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Tipsy Gypsies

Gogol Bordello combines Balkan folk traditions with a theater of anarchy

"Listen, CBGB is a tourist store," Hütz says. "They should be selling Ramones dolls there at this point. The energy of nihilism and innovation doesn't necessarily live in CBGB. We got banned from tons of clubs in New York. We were forced into exploring Bulgarian, Russian and Greek clubs -- which was actually great, because these people, their owners, were enjoying all this chaos and debauchery. Culturally, they're very prepared for it. They've been exposed to a lot of broken plates. In American clubs, we wind up with a whole lot of trouble talk afterwards. In a Greek club, we would wind up with the owner himself dancing with a tablecloth on his head. The party would go on until seven in the morning."

A tireless entertainer, Hütz has been known to turn handsprings down the length of a bar, extinguish cigarettes on his bare chest or drink hot candle wax with relative disregard. His behavior is as much inspired by the punks of the late '70s as by the golden era of silent films.

"Charlie Chaplin was the only American artist to be shown on Soviet television, because he was a commie sympathizer," Hütz says. "As a kid, I could not help but fall in love with the whole psychotic action that he was putting on. His movies were quite violent, actually. They had a lot of brutal acrobatics. He also was the first guy in American cinematography to kick a cop on camera, which is a real scandal move. Later on, he made whole films of just beating up fuckin' whole divisions of cops! The next great thing [compared] to that that I ever saw was actually a bootleg video recording of an Iggy Pop show. The whole complete oblivious kind of cathartic mayhem was pretty interrelated."

Think vampire lore, live birds, Go-Gogol girls and polka revved up to the breaking point, and you've got Gogol Bordello.
Think vampire lore, live birds, Go-Gogol girls and polka revved up to the breaking point, and you've got Gogol Bordello.

The eruption of pent-up, socially unacceptable emotions permeates Multi Kontra Culti vs. Irony, Gogol Bordello's new disc. Despite its cumbersome title, the album -- a follow-up to Voi-La Intruder, the band's 1999 debut -- finds Hütz and company making an impassioned rally cry for the joining of counterculture energies. Sing-alongs like "Let's Get Radical" take it a step further by boiling down human interaction to what Hütz regards as its most useful component: "Let's get radical / And not sporadical / Not ironic / Sardonic / Catatonic / Ceremonic / But radical."

"The most fertile, significant part of the culture is always in the underground, in the ghetto," Hütz says. "Old kinds of Gypsy music, just because of the way these people live, is really the underdog music. It's rooted in poverty and traveling. And this is people who are not really desired to be part of society anywhere. People don't really know what the fuck Gypsies are. There are so many kinds. You think America is the only melting pot? The Eastern bloc is even more of a melting pot. You got 15 republics in Russia alone. Then you got Yugoslavia, which is ten different ethnicities. It's perpetual war zone -- it never settles down.

"Right now there are, especially, many creative immigrant forces," Hütz continues. "I think it's very promising, because America is very known for being kind of conceited and monolithic and really unexposed to music in any other language up until this day. The East took a lot from the West. But in same time, America is already exhausted at this point. So for it to really grow culturally, it needs influences from abroad. And I don't mean some stupid fuckin' Latin-pop invasion or some new crappy British invasion that really doesn't bring anything new. It just needs some new kind of chaos. It needs a lotta chaos. It needs complete Balkanization."

Weaned as he was on magic and serendipity, it's little wonder that this tipsy Gypsy from the East village might regard the current global conglomerate as little improvement over the feudal misery of the Dark Ages.

"I'm alarmed about the fact that there's this big kind of movement of sameness that's in the world now, not only in America," says Hütz. "It's like you land in any airport, and it's kind of full of same crap. It's not even the same crap of different brand. It's like same brand of the same crap. I think our part is presenting people with something that's so drastically different, that it's gonna play against the program of fucking sameness.

"In a way I feel that our music, our immicore, is like a matador," Hütz adds. "And America is this big bully -- uh, bull -- this kind of thing that wants to get the matador. But we are good matadors. Now that I'm big and strong, I can take on the whole America. I'm ready to be the matador and tease this fuckin' big bully. Now that I'm all tall and strong and big and wide in the shoulders."

Slight in his threadbare suit and purple wing tips, Hütz seems an unlikely catalyst for the new cultural revolution. But this death-obsessed wanderer, who survived life behind the iron curtain at the height of the cold war, is getting rave reviews from the East Coast press and beyond. In March, an invitation to perform at the 2002 Whitney Museum Biennial led to national exposure on NPR and The Charlie Rose Show. And no matter where the next wave takes him, Hütz seems content to ride it out sight unseen.

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