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Wire Playlist: Mongolia's Rock Diaspora

June 2018

Josh Feola compiles a selection of tracks to accompany his article featured in The Wire 413

While Mongolia is not particularly known for its musical exports, there is a vibrant and diverse scene pumping out new sounds in its capital city Ulaanbaatar. “There are a lot of interesting artists emerging in Mongolia at this moment,” says Natsagdorj Tserendorj, who through his Playtime Festival has done more than anyone to galvanise the scene. One of the brighter lights to emerge since Playtime launched 17 years ago is Mohanik, who played their first slot at the festival as high schoolers in 2005 and have since used its platform to develop a local fanbase and refine a sound that increasingly absorbs elements from Mongolia’s natural and cultural heritage. Field recordings from the steppe provide texture to the band’s latest album Mohanik At Amarbayasgalant (tracks one and nine), and inform the solo output of guitarist and vocalist Davaajargal Tsaschikher, who produces experimental electronica under the moniker DVJRGL (track five). He also presented a sound art installation in the Mongolia Pavilion of last year’s Venice Biennale. Elsewhere on Playtime’s roster one can hear a morin khuur — a two-stringed, bowed instrument also known as horse-head fiddle — in the compositions of soft-spoken singer-songwriter Magnolian (track seven), and imported grunge and post-punk with a local slant from The Lemons (track nine), one of Ulaanbaatar’s breakout indie bands.

There is also a distinct crop of artists reworking Mongolian sounds on the other side of the country’s 4677 kilometre land border with China. Inner Mongolia is China’s third largest province, and although many aspects of ethnic minority culture are stringently regulated by the ruling Communist Party, Mongolian music enjoys a prominent niche within a sophisticated, rapidly developing music industry centred in Beijing. Hanggai (track three) is the best known band fusing Mongolian folk with heavily amplified rock music – not only in China but globally. They’re regulars on the international world music festival circuit, and indeed launched their own festival within China in 2012. Other Chinese groups in the same vein stick closer to the traditional side of the sonic spectrum, such as Ajinai (track ten), founded by throat singer and morin khuur player (and ex-Hanggai member) Hugjiltu in 2009, and Tulegur (track four), founded in 2014 by Gangzi, another peripatetic throat singer from Inner Mongolia. Taking a less traditional tack, bands like Nine Treasures (track six) have found a place for Mongolian instruments and sounds within the battery of heavy metal, and Inner Mongolian artist Haiqing (track two) has attempted a fusion between subtle rhythmic and melodic elements from the music he grew up around with rogue elements of influence from progressive and experimental rock.

Full tracklist

From Mohanik At Amarbayasgalant

“Fanggezi (放鸽子)”
From The Flesh
(D Force)

“Horse Of Colors”
From Horse Of Colors
(T.H Entertainment)

“The River”

“Parallel Spirit”

Nine Treasures
“Robe Of Prince”
From Wisdom Eyes
(Pilot Music)

“The Bride & The Bachelor”
From Famous Men
(self released)

The Lemons
From Zaluu Lenini Oiroltsoo 3 Davhart

“In The Valley Of Ease”
From Mohanik At Amarbayasgalant
(self released)

“Awaken (醒)”
From Wind In The Sky

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