Retrospective: Kowloon Walled City – “Turk Street”

kowloon walled city turk street

If you follow me on twitter (@mannyowar) you’re most likely acquainted with my incessant tweeting about Kowloon Walled City. From their sludgy, wholly engrossing tracks able to evoke a deep emotional reaction at the core of my being causing my very soul to tap dance to their soft, stylish and comfortable t-shirts, Kowloon is a perfect band. In 2008, Kowloon Walled City released Turk Street. Despite being merely an EP, the album showcased the bands uniqueness, uncanny retraint and masterful songwriting ability. Thus, in anticipation of their upcoming full-length, Grievances, due out 10.9.2015, it’s a perfect time to look back at the album that kicked it all off.

Back in 2008, the scene was floundering. Record labels like Hydra Head, once a perfect outlet for a band like Kowloon Walled City, were beginning to show cracks in the foundation. Headed for collapse, the sludge scene, often referred to as post-metal or other oddly named genres, needed a band to step up and lead the way. For me, Kowloon Walled City was that band. Following in the footsteps of bands like Cable, Cavity, and Helms Alee while mixing in just enough influence from Neurosis, Isis, and early Fight Amp, Kowloon Walled City created jagged, assaulting music with distinctive vocals and hammering bass lines.

Intriguingly, the band was named after the Chinese settlement Kowloon Walled City. Once a British military outpost in New Kowloon, Hong Kong, the base became inundated with squatters in the mid 1940’s. The British and Chinese governments were unable to clear the settlement and essentially allowed it to develop completely on its own. Hand built homes stacked directly kowloon walled city chinaon top of each other rose high into the sky. Vice became as pronounced as late 19th century Chicago. Prostitution, drug use, gambling and gang-controlled commerce took over. Although eventually demolished by April 1994, Kowloon Walled City retained a near mythical history, fascinating to people around the world—a model of self sufficiency and governance, albeit corrupted by gang activities.

The band’s name, whether intentionally taken for this purpose or not, is an apt one. Kowloon Walled City is a band without governance by anyone or anything outside of itself. The members, also sharing time in the hilariously important Snailface, craft their visions together, in tight spaces, working out the kinks over time and demonstrating a final product that is without a doubt the work of the whole. Much like the city, Kowloon Walled City is a band that made its own way, made its own fortunes and, I assume, fell into vices at times.

Turk Street is one of the bands most aggressive works to date. That aggressiveness, along with the coarseness of the vocals, laid the foundation for its more spacious, tension filled work to come. Bass lines dangle in the air as dissident guitar chords, provided by vocalist Scott Evans and former guitarist Jason Pace (Jon Howell replaced him for Container Ships), fade fuzzily into obscurity. A band not enamored with gaudy effects or post-production, much like the Pixies, Kowloon Walled City create organic sounds that mesh together like the power of a twenty-mule team pulling the cornerstone for a great skyscraper. That is to say, the band’s hard working sound and dedication to gradual cadences and calculated climaxes, makes them wholly unique.

Perhaps most distinctively, the bass tone achieved by Ian Miller, combined with the downtuned, loose strings, make for a unique sound that, despite it’s slop, reveals a very capable bass player. Miller’s bass lines are often simple, root notes following the flow, but when the spaciousness of tunes like “Inheritance” hit, he’s ready to add fills and direction to the track while backed by the distinctly fuzzy, almost electrically interfered with, guitars. Ian’s rhythm section partner, Jeff Fagundes follows him perfectly. Alternatingly staccato and syncopated, the cohesive rhythm section is the backbone of Kowloon Walled City.

The shining, almost droning track, “My Hands are Turning Into Bricks,” is a longtime personal favorite of mine. Great for use at the gym, train rides home, amping myself up for a fight or just sitting in a chair with my face scrunched up mildly chin-banging (head-banging for old dudes). The track reveals so much that is great about Kowloon Walled City. A band lurching forward as a whole, pounding the sections into pieces before a ripper of a bass interlude brings the entire thing crashing down. Perhaps a connection, perhaps as loose as the bass, can be made to the destruction of the city and the poverty and desperation that ravaged the residents.

Kowloon Walled City is a must for any fan of heavy music. Even for any fan of independent or rock music. A band that draws the listener in to the point where the listener might think, incorrectly, that they are friends with the band. That the songs are really explanations written specifically for that listener. Turk Street is the work that made it all possible. The initiation of Kowloon Walled City and the revelation of such a unique, focused and consistently evolving sound. So listen to Turk Street below and get ready for the release of Grievances out on Neurot Recordings and Gilead Media 10.9.2015.

– Manny-O-War

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