by carl wilson

'60 Revelations Per Minute/ This is My Regular Speed'

eugene_thumb.jpgEugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello.

I've been confined to bed today as my cold punishes me for sleeping too little this week, so I'm late in mentioning that I had a profile in the paper on Friday of New York "gypsy punk" ensemble Gogol Bordello, one of my favourite bands on Earth, including an interview with an indefatigable verbal volcano, their frontman Eugene Hutz - I'll share some unprinted sections from that interview on Zoilus nearer to their Toronto gig on Wednesday. (Also check out the band's touring music collection, a pretty great source of recommendations.) As well, today my biweekly Thought Bubbles column in the Focus section dealt with more fraudulent memoirists, the deceptions of the French country market, a lucky break for Noam Chomsky and the latest pomo-theory rock star, Giorgio Agamben.

The Wavelength panels went well, thanks for asking, though next time I'd suggest they just be held entirely apart from a night of shows - I think a discussion could draw more people if it weren't going to mean committing yourself to a six-or-seven-hour evening. (Also: Snacks!) But our "shape of things to come" panel must have been at least moderately successful since it's already spawned this take-action thread on Stillepost. Rethinking the indie music community on the model of artist-run centres and artist-run culture feels like an exciting breakthrough to me, for all the participants whose goal is not necessarily "be a famous rock star." (For more on the panels also see the comments box to Thursday's entry, below.)

Also I had a blast recording the coming week's National Playlist radio show with Sarah Slean and Laurie Brown yesterday and I think it's going to make for a lively, intelligent five mornings of discussion about music (yes, they record the whole week's panels the Friday before, even though they pretend it's live day-to-day - that's your little peek behind the curtain - but no, I won't tell you how it turns out). So even if you're sceptical about the show in general, I encourage you to listen this time, Mon-Fri at 11:30 am to noon on CBC Radio 1.

Roma revival

CARL WILSON
The Globe and Mail
Friday, February 10, 2006

When Gogol Bordello first visited Toronto a few years ago, the grotty club they played was dominated by Ukrainian and Russian teens who'd heard the extravagant eight-piece "gypsy punk" band was led by a fellow expat. The few non-Slavs present had heard rumours of a handlebar-mustached, rock-circus ringmaster, whose vodka-fuelled shows mixed (as the band's name suggests) bawdy romps with literary flights in a blender of broken languages, and wound up in Iggy Pop-like ecstatic states of undress.

When the band returns here next Wednesday, the crowd at the swank Drake Hotel may have heard it's led by a movie star. But nothing essential has changed.

Eugene Hutz's part-Roma (Gypsy) family fled Chernobyl's fallout when he was a teen, moving across Europe and finally to the U.S. This fall, the rebel refugee was the toast of the Toronto film festival as the passionately hapless "premium" translator Alex in Everything is Illuminated, the movie based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel.

Critics touted Hutz for a supporting-actor Oscar nomination that didn't materialize. "I wasn't losing my sleep over it," says Hutz. After all, fans already knew his screen persona had just a sliver of the charismatic creativity he brings to the stage. There, he's flanked by parade-drum-beating, war-painted nymphets and guys slashing fiddles and pumping accordions, doing for Gypsy music what the Pogues did for Irish folk tunes.

"Maybe my mom and the whole Ukrainian press was ready for me to take the Oscar. But I know where I belong and what I need to do."

Though he plans to keep acting, he's not about to abdicate his post as a subcultural saint of New York for Los Angeles, or accept any of the "predictable, bad-Eastern-European-guy-spreading-biological-weapons" movies he's been offered lately. As he sings on Gogol Bordello's latest album, Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike, "Them are too greedy to pay my asylum bills/ This is my life and freedom is my profession/ This is my mission throughout all flight duration."

That mission began back in Kiev, where he discovered rock through his musician father, then punk on his own in the black markets. "The Dead Kennedys's Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, I listened to that record 5,000 times," he says. (All Hutz's sentences come garnished with intensifying expletives, so just sprinkle them on in your head.) "It was right when perestroika was about to bust out. . . . Dead Kennedys was very Cold War, and I could tell these people were trying to break through from the other side on a humanitarian level. It spoke to me right away."

Through "exchange students from socialist African countries" he also heard funk bands such as War and Parliament-Funkadelic. "George Clinton said Funkadelic was about wanting to get 'the whole army' on stage. You see the influence of that in Gogol Bordello -- it's just an army of a different kind of characters."

Also key was discovering his Roma background. "We were doing the assimilated thing, but when we left Kiev I met the whole expanded family. I was kinda pissed off at first: 'This is the coolest part of our family!' I'm a Ukrainian-Russian-Lithuanian-Roma mix, and I can identify with any other spirit, but the Roma aspect is important because it brings you straight to the intersection of art and human rights, and all music and art that always interested me had that element of . . . reaching out through borders."

He finally made his way to his dream international city, New York, only to find the underground culture he'd idealized was in a fallow period. So he resolved to invent his own. Starting from a wedding band, he put together Gogol Bordello - with a pair of Russians, two Israelis, one Thai-American, an Ecuadorean, a Chinese-Scot and a drummer from Florida.

They amassed a following performing and DJing in tiny bars in Manhattan's meatpacking district, and then around the world. "We raised [our audience] like a kitten in tour after tour. Those fans aren't going to go anywhere. Now there's even [movie] hype that comes on top of it, but the foundation is already there. The best bands grow into success organically in their sixth or seventh year."

Major labels come calling now - too late, Hutz says - and their cross-cultural party scene has spawned fawning profiles in the New York Times, allies such as Slavic Soul Party! and the Hungry Marching Band, and even a few cheap imitations. "Sometimes I don't want to be Gandhi about it. I want to bust their ass. But everything is going to end up exactly where it belongs."

Hutz has bigger causes, namely the "cultural revolution" he proclaims in his most Clash-like moments in song, against the "strangling element" he's detected all over the world.

"I don't mean Chinese-style, to extinguish your own history. But I've gone through so many mind-warping and stretching experiences, I learned that human beings are very adaptable and powerful. It's all about how you process information. You don't have to give in to these pre-fab ideas fed you by education, or the celebrity cult of values that is force-fed you by media. . . . That is where you revolutionize yourself first."

No, Hutz hasn't gone Hollywood. By all signs, as he sings on Underdog World Strike, he's "undestructable."

Gogol Bodello and Lenin I Shumov appear at the Drake Hotel on Feb. 15. $12 to $15. 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042.

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, February 11 at 07:05 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson