Thursday, February 25, 2016

Mongolian Rock Keeps its Roots in “Live From UB” at the Asia House Film Festival

Kiss once sang “God gave rock’n’roll to everyone,” and according to the director Lauren Knapp’s documentary “Live from UB,” even the Mongolians received the gift. In a UK Premiere screening set to take place 24 February as part of the 8th edition of the Asia House Film Festival, her film depicts a new generation of rock musicians in Ulaanbaatar, who are bridging the divide between their local cultural identity and the globalized world they live in.

Young musicians in Mongolia’s capital started to listen to Western-style pop and rock back in the 1970s, but with a communist regime keen to prevent revolt, it wasn’t until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that a new generation was able to express itself. Knapp, a multimedia storyteller from Washington D.C., follows one modern indie act, Mohanik, in her depiction of the modern music scene looking to define its identity.

“I was first drawn to Mongolia in 2007, while living in China,” says Knapp. I took an overnight train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar for a 3 week-long trek. I was not prepared for what I found. Culturally, Mongolia is far from its neighbors, China and Russia. The landscape and can-do-anything attitude in the countryside give it a Wild West feel. And the music is evocative of the ancient and vast land.”

Knapp returned in the winter of 2011 to immerse herself in the music scene, working as videographer, producer, director, and editor as for 10 months she met musicians, learned the Mongolian language, and filming dozens of interviews.

“I was a one-man band [but] countless people helped me throughout my project. I’d like to offer a special thanks to those who volunteered their time to translate, operate a second camera, and organize interviews in the Land of the Blue Sky,” she says.

The result is the best insight most of us will ever get to the rock scene in Mongolia, a huge country with a tiny population. And while that might not seem like a huge miss, the depiction is perhaps more an important reminder of the power of music and how the art form can inspire, challenge and give voice to local communities, than it is about Mongolia itself. Rock music is considered to have been a catalyst for the democratic revolution of the late 1980s and early 1990s in the country, and today’s bands, having grown up on MTV, are keen to explore modern sounds while retaining their own unique heritage.

Expect then to discover “traditional methods of instrumentation such as overtone singing and horse-head fiddle-playing” in the documentary, as the bands seek to broaden their audience far from within their own borders.

The Asia House Film Festival opened with Kazakhstan’s official submission at the 2016 Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film, Yermek Tursunov’s “Stranger (Zhat),” and takes place from February 22 through March 5 in London.

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