Gogol Bordello, New York City’s legendary Gypsy punk band, returns with the release of “GYPSY PUNKS: Underdog World Strike,” their third album of Gypsy punk rock mayhem. Set for release on SideOneDummy in August and produced by Steve Albini (Nirvana, Jimmy Page/Robert Plant) in glorious analogue sound, “GYPSY PUNKS” is an expansive 15-track salvo that expands the band’s fusion of Gypsy punk and Slavic stomp with a touch of metal and dub-wise sound effects that pay tribute to the classic sounds of Jamaica. Singer/lyricist visionary Eugene Hutz and the rest of the Gogol collective have attained a new level of musical and lyrical intensity in their continuing cultural crusade to build a bridge between Gypsy music, rock’n’roll and other brands of rebel music from Flamenco to the perestroika punk that blossomed in Eastern Europe during the mid-‘80s.
“On ‘GYPSY PUNKS’ Gogol Bordello speaks proudly to the gypsy, punk, reggae crossover,” says Hutz. “Gypsy’s have a savage way of making music; they come from a culture where music is the only means of survival. Like reggae, it was created by poor people who have nothing but music; you can feel its universal rebel soul in every note.”
As “GYPSY PUNKS” makes clear, the band’s multicultural vision isn’t static; it’s forever expanding and reinventing itself. “My inspiration comes from Ukrainian Gypsy culture, but there’s a big difference between adapting and assimilating. Gypsy culture adapts to any new found home, but rejects assimilation and never looses its identity. This also goes for Gogol Bordello. We may tell our story in English, but the story remains what it is, that Cultural Revolution is a contagious state of mind.”
Hutz said Steve Albini was the perfect collaborator for “GYPSY PUNKS.” “He rejects the notion of producer, his power comes from creating an honest document of the band. He’s a master of live sound, and our power is in live performance and the joint effort of the musicians. It was great to record all together live and capture that raw power aspect. It’s our 3rd recording and we were ready to reclaim the essence of the band.”
The band’s omnivorous appetite for rebel grooves is evident throughout the proceedings as is their linguistic versatility as they deliver their message in English, Spanish, Ukrainian and Italian. “Immigrant Punk” blends Gypsy stomp, punk reggae that tips its hat to The Clash, “Think locally, Fuck Globally,” rides a wave of jazzy Django Gypsy swing and driving percussion with a balkan beat drum solo played by Hutz on an overturned fire bucket, while “Troubled Friends” blends metal guitar, a one drop reggae rhythm and some unexpected “gypsy dub” effects.
“The dub effects are also analog effects,” Hutz explained. “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. The engineer Eayl Medien has worked for Ex-Centric Sound System and is aware of dub culture.”
“GYPSY PUNKS” moves Gogol Bordello one step closer to their vision of an international cultural revolution, and while Hutz is clearly the focal point on stage he stresses the point that Gogol Bordello is a band. “It’s easy to market my image as the image of the band, but I want to make a larger picture. Gogol is a collective, musically, spiritually and politically. We create an insane party atmosphere to deliver messages of social and political commentary.”
“All great bands are a cultural revolution army of creative individuals. Sergey Rjabtzev, the violin player, was a theater director in Moscow for ten years, and now he helps stage our shows. Yuri Lemeshev, our accordion player is a musician of unending imagination. When you hear his surrealistic solos, you can’t imagine where the fuck he gets it. Rea Mochiach the bass player is from Israel. He has a background in jazz and rock, as well as drum & bass and electronic music. A lot of the dub elements on ‘GYPSY PUNKS’ came from him. Oren’s guitar playing character is essential to the trademark Gogol sound. Eliot Ferguson, the drummer, is the only sane person in the band but he plays like he’s mad.”
Gogol’s stage show also includes Pam Racine and Elizabeth Sun, triple threat talents who dance, play percussion and lend their energy to the general on stage pandemonium. The girls are part of a larger dance troupe whose many costume changes and energetic antics add considerable flash and fire to the band’s highly theatrical presentation.
Later this summer, Hutz will make his acting debut playing the Ukrainian character “Alex” in Everything Is Illuminated, based on the critically acclaimed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. Hutz secured the role after a chance meeting with director Liev Schreiber to discuss the film’s music. Upon meeting Hutz, Schreiber had a “Eureka” moment and cast Eugene in the film.
It’s a part that could have been written with Hutz in mind. “When I went in to speak with the director and producer about music, they both looked at me and asked me if I’d ever done any acting. Then they asked me could you do that guy Alex. I said, I don’t have to do that guy, I am that guy.” Everything Is Illuminated will be released in September 2005 and also stars Elijah Wood.
Hutz came to the United States from Ukraine after an epic seven-year trek through Eastern Europe refugee camps to escape the Chernobyl meltdown. In 1996 Hutz landed in New York City and met the musicians who became Gogol Bordello. (Gogol Bordello refers to Ukrainian author Nikolai Gogol and the bordello with its connotations of erotic pleasure and vulgarity.) The band’s international underground reputation grew quickly due to their innovative blend of Eastern European Gypsy and Western culture and a stage show that resembles a three-ring circus of surreal stimuli. Gogol Bordello was quickly embraced by the art world and was often labeled an art band, but Hutz is clear about what Gogol Bordello is.
“I want people to know we are not an art band, or a folkloric band, but a gypsy punk band from New York City playing our own original work that with all the culture clash we don’t represent anybody but ourselves. It’s our own vision of the socio-political-cultural situation of today.”