By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Imagine Eastern European fashion casualties sipping apple-infused vodka alongside art-world hipsters dining on Montreal-style poutine, all of them engaged in frequent outbreaks of casual nudity. (Getting naked earns you a shot on the house.) A wildly mustachioed man — halfway to a free drink — spins a mix of Algerian rai, Spanish flamenco, punk rock, Eurotechno and Eastern European folk songs, melded together by aggressive downbeats, libidinal energy and a chintzy disco ball. Since 1999, Eugene Hutz, leader of the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, has been an NYC celebrity — renowned for inspiring debauchery as a resident DJ at lower Manhattan’s Mehanata Bulgarian Bar. Recently, though, he’s gone international, appearing alongside Madonna during last month’s Live Earth concert — a rare highlight in that self-righteous marathon event.
Hutz was born in Kiev, Ukraine, while it was still part of the old Soviet Union, placing him and his family near ground zero for 1986’s Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, and the subsequent meltdown of the republic. When he was 14, the U.S. granted the family refugee status. They made stops in Poland, Austria and Italy before ending up in a most unlikely haven — Burlington, Vermont. Hutz, though, continued on to New York to help fuel the nocturnal adventures of the city that never sleeps.
Early on, his DJ sets espoused his exquisite musical theories while his band made failed attempts at putting them into practice, but 2005’s Steve Albini–produced Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike changed that. It was a proper manifesto for the band’s hard-driving, globe-trotting vision. The just-released Super Taranta! is even better. Even Robert Christgau, a normally sober critic, has proclaimed it “the best rock album of the decade, period.” I spoke with Hutz via phone on two occasions — on a recent Friday when he was in Hungary, two days later in Portugal. Naturally, his mobile phone was registered in Liechtenstein, all of which is emblematic of his increasingly global profile. In conversation with the man, comprehension is hampered by his heavy accent, imaginative syntax and broad vocabulary. One moment he is a punk rock icon like his hero Joe Strummer; the next he is channeling Tolstoy on a spiritual bender; and the next he sounds like Borat if he’d managed to earn a Ph.D. It’s a half-genius, half-bullshit routine, and on those rare occasions when the two halves align, things get really interesting.
L.A. WEEKLY:Is there a concept to the Dionysian energy behind everything you touch?
EUGENE HUTZ: In me, the tribal sense is very strong. Person to person. Heart to heart. Any hierarchy is naturally led by the wisest people in a community and the elders. In America, old people are locked up in nursing homes. There is no respect.
“Respect” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of Gogol Bordello.
There’s a lot of bravado, but that doesn’t contradict respect. We are transgenerational in a world of stupid pop stars where most are brainwashed that a group has to be four 23-year-old guys with the same haircut. Our accordion and violin player are basically fucking 50. Show me another band who are exploding with that lineup?
That was a good album title. It’s my autobiography and a slogan to explain what we’re doing. Luckily, Gypsy culture gives you a special philosophy. If you look into Romany history, you realize it’s the first global culture.
I was wondering if you consider yourself a global citizen or an American? You were a New York City celebrity long before you were on the international stage.
Spiritual wise, I feel like a citizen of the world, but I try to go out on a limb and say good things about America. I am constantly in conversations about how much it sucks. Everyone bitches about it in rock & roll circles, but let’s not forget the good stuff. Everything musically progressive in the last century was from America, and I’m proud I’ve been embraced by the culture that gave us jazz, hip-hop, punk, techno and a hundred other stuff.
Did you have specific inspirations?
I don’t know if you have the word “etalon” in English. We have it in Russian — though it sounds like it came from the French. “Etalon” is a guiding example, and I’m interested in the Joe Strummer school of thought, a type of rock star who didn’t focus on stupid shit like throwing TVs out of windows. It’s about passion and real concerns, hardcore idealism and authentic frustration at not being heard. That’s what influenced Fugazi and the attitude of the bands we’ve become friends with, like Manu Chao. We share what Joe established, and turned it into a more democratic experience.
That’s a good lead-in to a quote from your Web site :
But it is perhaps worth to mention mechanics of modern fame have changed from its original oral tradition drive, which produced legends, anecdotes, good word, etc. Mechanics of modern fame are fueled by media and media alone and nobody in their fucking right mind, of course, would start passing legends about, for example, The Strokes or their twin sister Britney Spears.