T&A on the PA
Gypsy punks Gogol Bordello
When a band records an album that crystallizes its potential, critics speak of the band as maturing. So it stands to reason that along the way, bands go through puberty.
"It's like Gogol Bordello — if the band were a girl, grew tits and ass," says Eugene Hutz of the increasingly fleshed-out sound of gypsy cabaret punks Gogol Bordello.
Ukrainian Hutz, a naturalized American — alongside his Israeli and American bandmates — first thrust his love of punk, gypsy-camp color and Bela Bartok, the Hungarian composer who combined Baltic and Slavic influences, into Gogol Bordello's body at a Russian wedding circa 1998 when he was hired to play gypsy folk. It's been an S&M relationship since, as avant-garde made way for "avant hard," a bulldozing repertoire of songs and skits that never come off just right, and are all the better for it.
Introduced to the world at large on 2002's I>Multi Kontra Culti Vs. IronyP>, the Gogol Bordello collective struck a very pointed blow toward pop relying on gimmicks by delivering a manic jumble of feral authenticity. The eight-strong ensemble makes violent vaudeville from cultural chaos, branding listeners with sharp exhalations of fevered accordion, fiddle, guitar, sax and percussion. Prior to this year's I>J.U.F.P>, however, even Hutz realizes, in hindsight, something was missing.
"We had no bass guitar till this record and a lot of the frequency distribution was fucked up and weird," says Hutz. "It would go over the head of some DJs because they are accustomed to this one sound with drums here, bass here. With this record, we made it in such a way that with crazy nontraditional arrangements it still fulfills the frequencies in the right way. Bass or no bass, we will meet speaker expectations. But while there are all these charms without the bass ... with our love for dub and reggae and drum 'n' bass, it was almost absurd we'd had no bass so long."
Bass guitar is not the only new element to creep its way into Gogol Bordello's alcohol-soaked theatrics. In the beginning, the band pulled from the music of the members' heritage and travels, but after several years' residency in New York, the collective need not look far for inspiration. The nomadic marauders found the potential energy lurking in the neighboring streets, and further captured the clash of coiled springs of culture on I>J.U.F.P>, which stands for "Jewish Ukrainian Freundschaft" — a play on the group's ethnicities, and a reference to the band D.A.F.
"We established our position with the previous two albums, and as creative beings we cannot help but bring in new sounds and beats, especially with so much touring and living in New York," says Hutz. "We couldn't help but get seduced by beats attacking us. In many ways this is Gogol Bordello walking Canal Street on Saturday morning with Arabic, African, Bangladeshi, bhangra, Balkan, flamenco and reggae beats blasting from every kiosk. We absorb it all with our aura. There are no obstacles."
The roots of I>J.U.F.P> are in Hutz and Gogol Bordello guitarist Oren Kaplan collaborating on experimental beats. The album is credited not to Gogol Bordello but "Gogol Bordello vs. Tamir Muskat," because part of the creative process was turning over the sessions to Muskat, a member of their creative circle, to further manipulate the sounds. The openness to apply this remixing-the-mix approach stems greatly from Hutz's extracurricular activities.
"I've been seriously pursuing DJing in New York and elsewhere for several years. I DJ three nights a week and a lot of that approach went into the new album," says Hutz of his recent submersion in (re)combinant productions. "I have a residence at Bulgarian Bar [on Broadway and Canal]; that's our stomping ground. Every raw mix was exploited there heavily. It was an amazing laboratory setup."
From playing professional NYC clubs to Bosnian courtyards with no PA, and having been bootlegged in Eastern Europe — the group's songs recompiled and recontextualized with no loss of continuity — Gogol Bordello has seen plenty of variations but never seemed watered down, so the group embraces syncopation without hesitation. Going beat-borne is just one more aesthetic facet to rend and retread.
"Gogol Bordello is too big a soul to be fucked with," says Hutz, "so it can be alternated countless ways without losing its integrity. Our live show is the power source fueling a perpetual engine changing direction at will."
Gogol Bordello may have developed T&A, but the band's never lacked plenty of balls.