Making their first tour of the West The Hu blend heavy metal with traditional Mongolian instruments and the deep lung thrum of throat singing. Their lyrics include war cries and old poetry and their debut album is called The Gergeg, a word used to describe the equivalent of the first diplomatic passport from the days of Genghis Khan’s Mongol empire.
For some time the West has been entranced with updates to ancient music; the interest in Nordic war songs set to electronic percussion, Celtic ballads played on electric violins and almost any Eastern music set over a dance beat, the romanticism and Neo-mysticism conjuring a mythical past within the post-analogue world. The Hu arrived at just the right time, forming in 2016 in the cosmopolitan Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar.
The band’s first two singles, both made with producer B. Dashdondog, a.k.a. ‘Dashka’, are 2018’s Yuve Yuve Yu, and epic Wolf Totem. They were followed by accompanying videos with slick, cinematic production values. The videos were well received by the online audience and quickly went viral, nurturing a fan base around the world. The songs, in turn, hit the Billboard chart, with Wolf Totem seizing the top spot as number 1 in the Billboard Hard rock chart by spring 2019.
The first major tour for the band became a global tour with dates in major cities easily selling out tickets. Speaking to music fans who are lucky enough to have claimed tickets for tonight’s only London date, their only previous experience of the band was limited to the two or three videos they have seen online. The crowd comprises mostly of hard rock fans, an unsurprising number of fans in New Model Army t-shirts here to represent those with an ear for rhythmic hard rock with folk roots. What is unforeseen is how many Asian rockers have come along, including Mongol people based in the UK who have taken this opportunity to represent their culture and musical heritage in the heart of Camden. It’s a vibrant and joyful mix of people.
Arriving on stage is a band the likes of which have never been seen on a London stage. Turned out in bespoke costumes curated from standard biker apparel and historical detailing. Even their footwear is specially designed to recall the historical dress of the Hunnu horsemen but with modern, urban practicality. A quick note to the shoe designer for the band – your work would sell well here in the UK if you are willing to be complicit in the cultural appropriation.
Perhaps most striking are the four core members of The Hu: Frontman Nyamjantsan Galsanjamts a.k.a. ‘Jaya’ with his waist-length flowing hair and worn in leather ‘deel’ or mid-length coat, Enkhsaikhan Batjargal a.k.a. ‘Enkush’, Galbadrakh Tsendbaatar a.k.a. ‘Gala’ and Temuulen Naranbaatar a.k.a. ‘Temka’; hair tied back into high buns and half buns, wispy facial hair framing faces deep set in concentration as they rip into opening number Shoog Shoog.
The incredible array of instruments help to define the act; the electric blue horse head fiddle or Morin Khuur; customised with hand painted strokes of white lightning, emerald green diamond-shaped guitar with neck finished in an arrowhead, and the bamboo flute, or Tsuur, placed to the mouth under the top lip against the side of the gum line for a haunting reed thin sound.
Giant traditional drums are clad in half a tack shops worth of black and red studded leather. Drummer Odbayar Gantumur a.k.a ‘Odko’, a touring member of the band, appears reduced in size next to the massive kit. It would be a mistake to imagine this man’s stature affects the power of his playing. Sticks fly and thump in a roll of powerful reverberations.
That is not to say the standard drum kit, set to the rear of the stage, isn’t doing a lot of the heavy work of underpinning a percussion-heavy band. Regardless of all the flash on stage, nothing is superfluous. The thunderous hit Wolf Totem sends the crowd into a frenzy, stomping their feet to the driving beat, thrusting their fists in the air once more to the primal chant of ‘Hu, Hu, Hu!”
Between individual songs in the same chanting refrain of “Hu, Hu, Hu” and “Shoog, Shoog, Shoog” act as a segue for the audience to keep the momentum going. The vocals are calibrated into perfect harmony. Traditional throat singing tracks with the bass guitar; the guttural chanting matches the boom of the bass drum, the effect is both hypnotic and energising.
At least one song produces moments of racing pop beats adding a welcome and unexpected change of pace. It also raises the question, will The Hu be conquering the dance charts next? It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to conceive of pumping Mongolian floor fillers being played across summer festivals, or ambient tracks overplayed with throat singing. Whatever comes next for The Hu it is sure to be done with a continuing enthusiasm, attention to detail and artistry.
If you have the chance, do everything in your power to catch The Hu on one of their remaining dates on this extensive tour in continental Europe through the summer and across the US in autumn. If you cannot join the tour, debut album The Gergeg is available to pre-order now.
Live review and photography by Sarah Sievers of The Hu at Underworld Camden on 18th June 2019