Eugene Hutz, ringleader of gypsy punk-rock cabaret act Gogol Bordello, swears a lot. In between broken-English diatribes against consumerism, conformity and rationality spiced with some of the dirtiest, sexiest swagger this side of Johnny Depp Hutz uses the word "fuck" at least 15 times. But that's Hutz and Gogol Bordello.
Since forming in 1999 in New York, Gogol Bordello has made its name as a fierce, eclectic live act on both the indie and punk circuits, playing a couple years' worth of Warped Tours, as well as this year's Coachella and Bonnaroo festivals.
On its albums including the recently released Super Taranta Gogol Bordello thrashes through everything from "gypsy speedmetal dub," as Hutz calls it, to hard-edged, heart-wrenching ballads spurred on by Old World fiddling. There's '70s punk percussion, over-the-top theatrics and Hutz himself, who is a force.
Bare-chested and mustachioed, the frontman wails in Russian, moves with reckless abandon, and crowd-surfs atop a bass drum. It's a hedonistic bonanza that's turned Hutz into a fan-frothy lust object a status Hutz doesn't deny.
"It's the only way I know how to perform music," he says. "If the way it comes out transforms me into a sex symbol, so fucking be it. And I'll take full advantage of that too."
The inimitable, Eastern European-born singer also an actor best known for his role of Alex in the film adaptation of Everything is Illuminated is backed by a cartel of eclectic musicians. There's an Israeli guitarist, two Russians on violin and accordion, an Ethiopian bassist, two part-Asian percussionist-cum-dancers, and one token "all-American" the drummer.
"I'm really proud of that our band doesn't consist of four guys with the same stupid fucking haircuts, especially in this country where it's all about the cult of the young celebrity and all that bullshit," Hutz says days before kicking off the band's current tour, which'll wander the globe like any gang of gypsies through the end of summer. "Somebody's got to do it differently."
Hutz's Romani roots and his immigration to the United States following the Chernobyl nuclear accident are well-documented. Born in the Ukraine, Hutz and his family fled Kiev after the meltdown, spent a handful of years bouncing around European refugee camps, and ended up settling in Vermont. Hutz made his way down to New York City in 1998, and almost immediately formed Gogol Bordello to perform a deranged pastiche of his ancestors' Balkan beats and his own Western punk.
Romani, or "gypsy" culture which is about "having that side of your soul, the creative side," engaged at all times has everything to do with Gogol Bordello's music, Hutz says. "Western culture teaches the opposite, basically teaches order and pragmatism and shutting down that spontaneous and creative side of the soul. But gypsy music's about channeling energy, and expressing it and sharing it. And if the soul doesn't do that, it gets depressed and it dies."
Though denying one's soul might kill a person, Hutz says Bordello could have the opposite effect on unsuspecting listeners, inducing tremors, even paranoid schizophrenia. If a Wonderbread-fed Midwesterner heard Gogol Bordello, Hutz insists in a characteristically exaggerated fashion that he'd "go straight to the hospital." Slight exaggeration, perhaps, but makes sense. Kinda. Why?
"Concussion," Hutz says. "He'd feel betrayed by his own culture, bewildered. Because suddenly he'd realize there's something out there that isn't brought to him on a plate by fucking Wal-Mart. Something out of the infrastructure of American marketing that actually has all the power he's searching for."
Concussed schizophrenics are far from the only Gogol Bordello fans, though. Madonna's a huge fan. Yeah, Madonna undoubtedly the biggest pop star in the world since Jacko. For years, Hutz had been hearing secondhand rumors that Madonna was an admirer, and eventually confirmed those reports in person when the image maven herself asked Hutz to star in her short film, Madonna's first attempt at directing. "She asked me how do I feel about dressing as a woman. I said, 'Fantastic, as long as it's a woman with a mustache.'"
The whole Gogol Bordello posse, in fact, appears in Madonna's flick much as they all turned up in Everything is Illuminated, playing, yup, a gypsy punk band.
Talk about camaraderie.
"It's part of the agreement," Hutz explains. "Everywhere I go, they gotta come."
And as Hutz shoots to the top of both Hollywood and MTV, he's taking his troupe of dirty, sexy, genre-smashing rebel-immigrant-punks with him. Fuck, yeah.
At 7 p.m., Saturday, July 14, at the Majestic Theatre, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; all ages; $18.Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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