SWG3 is a multi-room arts facility in the West End of Glasgow built up in what was an old galvanizers yard and a handful of warehouses next to the River Clyde. Depending on what night you visit you might find; a rave or a DJ twiddling some knobs making it look like he is actually doing something; some poetry; Bongo’s Bingo (eleven sold-out nights in the largest room between now and December 31st); and lashings of music. Galvanizers is the name of the largest room and its capacity is listed as 1250, tonight it is the turn of the Mongolian breakout artists The HU to grace its stage and the place is absolutely rammed. So much so that some people are standing in the doorways and holding their phones high up in the air at a bizarre angle and straining their necks to watch what is unfolding onstage through their phones. Latecomers walk up the stairs and are met with that blank look of “not a chance, pal” from those on the fringes of the mass throng, and have to settle for a restricted view.
Jesus, the place is heaving. And with the most diverse demographic audience that you can imagine. It’s almost like Grace was talking about The HU when she uttered her immortal lines in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Oh, they’re very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore The HU. They think they are righteous dudes.” Tonight, it’s Metallica and Slayer shirts next to Imagine Dragons and Coldplay ones, next to hipsters who wouldn’t be caught dead in a band shirt, and those who are just plain old curious to see what all the fuss is about. All to see a band that performs in a language foreign to the majority of the crowd, but as Rammstein proves time after time: music is the universal language of mankind.
The core of the band is made up of four members; Gala, Enkush, Jaya, and Temka, and these four are joined by a handful of touring musicians that feature not one, but two drummers; one playing a traditional drum kit, while the other is perched up high behind a bank of toms. When you have two drummers working in unison it is indeed a sight (and sound) to behold, and these two are doing their damnest to bring the thunder. Proving with their recently-released sophomore effort ‘Rumble of Thunder’ that the depth and quality featured on the debut album ‘The Gereg’ was no fluke, The HU now have the material to choose from to pull a setlist together to not only knock the crowd dead but leave them wondering why a certain song was omitted from the set – the sign that you have made it as a band.
The dark and brooding ‘Shihi Hutu’ is a strong way to open the live set and the gradual build-up in intensity makes for a perfect introduction to the band. Enkush – lead Morin Khuur (horsehead fiddle) and throat singer – handles the soft opening moments and combines well with Jaya – Jaw Harp, Tsuur, Flute, and throat singer – to push the guttural throat vocals to the forefront a few minutes into the song. Lined up alongside the pair are Gala – lead throat singer and Morin Khuur – and Temka who makes his Tovshuur (two or three-stringed lute) wail with delight, and it makes for quite the visual delight when the four main players lock into some synchronised headbanging front of stage, with Jaya looking every inch the rock star in his long flowing leather jacket and hair flying everywhere (the large fan on the floor next to the monitors helping him to release his inner Steven Tyler). Jaya breaks out the Jaw Harp for the first time on a pulsating version of ‘Shoog Shoog’ which begins with the band whipping up the crowd, and it soon becomes very clear exactly how comfortable the band looks onstage in front of a capacity crowd. Touring with acts such as Five Finger Death Punch, and Megadeth has not only brought The Hu great exposure, but also great stage experience, and they work the crowd like seasoned veterans.
The foreboding Tovshuur sound from Temka on ‘The Great Chinggis Khaan’ is a particular highlight and helps set the scene on this hugely-cinematic masterpiece that features some beautiful bow work from both Enkush and Gala, and somewhere in the world right now there is a movie producer trying to tie down the licensing rights to this one. That could also be said for the vast majority of what is created by The Hu – a band made for lavish widescreen 1.85:1 rather than a squashed laptop screen – in particular, the flute-filled ‘Shireg Shireg’; ‘Wolf Totem’ (with Jaya bringing the band in with a howl); a magnificent, joyous version of ‘Bii Biyelgee’ which would light up rooms everywhere if Jools Holland took a punt on The Hu for his annual Hootenanny TV show…the change in tempo towards the end sees both drummers really going for it as the lights speed up and strafe a crowd that is having a right old jig (as they also do on the gonzo version of ‘Yuve Yuve Yu’ which is one of the best singalongs of the night); the sheer weight of ‘Tatar Warrior’ that features Gala with some perfect death metal growls, and for many the sight of two drummers battering their kits to near-death while Jaya headbands like a loon is the everlasting image of the night.
The HU have been on a rapid ascendancy over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why. They are very visual in everything that they do – the promo video for ‘Black Thunder’ is a movie in its own right – and produce music with plenty of hooks (if you cannot smile upon hearing ‘Bii Biyelgee’ then you have a cold, black heart), and without any real production, or special effects, they put on a show to remember. It’s going to be intriguing to watch how the band takes this up a level or two.
Review – Dave
All images – Ritchie Birnie