ACL Weekend 1: The HU
The second emotional rending of weekend one goes to Mongolian throat-singing metal band The Hu. Even my experience covering bands and artists of all genres from East Asia couldn’t prepare me for what happened on Saturday night under the tent at the Tito’s stage. I felt lifted. Transported from the mud and mayhem of Zilker Park to a tiny dive bar in Hongdae, Korea, during Zandari Festa. Walking into the venue to prepare for a band you’ve never heard of but can’t help but be drawn to.
The crowd is certainly full of excitement. A buzzing anticipation for a band they may or may not have heard of, but whose very presence on stage sends energy into the audience. Each member of The Hu has a dominating presence. They stroll on to the stage with confidence and a practiced bravado that spills out of the tent. Years of experience honing their craft and dazzling audiences every time they step foot on a stage, it all culminates in a performance at Austin City Limits in what I reckon will be one the last small stages they’ll ever appear on.
From the moment the music starts, the audience is in a frenzy. Something’s happening. Something none of us can even begin to describe. We are all transported to another space and time from the heaviness of the music. The drums (always the drums) pound a rhythm into the chest. A heartbeat foreign to the body, but a steady canto so familiar it’s as if it’s been there all along. Then...the first throaty growl from singer and multi-instrumentalist Jaya. It tears through the audience like a gale-force wind. A premonition of things to come for those in attendance. The wall of sound that follows is like a hurricane. Though not necessarily ostentatious (there are no fireworks, no running around on stage, just pure, unadulterated rock), The Hu completely owns the stage. Damn near obliterates it. And the crowd adores them for it.
This brings to mind another band that marries traditional elements with heavy metal: South Korean fusion band Jambinai. The same emotions that gripped by the throat when I first heard them manifest the longer The Hu’s set continues. Something wells up inside me akin to nostalgic homesickness. This is my turf, my playground, my happy place. Standing in the photo pit, soundwaves from the speakers pouring over me like heavy rain, this is home. I can’t help the lump in my throat, the tears that threaten to spell over, making photography almost obsolete. Of course I hold it together. This is a moment you have to be ever present for.
“Austin, Texas!” Jaya shouts. The crowd shouts back in response. “How are you doing!” Another chorus of screams. “Are you having fun!” The din of cries and shouts rises to a level not heard at ACL thus far. “Hu!” Jaya croons in his guttural yell. Chants of “Hu! Hu! Hu!” resonate under the tent. The air seems to vibrate with the sound. The effervescent vocalist eggs the audience on, fists pumping in the air. The man seems almost euphoric from the instantaneous adulation. The other members of the band are just as elated, if not only slightly more subdued. That, of course, changes when they play each song. They physically attack the music, bending the strings of their traditional instruments to meet the demands of their vocals.
There are members of the audience who actually know the band. HAve followed them at least since the release of their album in 2019. They sing along to the lyrics, regardless if they know what the words mean. They share the same state of euphoria. A sort of contact high that elevates their appreciation of the men on stage to almost religious levels. From one moment to the next, the crowd’s love of the band swells. Whether longtime fans or curious festivalgoers who wandered in to get a glimpse of the band that blends throat singing with heavy metal, we are all in love. That love manifests as constant chants, endless applause and the type of energy one would expect from one of the bigger acts over the weekend.
The Hu has absolutely won the ACL crowd, and we’ve given in to their heavy siren call without hesitation. The Hu is an experience. Something you have to utterly immerse yourself in to fully understand. And once you do, you’ll never turn back.