Gogol Bordello

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Gogol Bordello

Gypsy punk group

Before listening to Gogol Bordello, take a deep breath, and then let the fun begin. A raucous octet of musicians and dancers hailing from Eastern Europe, Israel, Ecuador, and America, the band crashed the New York club scene in the late 1990s, re-energizing a stale musicscape. Fronted by the iconoclastic Ukrainian immigrant Eugene Hutz, Gogol Bordello mixes Gypsy music, punk, reggae, ska, hip-hop, dub, dance-hall, flamenco, and you-name-it, with an explosive energy that gave this underground phenomenon a growing appeal. The band's live performances are part cabaret, part vaudeville, and part performance art, kinetic expressions of the modern psyche and experience rolled into one big cathartic party.

One cannot deny the huge presence of lead singer and songwriter Hutz, who in 2005 co-starred with Elijah Wood in the indie film Everything Is Illuminated, but Hutz is the first to dismiss his singular role. "It's easy to market my image as the image of the band," he asserted on the band label SideOneDummy's website, "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."

A Long Way from Ukraine

Despite the collective force of Gogol Bordello, its beginnings (and continuings) do indeed all point to Hutz. He was born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1972. Hutz's Russian father, a butcher by trade but a guitarist and rock fan at heart, helped feed his son's musical passion by trading bootleg rock tapes for meat. Hutz was thus influenced by Parliament/Funkadelic, Dead Kennedys, Nick Cave, Stooges, and Jimi Hendrix, among others. His mother was Roma, the ethnic group commonly known as Gypsy, although due to the discrimination against Roma, his mother's ethnic heritage was kept secret until Hutz was a teenager. In 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred 65 miles north of Kiev, Hutz and his family fled to the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine where his mother's Roma relatives lived. During his stay in the Gypsy camp Hutz began to meld the influences of punk rock that had infused his adolescence with the riotous Gypsy music of his Romany heritage. In a 2006 interview with Debbie Elliott on NPR's All Things Considered, Hutz described the power of Gypsy music, suggesting that it's as if you've been struck by lightning. He added that he "wanted to take it farther to other people and make them feel like they have been stricken by lightning."

In 1989 Hutz and his family left Ukraine and moved around refugee camps in Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Italy. In 1992 Hutz emigrated to the New England state of Vermont, where he gravitated toward the punk counterculture and began playing and touring the Northeast. During this time Hutz formed an early version of Gogol Bordello with fellow Eastern Europeans Vlad Solovar on guitar and Sasha Kazatchkoff on accordion and American Eliot Ferguson on drums. Calling themselves Flying F***, they played their own take on traditional Russian Gypsy songs. In 1998 Hutz's band was hired to play at a Russian wedding in Vermont, and it was at this point that his vision of Gypsy punk, formed so many years ago in the Carpathian Mountains, came into clear focus. He later articulated that realization about punk rock's affinity with Gypsy music in an interview for the Chicago Tribune: "I found them [both] to be extremely passionate and creative, flamboyant and merry and gay." Embedded within the euphoric essence of the music, however, is the rebellion of an outsider and an insistent and genuine call for revolution. In the Tribune interview he characterized the band's mission: to "fire people up and [stimulate] some mystical cathartic reaction that sends a message to their bones that things don't have to be so lame, that life is still possible and it's a thousand percent."

The band was now settled in New York City and included Hutz, Ferguson, accordionist Yuri Lemeshev, violinist Sergey Rjabtzev, saxophonist Ori Kaplan, and guitarist Oren Kaplan. At first they called themselves Hutz and the Bela Bartok, in homage to the Hungarian avant-garde composer and Balkan ethnomusicologist. However, they soon dropped that name when too few people recognized Bartok, and became Gogol Bordello in a nod to Ukrainian satirical author Nikolai Gogol. By 1999 Gogol Bordello had achieved notoriety for their outrageous after-hours stage show and Hutz's frenetic antics onstage that drew comparison to Iggy Pop. They released the single "When the Trickster Comes A-Pokin'" and their first CD, Voi-La Intruder, in 1999.

