If you haven’t yet heard of Eugene Hutz, chances are that you soon will. Gogol Bordello’s frantic touring coupled with Hutz’ minor celebrity as an actor has raised the profile of the band from curiosity to celebrated elite within the hipster crowd. But who is Gogol Bordello, and what is gypsy punk, the music genre that has spawned around them?
Gogol Bordello is a group formed in NYC’s Lower East Side in 1999. Eugene Hutz, founder and singer, is a work of his own fusion freak-folk-punk-rap creation. His persona is indicative of the entire gypsy-folk experience – a style that can only be described as “earthy,” and only after one has already gotten used to the initial shock. He is skinny rather than lithe, hairy rather than swarthy, and crazed rather than quirky. His attire stands out as what someone may have looked like after dumpster diving at a flea market. He is everything that the music industry does not want, with their polished and calculating music “product.” And yet, the public has liked what it sees in Hutz and in Gogol Bordello. This is more and more evident with every album release, tour, and film appearance.
The gypsy punk genre is still small, but growing. Bands such as Balkan Beat Box and DeVotchKa celebrate their Eastern European musical heritage by weaving it into elements of punk, rap, funk, folk, and metal. It’s a true immigrant experience – one that simultaneously pines for the old country while poking fun at it. It’s not just about celebrating diversity – it is about reveling in everything weird and strange between cultures while coming together to celebrate life itself. But while Balkan Beat Box and DeVotchKa both enjoy their own popularity, Gogol Bordello has vaulted into the spotlight.
Just the confused, exuberant broken English lyrics and song titles give you a clue of the experience to come. Like “Start Wearing Purple” from their 2005 release Underdog World Strike:
“I know you since you were a twenty and I was twenty
but thought that some years from now
a purple little little lady will be perfect
for dirty old and useless clown”
But that’s not the full experience, of course. Not until you hear the screaming, the accordions, the yodeling that suddenly transforms into rapid-fire Ukrainian. Not until you see Hutz, sweating profusely into his terry cloth sweatbands, jump maniacally around the stage and urge the crowd on into an ecstasy of dancing. Add in a fiddle and an onstage DJ mixing in dubstep, punk, and ska, and you have an Eastern European flavored party bursting at its very colorful seams. Gogol Bordello, with its unsavory yet creatively fertile image, is just the kind of Petri dish experiment that the music scene needs every now and then to shake things up.
In fact, Gogol Bordello has contributed a significant amount of effort towards promoting a more democratic alternative scene. Hutz was interviewed for the 2004 documentary Kill Your Idols, co-starred in Liev Schrieber’s Everything is Illuminated along with Elijah Wood, and most recently starred (along with the entire band) in Madonna’s Filth and Wisdom. It’s clear that Hutz’s star is on the rise, and that he and his bandmates are making the most of it.
Gogol Bordello has toured with Lollapalooza, Live Earth, Bonnaroo, Coachella and Warped Tour. Currently, they are making their way through Europe after some spring and summer US dates, but will return to America in July. Big event of the summer? The All Points West Music and Arts Festival in Jersey City, New Jersey. They are headlining on August 1 along with Tool and My Bloody Valentine.