From Sonic Youth, via The Clash to New York City, Eugene Hutz and Gogol Bordello take on 'racist marketing' with an amazing collision of progressive art and traditional music...Rachael Clegg digs deeper..
MM: Gogol Bordello’s tracks are an amalgamation of pretty much every genre one can conjure up, can you explain the basis your cauldron-like aesthetic?
GB: Well, it started out by bringing in the sound of where I came from, which was Eastern European Gypsy music because I missed it so much [living] in the States. But now I am living in New York it seems that any car driving by can influence you, as well. I took my stuff from my country, with punk, took it to New York where [more stuff] influenced it, which keeps on happening. Now we’ve just added an MC from Ecuador, it a similar thing, I was very much up for joining forces with Latin-American rebel music.
MM: How long have you lived in New York?
GB: I moved to New York in 1988.
MM: Can you explain the impact of New York when you first moved there? It must have been quite a stark difference to what you had experienced.
GB: Well, I didn’t move to New York right from the Ukraine, so, if you’re talking about a culture shock I never had it. [The move to New York] was quite gradual: Poland to Austria; to Italy and then to the US, so I never really had like something that would impair my psyche. Plus, my family was already such a pro-Western family. If you put us back there we would be basically like totally pro-West, so my Dad always spoke English and I grew up to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix.
GB: I always wanted to go to New York because of one single event: it was a Sonic Youth concert that happened in Kiev in 1988. That kind of basically…that worked my psyche I am sure. That was like…I mean, now saying you like Sonic Youth is a very different thing from saying you like Sonic Youth in 1988, so you understand that. Now you’re probably like ‘what, why’ but they were in their prime you know? It was just amazing…it was unbearable, physically, I couldn’t even stand it, it was so amazing.
GB: [Yes] because they are from New York. I thought ‘I have to go to where this music is coming from’…. It was hypnotic…
MM: Once you were in New York, how long was it before you started with Gogol Bordello?
GB: Right away; the band started growing right away: I just came by myself, then it was two, three people, four people, five, six, seven, eight, nine.
MM: So it was a plan right from the word go? You saw Sonic Youth and it was a case of ‘right, that’s it’?
GB: Well, I was already into Nick Cave, The Dead Kennedy’s, and The Clash [but] that was just kind of like the first taste of it, I think like the really important band for me was Le Mano Negra, which is a band that, amazingly enough, nobody knows here, but it’s like the fucking biggest band in the world – you know Mano Chao? Well it’s his first band.
GB: Here because taste is so racist and marketed – only for white-to-white people, nobody knows, but outside of England [Mano Chau/Mano Negra] is as big as the Clash.
MM: It’s amazing how bubble like and dictatorial the marketing side of the music industry is at times.
GB: …Yes but because of colonial mentality like, you guys think that this is the belly button of the world here, but people in fucking Argentina don’t give a fuck about you here, you know; they have their own world of music, and they are a lot more communicative. Bands [from] Brazil are big in Spain, and Spanish bands are big in Argentina, and Chilean bands are fucking huge in fucking Italy - it’s just like that man! It’s just racist marketing in the UK and especially in the US. [There’s all this] talk of ‘World Music’ – what’s fucking ‘World Music’; it’s fucking punk rock man!
MM: With the idea of a ‘racist market’ in mind, how do you relate to it?
GB: Well, that’s the kind of game we have set up to play: to ruin this ‘World Music’ marketing. We were not set up to play a marketing game, but I remember when we first started labels [were like:] ‘this is great I love you guys but this is completely unmarketable’. I always thought that ‘well, I guess we’ve got to try and change our stupid market around’. Now our cultural presence and following [is such that] you can’t ignore it. I’m not saying it’s only us; it’s building up on the frontline, I think, between Mano Chao, MIA and us -and other bands that are very strong and very distinct – that people are realising that revolutionary music is coming from the Third World. It’s definitely not living here.
MM: Do you think there exists an appetite for something fresh, or a revolution in music in the context of this ‘racist market’ that you describe? Do you think the market is saturated with the white, middle class, four and five-piece bands?
