Mongolia conjurers up very specific images for outsiders: grass lands, open plains, harsh winds and weathered horseback riders. But that’s not the place Enerelt, bassist for Mongol garage rockers Mohanik, calls home.
“Whether it’s the extreme weather or the air pollution, so many things are part of living in the (capital) Ulaanbaatar,” Enerelt says of his hometown, where he’s packing bags to leave for a Beijing gig at D-22 on Jan. 13. “We wouldn't say it has been hard growing up there. If you hear our songs, you'll definitely smell and taste some Mongolian flavors.”
Yet Mohanik’s flavours often seem awfully familiar for us expats. Instead of the rumbling throat singing featured in other Mongolian troupes like Hanggai, Mohanik’s signature song boasts a creaky box spring guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an early punk hit performed by The Kinks. That strumming makes the song, dubbed Moritoi ch Boloosoi, instantly catchy.
But then guitarist and vocalist Tsogt breaks out the chorus, a shrilly hoarse moan that gusts as quickly as his hometown’s flatland wind. And the familiarly steely riff shifts suddenly to frantic plucking, as if he had plugged in a splintery old Mongolian lute without realizing, or caring, what an amp was.
In the end, their songs are brimming with wildly different influences, some of them exotic for expat listeners, some equally foreign for the musicians. “I would say all the inspiring bands were not Mongolian,” Tsogt says. “But of course there were some bands we love to watch in Mongolia.”
Yet the scene that has birthed some of China most thrilling rock bands, like throat singing punks Hanggai and melodic folk rockers Gangzi, leaves the members of Mohanik feeling claustrophobic.
“The Mongolian music scene is alright,” Enerelt says of the few artists writing original tunes in his homeland. “There are live events on in many pubs everyday. But not enough original music is played. We play covers at parties and different places weekly. But the last time we played a set of our music was the Playtime Festival in July. We're kind of hibernating in Mongolia while we're working on our second album.”
Now the grassland weathered troubadours are about to be swept up by a national music scene more vast than their hometown’s horizons. Mohanik major shows only include a few Shanghai gigs, and the band members have never even seen a concert in Beijing, passing through the city only once briefly. Now they’re returning to the capital as highly buzzed up-and-comers, headlining the last show at the soon-to-be-closed D-22.
That momentum started in 2009, after years of relentless local gigging culminated in a “Best Alternative/Punk Band” win at the 2009 Mongolian Underground Music Awards (MUMA). Mohanik followed that up by recording two singles on the Hi-Fi Label Presents…Underground Sessions compilation, before releasing their debut album 100-N Undaa (100 Tugrik Soda).
But as the troupe connects with mainland listeners, Enerelt still fears those fans won’t understand him at all--literally.
“We all speak English, it's taught in schools as a second language. But none of us speak Chinese,” Enerelt says. “Sometimes traveling in China is a challenge to communicate.” And yet those elements, which should clash, only spark Mohanik’s inspiration, in the same way that their guitar riffs swing between British punk and Mongolian folk practically mid-strum. It’s their way of making what’s foreign feel familiar.
“It’s great because we find it easy to learn other languages and sounds,” Enerelt says of the linguistic gap that the band would find provocative rather than alienating. “It is part of the experience.”
When: Jan. 13, 9:30pm
Tickets: RMB50 at the door, RMB40 for students