For the Record …

Members include Eliot Ferguson, drums; Eugene Hutz (born 1972, in Kiev, Ukraine), vocals; Oren Kaplan, guitar; Yuri Lemeshev (replaced Sasha Kazatchkoff and Vlad Solovar), accordion; Rea Mochiach, bass; Pam Racine, percussion, dance; Sergey Rjabtzev, violin; Elizabeth Sun, percussion, dance.

Eugene Hutz formed early version of Gogol Bordello known as Flying F*** in Vermont, 1996; Hutz, Sasha Kazatchkoff, and Vlad Solovar played Gypsy folk music at Russian weddings, 1998; Gogol Bordello formed in New York City, 1999; released debut single, "When the Trickster Comes a Pokin'," 1999; Hutz performed DJ gigs at downtown Bulgarian club Mehanata; released first CD, Voi-La Intruder, 1999; band played as part of performance series at the Whitney Museum's biennial exhibition, 2002; band toured Europe, 2002; released album Multi Kontra Culti vs. Irony, 2002; signed with SideOneDummy label, released Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike, 2005; Hutz appeared in indie film Everything Is Illuminated, 2005, with band's music featured on the film's soundtrack; band played with Warped Tour, 2005.

Addresses: Publicist—PFA Media, 451 Greenwich St., #503, New York, NY 10013. Website—Gogol Bordello Official Website: http://www.gogolbordello.com.

Over the Top Underground

The band's popularity among the downtown hipster crowd received a further boost from Hutz's weekly DJ gigs at the Bulgarian club Mehanata. Despite what Hutz described in a 2005 interview in the Birmingham Weekly as the "complete destruction of all established tastes," their live shows attracted an increasingly wide-ranging audience, including landing a gig at the Whitney Museum's Bienniel in 2002, in New York City. That same year they released their second album, Multi Kontra Culti vs. Irony, Hutz's twisted paean to genuine rebellion in art and music that speaks from an "anti-ironic" perspective.

The year 2005 ushered in a list of significant accomplishments for Gogol Bordello. Hutz himself garnered considerable praise for his role in the film Everything Is Illuminated. He plays Alex, a "linguistically challenged" Ukrainian translator and tour guide for Americans taking "tours of dead Jews." Gogol's third album, which was recorded in Chicago and produced by Steve Albini, represents, according to Elliot Aronow in URB Magazine, Gogol's "most focused work to date." Aronow further noted that Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike is "a raw distillation of the band's ambitions to 'make people swing from the f***ing chandeliers' set to a soundtrack of wiry violins, skanky oompa guitars, window-rattling bass lines and an unwavering back-beat that refuses to stop for air." In its seventh year, the band was by no means slowing down. In early 2006 Hutz revealed in the London Times, "Right now I have three albums of material stacked up." Good news for fans who await more illumination from the Gypsy punks.

Selected discography

Voi-La Intruder, Sunken Bell Records, 1999; reissued, Rubric, 2002.
"When the Trickster Comes A-Pokin'," Rubric, 2001.
Multi Kontra Culti Vs. Irony, Rubric, 2002.
J.U.F., Stinky, 2004.
East Infection (EP), Rubric, 2005.
Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike, SideOneDummy, 2005.
"Connect Set Live," Connect, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Boston Globe, May 30, 2002; January 15, 2006.

Chicago Tribune, April 27, 2003.

Guardian (Manchester, England), December 13, 2003; September 7, 2005.

Independent (London, England), August 8, 2003.

Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2005.

New York Times, April 14, 2002.

Rolling Stone, May 21, 2003.

Times (London, England), March 10, 2006.

URB Magazine, October 2005.

Village Voice, May 14, 2002; June 13, 2006.

Washington Post, January 20, 2006.

Online

"Gogol Bordello," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 6, 2006).

"Gogol Bordello," Here and Now, http://www.here-now.org (June 6, 2006).

"Gogol Bordello: Music from 'Gypsy Punks,'" NPR: All Things Considered, http://npr.org (June 6, 2006).

"Gogol Bordello," SideOneDummy, http://www.sideonedummy.com (June 6, 2006).

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