come up with new fills? What’s your inspiration?
My fill inspiration is just constantly writing new stuff. I’m always thinking of drum fills, listening to other gospel drummers. It’s mostly drum sheds when I’m backed into a corner where someone busts out a really sick chop, and I’m like fuck, what do I do now, how do I counter that? And I’ll repeat the same thing but put my taste to it. For the most part, when it comes to recording my drum parts, not a single take is the same in terms of fills. Once that’s recorded, I learn what I recorded and try to get that down to play live. That’s how I’ve come up with some really cool fills that even some of my buddies have ripped off, and I’m honestly honored by that. I never get offended when people borrow my fills. I’m like, that means I did something right.
You do that thing where you end your fills on the bell instead of snare, or you’ll swap out the bell for where a second rack tom would go. It’s usually very linear stuff. At least that’s what I think I’m hearing when I listen to your playing.
Are these the usual features that you use to format fill ideas?
Yeah, I think so. I love doing that. In a way, I sort of borrowed that from when I was 13 learning Lamb of God songs. Chris Adler would do a lot of his fills including cymbals — big bells, splash hats, stacks, chinas — he was never only toms. That’s basically what I’m doing there. I usually decide to mix things up on the bell.
Where’d you get the aesthetic ideas for playing live, playing blindfolded and hanging dong?
I know it wasn’t because of Sandra Bullock.
That’s all I know. I put on a blindfold and took a picture and thought it looked cool, so I got the idea to do it for a show. Sometimes I would also practice drums in the dark to discipline myself more, to listen more to what I’m doing than see what I’m doing. That’s affected my drumming. It’s more like a physical thing and a visual thing. When I can’t see, I’m listening more. That’s also what led to me playing blindfolded because I can’t always play in the dark. The first time I did that was for the Machine Girl show, and the second time I did it was for the virtual live session for Global Grindcore Alliance. It was really just for my training so I could focus more on sound and less on physical feel…, engaging feel through sound.
I don’t really suggest it. I definitely don’t play as well blindfolded, but it still sounded fine. You can see I’m still missing some hits, particularly those bell hits.
I don’t know… Sounded pretty good to me! I’d fuck it up if I tried it.
So, you handle production for HKFY, don’t you?
I do. I’m usually guiding that. Same with recording techniques because I’ve picked up a bit over the years.
How do you approach recording drums?
It’s definitely a different approach. Live, I usually throw clear heads on my snare and do single ply heads in general because it’s really loud, whereas in the studio, I go for batter heads because it’s more dry and less ringing that bleeds into the other mics. And every time I record to a click track. Since I usually record everything, at least I have been for the last two releases, I dub and start off with drums. I know what I’m playing to, and I’m hearing the melodies in my head. Then I lay down the basses, and then I lay down vocals. And then comes the whole nasty process of mixing, which has been a great learning process. And you have to master your shit. Take it to a guy that specializes in mastering, has a mastering studio. If you don’t, your recordings might not sound that great. The whole point of mastering is to have it sounding consistent on every device, so fuck your car tests
Is there anything you want to say to readers before we wrap up?
I suggest finding drum sheds, especially cool ones where they don’t care what level you’re at.
Just do it: drum sheds.
If you love drums, you’ll love drum shedding. It’s the greatest lesson ever. It’s nothing like watching drummers on Instagram or YouTube. You’ll gain way more knowledge.
And practice to a goddamn metronome!
Evans runs a shed in San Diego. And there’s another small group in San Diego that Hell is part of. But really, they’re all over the place. Just look, and you’ll find them.
See Hell in action at HKFY’s last show of the year in LA on October 28th.
And if you can’t make that, I highly recommend catching HKFY on their next tour tentatively scheduled for Spring. Chat with Hell after the show. You might think he looks scary — drenched in sweat and vomit from screaming while blasting full force all night long — but I assure you, he’s a real sweetheart!
Cvltnation interview with Hell: https://cvltnation.com/hong-kong-fuck-you-an-interview-with-christian-Hell-a-sneak-preview-of-global-grindcore-alliance-2-0/
Guilt Dispenser Split: https://hongkongfuckyou.bandcamp.com/album/guilt-dispenser-split
Gospel Chops: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alLc4UagbCk