Anarchy from the Ukraine

Gogol Bordello's gypsy punk cabaret

| November / December 2002


THE EIGHT-PIECE BAND Gogol Bordello combines Eastern European folk sounds, rock ’n’ roll energy, New York attitude, and highly developed instincts for spectacle to create something they call "gypsy punk cabaret."

Gogol frontman Eugene Hütz, interviewed in The Village Voice (May 8, 2002), notes that gypsies and punks both share expressive power and outsider status. So does the band, whose members are recent immigrants from the Ukraine as well as Israel and Eastern Europe. Hütz says he loves to mount the stage in front of a skeptical audience of hipsters to show them what can be done with accordion and violin.

Part Charlie Chaplin and part Iggy Pop, Hütz plays up his Slavic accent while lyrically tackling subjects like vampires, backyard barbecues with Stalin, and harassment by border police. The rest of the band lays down a raucous yet harmonic sound with accordion, fiddle, saxophone, electric guitar, and drums. The result is high-powered folk music played with the same reckless abandon that characterizes the great Irish drinking band the Pogues—only weirder. In true cabaret tradition, Gogol Bordello sometimes invites contortionists, animals, Mongolian throat singers, dancing maidens, a full brass section, dancing ghost dolls, Ukranian vampires, and female dancers dressed as border cops up on stage.

"We’re not allowed to play in many New York rock clubs," Hütz says. "They don’t want to deal with that level of excitement. That’s why we play in Russian, Greek, Bulgarian clubs. Culturally, they’re prepared for debauchery. They appreciate it."

Gogol Bordello’s debut album, Voi-La Intruder, was re-released in early 2002 by Rubric Records followed by a new one with a strong social message, Multi Kontra Culti vs. Irony.

"We’re going against ironic treatment of the world and culture and life," says Hütz.

"Unless you see more people speaking from the heart, we’re gonna continue to rage about that—drunk, sober, or lobotomized."