A&E » Music

Gypsy king defines freedom

Punk rock smashes into European music with Gogol Bordello



Who: Gogol Bordello

When: Saturday, Feb. 4

Where: GLC

Tickets: $10/$15

What makes a music gypsy?

"It’s kind of a strangely phrased question," replied Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello, who uses the term gypsy to describe his homeland.

"It’s kind of like asking, ‘What is it like to be a Mexican?’ Gypsy ain’t nothing but ethnicity. I am a full-on eastern European mutt," he says from New York. "It probably means that I am completely aware of my roots."

Like the gypsies, Gogol Bordello knows no boundaries and not only exercises but invents freedom within its music.

Maybe that’s why the Ukranian Hutz, who immigrated to the U.S. after a seven-year trek through Eastern European refugee camps to escape the Chernobyl meltdown, feels right at home in New York, where 14 different nationalities can converge on a single block.

It was here he found his band likened to "an art school band that has been hijacked by street-thugs and gangsters." The band members span the world, from the Ukraine and Russia to Israel and the U.S. "The United Nations assembled into a mosh pit," quipped the Alternative Press.

The self-described gypsy punk with Slavic stomp and Jamaican groove is a bit of a mutt itself, a cultural revolution of multicultural vision, rather than assimilation. The rebellion of rock, dub, punk and Flamenco was a natural course for Gogol Bordello, with politically-loaded lyrics full of social commentary.

"My vision was to invent freedom," Hutz said of his music. "Freedom is not available, which I strongly felt through (my) childhood. That is why I gravitated towards music that is wild and rebellious, possessed sounding. Something that really takes you out of here: gypsy, dub and punk. Naturally all these elements went into the mix of Gogol Bordello. That is the legs of the horse."

This disregard for convention by a band named after both a Ukrainian literary hero and a Mexican whorehouse also translates into an outlandish, three-ring-circus fueled by full-tilt punk aggression, dance, play, percussion and pandemonium.

"I think it is perfectly normal to have nine people in convulsions on stage and rapid firing for two hours," Hutz said. "It is the most psychedelic yet melodic music which boarder-lines some kind of act of the supernatural."

The New York band released its third album, Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, this summer. It was produced by Steve Albini of Nirvana, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. The album was released on the SideOneDummy label. Dub, punk and reggae works its way in.

"The dub effects are also analog effects," Hutz said. "We didn’t want the connection with dub culture to be on a superficial level, so we used them on gypsy beats as well as reggae beats, to pay respect to them and we play them live."

You will also see Hutz sharing the starring byline with Elijah Wood in the movie Everything is Illuminated , which will be released on DVD in February. Although Hutz’s first introduction to film director Liev Schrieber was to talk about music, Hutz and his Russo-English accent was immediately cast in the film’s main role as a local guide who travels through the Ukraine with Wood’s character.

Ever a gypsy among creative mediums, Hutz is all about culture clashes in the extreme, with only one thing uniting the chaos.

"There is surely a thread, which is passion for music," he said. "That is the best there can be. Music has no national boundaries. No rules. That is why people love music. It is the one thing that gives them a feeling of freedom. You can only get that through music, not through film, theatre, work, drugs – they experience it through a spiritual substance of music."