“Russian and Slavic people, they are naturally more chaotic. Nothing you can do about it, and there’s nothing you need to do about it,” muses Gogol Bordello’s frontman Eugene Hütz. You only have to see the Gypsy punk band and its moustachioed leader perform live to be convinced. Their music is loud, thrilling, exhilarating and, well, chaotic. Capable of transforming a crowd into a roaring mosh pit in seconds, Gogol Bordello know how to party – especially Mr Hütz.
“I think I was conceived to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison,” he suggests. “During childhood I had a lot of accelerated emotional, physical and spiritual fun with music, you know? It was like a part of everyday life and it never really left me.”
We don’t get far into our interview before he starts waxing poetic about the true essence of music and what it means to him. “Music is one of the ways to explore human potential, and that requires presence, ultimate presence, on all levels. It’s like I go around the world and I can live there, and I can embrace a culture, but soon enough, I’ll be pulled back into an outsider position, which is where I feel even more at home. I think the outsider position is the only place where consciousness can rise and blossom.”
And Hütz has been just about everywhere – from his childhood in Kiev, Ukraine to his current base in Rio de Janeiro via a slew of Eastern European countries and some time in the US. His love for Brazil has kept him in Rio for nearly five years, but Eastern Europe seems to have followed him there. “Latin America is actually embracing Eastern European music massively, and there’s lots of people in Latin America right now having sex to Balkan music. Kids are coming backstage all the time and saying, ‘hey man, we’re from a local Argentinean Balkan band.’ I want to say that’s a funny oxymoron – Argentinean Balkan band – but you don’t have to be from Romania to get the riffs from that music and incorporate it into Latin music. And that’s what’s going on right now. I think that’s wicked.”
It’s while speaking of Balkan music in South America that Hütz mentions that he and Goran Bregović recorded the first track of his playlist in Rio.
Hütz admits that working with Bregović was long overdue. “He just called me one day and said ‘Hey, I love your music, do you know my music?’ And, the answer was obvious, of course, and he was like, ‘It’s time for us to cook something together. I mean, we should have been cooking together something like ten years ago already, but let’s not never do it.’” They recorded in Paris while Hütz was on tour, but soon it was time for him to fly back to Rio. “Maybe a month later, I was doing my thing in Rio, and my phone rings, and he’s like, ‘It’s me, I am here. I’m in Copacabana, sitting on the sidewalk.’ I went and picked him up in the cab, and he was staying in some one-star hotel, sitting with a laptop, right on the street, and I was like, come on, hide that fucking thing, this is Rio!” They started recording and within a week they had written ‘Be That Man’.
“We were making Balkan music in a tropical environment, and then I looked around and said ‘wow, look at all this stuff I gathered – all the experiences, all the music, all the connections – from these countries’. I said ‘man, let me bring this all the way back home.’” And so the idea of Casa Gogol was born.
Located in his childhood home of Kiev and due to open this summer, Casa Gogol is a venue that Hütz hopes will encourage that same sense of cross-cultural collaboration between Balkan and Latin cultures. “It’s going to be a fun place where I can really let hell loose, without asking anybody what the curfew is.”
Happy to show off other local Ukrainian talent, Hütz has chosen the band Kozak System as his second track. “This is a very fresh new band from the Ukraine,” he tells me, explaining how they formed just last year after taking on members of the now defunct band Haydamaky. “There’s a lot of the metal/punk element to it, and the ethnic element is quite strong.”
While Hütz is most comfortable as an outsider, he highly respects music successfully put together by someone from within a tradition. The Canadian-based band, A Tribe Called Red, mix hip-hop, dance and aboriginal Canadian music to create their own genre of urban pow wow music. “There are just so many attempts where people take samples and try to overlap their music with it, but this is a really successful way of combining electronic music with that culture. You can tell that these are people who are on the inside of that tradition.”
Also on Hütz’s playlist is the German band Kapelle Böllberg’s ‘Mädchenpop,’ produced by the drummer from Manu Chao’s band. “I think you can hear a bit of a Radio Bemba vibration in there; this simple street vibe to it that’s crafted to a masterful level.”
For his final playlist track, Hütz has chosen ‘The Model’ by Seu Jorge and Almaz. “I actually find myself listening to Seu Jorge much too much! It’s getting to a level where I’m getting bootlegs and stuff like that. He’s a natural-born dramatist. Anything he says tells a story in a language that you don’t have to know. It’s like a stream of beautiful energy that has so many shades, you know? This is a fun track.”
So what’s next for the Gyspy punkster? He’s just finished recording a new Gogol Bordello album due out in July. After years of touring and recording together, the album reflects a new attitude for the band. “Suddenly we came to a different place, where we started feeling like we’ve been in the trenches together. We grew up together. It’s a really great feeling, and so the album is very uplifting in each and every way.” Titled Pura Vida Conspiracy, Hütz says it should serve as “a reminder to all the people who are too focused on everything that’s going wrong. It’s like, people wake the fuck up – 50% of things are actually going right all the time!” Expect something almost primordial from the band. “Like dancing around the fire together, it takes a lot of circles around the fire before the dance really starts cooking,” Hütz explains. “And now it’s really fucking cooking and everybody knows it. It’s that kind of vibe, like a transformational shebangatron!”