Fists raised to the blue sky—mining a different kind of metal in Mongolia

Last week the first snow of winter fell. It was beautiful, walking to work through Sukhbaatar Square through the gently swirling white flakes. It does mean, however, that it’s time to pack away those teeny-tiny summer wrestling outfits and head indoors for a good dose of ART. Fortunately there is a bit going on. The October ballet and opera schedule has been released, with European classics like Giselle and Aida programmed alongside Natsagdorj’s The Princess of Gunger, and in the last fortnight Matt and I have been to two very different music events.

The first was a concert by Pavel Milyukov, a solo violinist with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. It was as much a night for music lovers as it was for those who want to frock up and be seen, and for Matt and I, a chance to have another look around Mongolia’s National Opera House; its round marble roof is constructed to look like the inside of a ger.

The second: Noise Music Festival—a two day celebration of all things metal.

The venue was the somewhat disconcertingly named ‘SS Club’. Because of this, Matt did a little online sleuthing before the show. We had heard there is a bar somewhere in Ulaanbaaatar which is decorated with Nazi paraphernalia, and neither of us were all that keen to walk into a den of Blue Mongols.[1]

Thankfully the SS Club is entirely swastika free. Essentially a fancy tent erected inside a shed, it is a somewhat odd place for a heavy metal festival, with a preppy blue and white colour scheme and cardboard chandeliers. It is the kind of place that would host large weddings and the usual function staff have been rostered on for the evening: waitresses in white shirts and aprons shuffle between head-banging punters to deliver baskets of hot chips; the security guards are clean-shaven and slim in neat suits. Also incongruous were glamorous young things in matching jumpsuits meant to be spruiking Viva Vodka but instead standing around looking awkward, clearly wondering why they were there.

Noise Music Fest was dedicated to all things ‘metal’; that broad definition the thread that tied all the bands together. Metal, of course, is a genre splintered into sub-genres, and the bands we get are a very mixed bunch. The locals tend towards a thrash sound,[2] with a dose of death metal thrown in.[3] Some of them swig airag on stage. [4] We also get a completely insane noisecore band from Japan—Sete Star Sept  —who are probably better categorised as performance artists. The female vocalist/bass player prowles around the stage roaring, and the brief moments they settle into a recognisable musical beat are a relief between sensory assaults. Dark MOFO should put them on the line-up.[5] There is Inner Missing, a doom/goth duo from St Petersburg who end their set by asking the crowd very politely if anyone would mind if they finished with a song that wasn’t actually metal? We get a chance to talk to them afterwards and find that, despite the morbid lyrics, they are just so gosh-darn lovely. There is no ‘I’m in a band’ posturing. They just seem genuinely pleased to be in Mongolia.

And then there is ХУРД (Hurd).

Hurd are a Mongolian metal institution. They’ve been around since 1987. They have long hair and tight pants. They reminded me of another band I saw a few years ago in Melbourne. Matt and I had tickets to go to a gig with a much esteemed friend. The morning of the performance, the band we were going for pulled out, leaving only a band that has been playing for over 20 years and aren’t exactly cutting edge. We debated awhile—should we even go? Matt piked, but the MEF and I figured we had paid our money to see the high-dive act, so we headed along anyway. Turns out, there’s a reason Avenged Sevenfold have been playing for more than 20 years. Hurd were like this. Their music is pretty unexciting really, but those guys sweat charisma. They make you want to get down on your knees and pray to the gods of rock and roll.

We manage to remain upright, however, and take the time to watch the crowd. There are the death metal boys with their faces painted to resemble border collies. Or Alice Cooper. But probably border collies. There are dudes in leather pants with leather jackets tied around their waists. There is a girl in a wheelchair being pushed around by her friends. I don’t think she stops smiling all night. There are lots of Pink Floyd and AC/DC t-shirts going around, probably because a local Korean shop sells those particular t-shirts cheap. They are the go-to uniform for the part-time metal lovers.

Unlike in Australia, where the gigs Matt and I go to tend to have a gender split of about 7:1, which does dork up the vibe a bit,[6] here it is about 50/50. This is great—metal girls are great—except when it comes to bathroom queues.

I’m used to waltzing in, doing a few pirouettes through the empty space, before deliberating over which empty cubicle is most appealing. It doesn’t happen in women’s public toilets very often. You might as well make the most of it. But with an even gender split, I don’t get to trek the vast tiled steppes. Instead I get to queue. Mongolian style. This doesn’t at all resemble an Australian queue. In fact, it’s more like a blood sport, where elbows fly with abandon and you really appreciate how stilettos got their name. I am muscled out of the way repeatedly, until finally I take a deep breath, puff myself out to be as large as possible, and force eye-contact with the woman next to me. She smiles and takes a step backwards, making space for me. ‘Right’, I think. ‘I’m finally in’. As soon as the door swings open, however, she leaps forward, gives me a cheeky grin and yells ‘Sorry!’ in English.

Matt’s bathroom attendances are similarly dramatic. On one occasion, he returns to join me in the foyer only to have Uugii, the event organiser, come running over and demand he get on stage. He’s supposed to be playing bass in ‘Hitobashira’. Right now. Matt explains that he is neither in a band nor can he play bass. It takes a moment, but Uugii finally slaps Mattie on the back and concedes that perhaps he is not a North American bass player after all. Perhaps if he starts practicing now, we can score him a cameo spot for next year. There will be a next year, right Uugii?

 

 

 

[1] As an aside, the Blue Mongols are a pro-nationalist group who fuse neo-nazism with environmentalist sympathies. They are named for the blue birthmarks which many Mongolian babies have on their lower backs at birth. The marks fade over time, but they are viewed by the Blue Mongols as a sign of being a true Mongolian. That the blue spots also occur in much of the rest of Asia, sub-saharan Africa and Latin-America is a tedious detail which seems to have been overlooked.

[2] Metallica/Megadeath

[3] Yawn… straight death metal is a pretty boring sub-genre. Fast, repetitive rhythms with someone (usually in face paint), growling over the top.

[4] Fermented mare’s milk.

[5]David Walsh—if you’re reading:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-x8JlHSj-k

[6] Yes it’s a Flight of the Conchords reference. You’re welcome.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeOomugrc1w

Like what you’ve read? We also have a blog about cycletouring in Europe. Check it out here: https://journals.worldnomads.com/katescarlett

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