A few weeks ago ten of Mongolia’s top new alternative rock bands showed off their skills under one roof. It was the annual NisNis Fest, a concert hosted by Mongolia’s first grunge band, Nisvanis. This year’s show marked the 16th anniversary of the Nirvana-inspired group. It was only fitting that the band that in many ways paved the way for today’s vibrant and varied music scene feature some of the groups expanding the scene today.
The ten bands switched between two stages to keep the show moving along. Most of the bands played 3-5 songs, while Nisvanis played two sets – an acoustic set to open the show and an electric set to close it out. Bands represented several genres: rock, grunge, metal, folk rock, and indie rock. One band named Jokers Wild even played Pink Floyd.
It can be hard to find a concert similar to what I’m used to back in the States here in Ulaanbaatar. The market just isn’t as big here, and so real rock shows are few and far between. But, NisNis Fest was an energizing display of all that the Ulaanbaatar scene has to offer, and all in one venue. The crowd was mostly young, what you would expect at any rock concert. And although it was mostly Mongolian fans, there were a handful of foreigners who came to check out the scene as well.
Highlights included the emerging group North Ducks’ rocking cover of a traditional Mongolian song. The whole crowd sang along to their reinterpretation – but, alas, I didn’t know the words. I also really enjoyed seeing Altan Urag (a band I’ve seen quite a bit at their regular restaurant gig) in a more raucous environment. This folk rock band has managed to make traditional Mongolian music hardcore and appealing to a younger audience. It’s rare you’ll see people head bang to folk tunes, but Altan Urag has managed to bridge that gap.
Among the new bands I saw was, Solongo, which is one of only a few Mongolian groups with a female lead singer. That’s my one complaint about the Mongolian music scene: there aren’t enough women.
Another band that played at NisNis Fest was Mohanik – a group I’ve been following quite a bit lately. The rock band is made up of five men all in their early 20’s. They have been friends since grade school, and playing music together of almost a decade. With one album under their belt, they’re planning to record a second this summer. It will be a change from the somewhat silly yet truly rock songs their fans are used to (one song is about wanting to ride a ‘horsey’). Instead, they’re writing songs that both invoke the Mongolian landscape and explore the rock n’ roll they love.
All in all it was a fabulous night. I spent much of the show running around filming a few of the bands and the crowd – an activity that seems to be occupying my time more and more these days. As winter’s frigid cold gives way to the spring’s dust-filled wind, the number and frequency of concerts should only increase.