If you do not know who The Hu is by now (not the British band with Pete Townshend), chances are you are not a rock fan. For those of us not bingeing on Game of Thrones in a locked basement, The Hu is a four-piece band from Mongolia that gate crashed social media with two impeccably produced music videos last fall. Their second single, Wolf Totem, amassed 272,000 U.S. streams and debuted briefly at No. 22 on the streaming and sales based Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart.
What sets these vikings of the east apart from other Mongolian bands with similar bravado like Tengger Cavalry and Nine Treasures is their unique incorporation of traditional Mongolian instruments. The band’s music features the Tovshuur (Western Mongolian lute), the Morin Huur (Horse Fiddle) and Khoomei (Throat singing) without the crutch of the usual western electric and bass guitars found in rock and metal music. Listening closely to the tracks, the production is clean and free of amplification or the use of rock or metal amplifier distortion. Yet the songs have been able to capture every metal head’s heart.. and head. The Hu is also distinctly more melodic and adhere very closely to the pentatonic scale that gives Mongolian music its distinctive sound.
The Hu’s genre of music, dubbed “Hunnu Rock” (“Hun” is Human), is the concept of the band’s producer and Mongolian pop’s elder statesman Dashka. Dashka is also the founder of Ulaanbaatar’s iconic Nature Sounds studios has usually nurtured Mongolian pop stars till now. Another vital cog in the team is the band’s Tovshuur player Temuulen, a talented producer, multi instrumentalist and songwriter in his own right. You can hear his sonic craftsmanship most notably on the traditional fusion Mongolian girl group Behi.
The last time a band from Mongolia had a meaningful impact outside of its borders was when Altan Urag unleashed its exciting brand of Mongolian metal onto the world. With fans all around the world and with its constant touring, it was expected that the band would break through and that it would be Mongolia’s most famous musical export. The global musical conquest was not to be as they stopped making music for unknown reasons.
Mongolian traditional bands such as Khusugtun and Altai have had a wide reach in social media with the former even performing at The Albert Hall for BBC proms in 2011. But the excitement of innovation and originality that Altan Urag possessed had been lacking, till now. Rock music has become a novelty, overshadowed by the innovation of hip hop, dance and trap; guitar riffs killed by the pounding club beat. Like American country music’s dalliance with trap and its evolution as a contender in the clubs with chart topping songs like Lil’ Nas X’s Old Country Road, rock will have to evolve and fuse with other genres. It may just have a catalyst in The Hu and Mongolian traditional music for its resurgence.
Being a Mongolian seems to be a solitary journey. The Japanese have all but thrown in the towel and accepted that Mongolians will dominate their national sport, Sumo, for years to come. The individual sports of boxing and judo are littered with Mongolian champions. The implosion of many a band has been usually the inability to manage the egos within. It is teamwork that will determine if The Hu can sustain its success and finally make a meaningful musical mark outside Mongolia’s borders.
We have yet to see The Hu perform live. There are no recorded live performances of the band anywhere in social media or on their website which may point to the possibility that the creation of the band and its music was in the recording studio. They seem to have bypassed the rite of passage most rock bands go through to earn their stripes – paying dues in the grimy and unforgiving rock club circuit battling shady promoters with equipment in tow in a beat up van. Can they band together as brothers against insurmountable odds? Will they have the raw and visceral impact onstage of explosive rock and roll bands like Wolfmother and Rage Against The Machine? Can they fill out stadiums and arenas sonically without the subharmonics of bass and electric guitars but with just with their acoustic instruments? Can they kick a** live and are they the real f**king deal?
The Hu embarks on a grueling European tour that will test its mettle this June. The band will launch its debut album, Gereg, soon with a second album in the works. It has signed with Eleven Seven Records; a label that has hard rock bands like Motley Crue in its roster of clients.