GB: That’s exactly how I see it except maybe to be more precise it’s not only saturated with these kind of bands; it’s that people’s creativity [is] corrupted, even the kids who want to do something, they’re already so brainwashed [that] it’s like rock ‘n’ roll became part of the Pledge of Allegiance; it’s like ‘you go to school this is what you learn: you learn how to fucking kiss the flag, pledge allegiance, and play in a rock ‘n’ roll band. It became that stupid. It’s always four guys with the same haircut doing the same stupid shit. Maybe I’m like giving too much credit for the companies who are behind it; maybe they’re not nearly as calculating and intellectual as to really consciously do that, maybe just totally stupid but to me it does just feel like purely racist marketing because they can always count on four guys forming a band because that’s what they grow on their territory; they’re not interested in any acts that are risky or, God forbid have a different political message. It’s a lot easier to market bands that just say the same [thing].
GB: No, it’s the safest thing now.
MM: Is this concept of a ‘racist market’ an issue that has become summarized in your songs?
GB: [Yes], these things are basically encapsulated in our songs.
MM: I read a lot on the website about your visits to Gypsy communities, how does this feed into the music?
GB: It is autobiographical. I discovered, when I was fourteen/fifteen, that part of my upbringing was with Gypsies, and my family was kind of always ashamed of that but liking that music so much I started getting proud over these kind of thing, even though I have no sentiment for nationalistic reasons. In the Romaine case and the Gypsy case it is so special because it is the most discriminated minority. These people [have] a certain culture that refuses to assimilate and that’s the speciality of it. My link to [Gypsy culture] became more cerebral for me because from the beginning I was always into bands and art that laid an intersection with human rights; bands like The Clash and Public Enemy, Bob Marley, [always] spoke to me. [Gypsy music] is, in our case, a reincarnation: another entity of that kind of band [but] from Eastern Europe. It’s not about national identity [with the Gypsy influence]; it’s about the identity of your soul.
GB: The aesthetic [appeal] is that our creativity [like Gypsy music] is not corrupted, like all these fucking bastards out there, and we do what we want to do, how we want to do it, when we want do it. It’s nothing to do with what’s popular now, someone once told me ‘you guys are just jumping on a wagon’, I was like, ‘we are the only four-wheels in this whole fucking thing, what are you talking about? We are that wagon’. He was like ‘well, there are other Gypsy-punk bands’ and I was like ‘yes, those are the bands that are neither Gypsy nor neither punk, they sample the accordion for one second and they try and say that they are somehow influenced by like all that thing’.
MM: Despite the knock-backs you had back then it seems eventually you found the right labels for your music: Rubric and Side One Dummy. Do you feel you have had sufficient freedom with these labels?
GB: We would not be with it if there would be any shadow of some kind of super guidance. It’s a hard thing to find these days where labels step behind you with your music.
MM: How is Gogol Bordello’s arguably punk-political attitude received in New York?
GB: New York loves us, because New York, first of all, is not America, you will never feel like ‘America’. There is no predominant majority of people; you never feel like you [are under] this ‘identity axe’. I think in outer-US, it’s like all the rigid, stiff tendencies of Americans are there, but I think we hit them from such a crazy angle that they basically gave up because its way overpowering, it’s too much of a wild beast. Also, with all the stiffness of Americans I think our music is gaining more political meaning. I think our music would be less political in Italy or France.
MM: Do you think that is that just because of the way people interpret things?
GB: Just because people are so much caught up in the political matters. Countries are nothing but earth, that’s basically all [they are], but the whole concept of political territories, that supposedly supports your identity is wrong, because like the Czech Republic, the way it’s cut out as a territory, was decided by America from WW1.
GB: I wouldn’t really want to tell people where we are going to go next; but the soul of Gogol Bordello will always remain this drunken gallop, Gypsy two-step from Eastern Europe, but other things will always come in on the way.
words: Rachael Clegg
pictures: (c) Gogol Bordello Website
(c)(p) January 2006 - mbm licenced to musicdash