Credit Hedy Dohm
One of the musical genres that has been most surprising to discover here in Ulaanbaatar, is grunge/metal. About a month ago, I found myself in a small music club surrounded by a couple hundred metal fans – many of them men sporting perfect headbanging length haircuts. It was the city’s third annual metal showcase and featured seven grunge and hardcore bands.
But the scene didn’t appear overnight. It required some effort from several dedicated musicians to develop an audience for it. One of those groups of musicians was Mongolia’s first grunge band, Nisvanis.
Nisvanis, who headlined the concert, first formed in 1996 as a group of high school boys. They were all classically trained musicians, and decided they wanted to start a rock band, but weren’t exactly sure what genre to explore. A friend of theirs then introduced them to Nirvana, and everything changed.
I had a chance to speak with some of the members of Nisvanis. They told me that at first they didn’t like Nirvana – it was strange. The sound was not as melodic as what their ears were used to, and they found it abrasive. But, after a few tries, they began to see the nuance in the music and fully embraced it.
But 1996 was still a difficult time here in Mongolia. It was only five years after the political transition from socialism to democracy, and culturally, many people were not prepared to embrace such foreign influences. Nisvanis had an uphill battle ahead of them. Amgaa, the lead singer, told me “At first most people didn’t appreciate our music at all. Because the titles and lyrics of our songs were not politically correct. We had song’s titled things like ‘I Want to Destroy the School’, ‘Abortion’, and ‘Kill the Bank,’ and that kind of thing. But our songs gained a lot of attention. The newspapers started writing about us, calling us social outcasts.”
They were able to perform regularly at a bar a friend of theirs owned. But that didn’t mean people wanted to hear their music. “People would sometimes come to the bar, not knowing we would play. Some were interested in our music, but others would ask us to stop the concert,” Amgaa told me.
But by the early 2000’s, that began to change. Nisvanis gained momentum with two albums under their belt, and the taste for alternative music increased. Today, you can find almost any major music genre here in UB, and a lot of that is thanks to bands like Nisvanis. Amgaa explained that his band worked hard for this cultural transition, “Nisvanis is the bridge of Mongolian rock music from the hard times to the good times – from socialism to now. In the beginning of the 1990s, rock music was almost dead. We took what existed of rock music then, and ushered in the new era of Mongolian rock music”.
Watch some of the bands performances from this years metal showcase.