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Published: 2007/10/21
by Mike Fordham

Gogol Bordellos Supertheory of Supereverything

While the national debate about immigration continues to be a point of contention, a noisy punk band epitomizes what is right about the process. Gogol Bordello is based out of New York City yet several of the group’s members hail from such distant lands as Russia and Israel. The band has taken native music from their respective homelands and struck out on their own, to both national and international acclaim. Gogol Bordello, however, probably would not care to be poster children for immigration, but known more for their raucous brand of music (in fact, one of their earlier songs is fittingly named “Immigrant Punk”).

What’s a punk band doing here among String Cheese Incident and Tea Leaf Green, you ask? Like any jamband worth its chops, Gogol Bordello fuses together a wide variety of genres, dubbing their particular sound “gypsy punk.” Simply put, Gogol Bordello is not your father’s punk band. Like the Pogues before them and current brethren in Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys, the band brings a multi-cultural flavor to punk. Unlike the aforementioned acts (which cite Celtic music as their main influence), Gogol Bordello draws from the disparate styles of eastern Europe. The eight piece troupe offers ska, flamenco, dub, folk, roots reggae, and pretty much any other genre you can think of. As bassist Thomas Gobena put it via email, “The band is incredible, open minded musicians. What we do by switching between many styles and genres is what comes very natural for this band. It’s all our influences coming together in a very creative environment.” Often times, Gogol Bordello swaps styles multiple times in one song.

These sounds, and many more, can be heard on their latest offering Super Taranta! Judging from the cover alone (a crazed man, girls on their backs hoisting buckets on their feet, electric green background), you know you’re in for something completely different. The significance of the album title? Gobena explained, “it’s very descriptive of our (next) level of musicianship on this record. We are taking over the world with this one.” Certainly, Super Taranta! incorporates enough genres from around the planet that global domination may not be far off. An ideal that frames the entire album is “New Rebel Intelligence,” which equates to finding your own way in the world. This theme echoes right from the start, as the first two tracks detail that very sentiment. Opener “Ultimate,” while twisting through break-neck gypsy punk and dub flourishes, sends a message of carpe diem. “Wonderlust King” details a nomadic lifestyle, which seems to fit a gypsy punk band quite well. Both songs set the tone for not only the remainder of the album, but what Gogol Bordello is all about. Meanwhile, the zany “American Wedding” bemoans the marital tradition of the US versus the European counterpart (Gogol Bordello would make one hell of a wedding band), bolstered by brass from Slavic Soul Party. The multi-cultural mayhem continues on cuts like “Suddenly (I Miss Carpathy),” “My Strange Uncles From Abroad,” and “Harem In Tuscany (Taranta),” further proving that through all the genre-bending, Gogol Bordello weaves in humor and wit.

On a casual listen, Gogol Bordello seems to keep a loose and upbeat atmosphere. Further listening, however, reveals that the group discusses social and political issues more in line with their punk band comrades. “Your Country” concerns the stifling regulations and rules that governments impose on its citizens while “Zina-Marina” tackles the issue of white slavery in Europe. “Forces of Victory” details the aftermath of the horrors caused by the Pinochet regime in Chile. Interestingly, Gogol Bordello juxtaposes such serious topics against splashes of accordion, brass, dub, metal, and punk. Similarly, “Supertheory of Supereverything,” according to Gobena, “is a comical interpretation of how things are with religion.” What better way to be an iconoclast than through humor? Besides, regardless of your religion, it’s hard to not chant along to the chorus of “I don’t read the Bible/I don’t trust disciple.”

As fascinating as the band’s music is, the focal point of Gogol Bordello is, undoubtedly, frontman Eugene Hutz. To most, he’s the guy from the film Everything Is Illuminated who isn’t Elijah Wood, or the owner of quite possibly the best moustache in rock n’ roll. Decked out as some sort of bohemian pirate, Hutz bounces around with aplomb and authority. He barks out lyrics in English and foreign tongues. Often, Hutz bangs away on buckets, drums, and virtually anything that could be considered percussion. Hutz’s onstage theatrics might seem like a mere gimmick, but his boundless enthusiasm and earnest delivery ensure that his actions are genuine. What’s not to like about a musician crowd-surfing on a drum, anyway?

It’s these antics that turned many heads at this year’s Bonnaroo. According to Gobena, that may have been the plan since the band stepped onto the afternoon stage, “{It was a} great, well behaved crowd till we got there and turned it upside down and it went completely insane. It was our master plan from the start .” In fact, Gogol Bordello may very well have been the festival’s breakout band for this year.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, as the band is adept at winning over new fans at festivals. Goben commented on Gogol Bordello’s ability to succeed at such functions, “This band is the only band that will thrive in any kind of setting. Once we get on stage, the energy is known to convert people that have never seen us before. Looking forward to many more converts.” Perhaps it was this sort of attitude that led to Hutz and violinist Sergey Rjabtzev performing with, of all people, Madonna at this year’s Live Earth concert series. To date, Gogol has logged time on the Warped tour, Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds, Coachella, and with Vegoose and Bumbershoot slated for the fall. In regards to Vegoose, Gobena offered, “We are looking forward to come and take over once again. Vegas should be fun. Can’t wait.”

As of late, other acts have also incorporated elements of eastern European music. Groups like Beirut, Devotchka and Balkan Beat Box have utilized similar sounds to that of Gogol Bordello, to varying degrees of success. Is a European invasion afoot? According to bassist Thomas Gobena, that may not necessarily be the case, “As I understand it, there are many copycats and bands that are trying to ride the waves created by great original bands such as Gogol Bordello. I don’t care much about them.” Like any gypsy, though, the band is probably more concerned about spreading its own music and messages, whether through Super Taranta! or the next live show. Gobena summed up, “People are encouraged and inspired to celebrate differences by coming to our shows and take our different styles and backgrounds as so refreshing.’” Celebrating differences sounds like advocates and detractors of immigration may want to see what Gogol Bordello is all about.

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