Chatting with a gypsy punk

Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordello on jumping around, the extinction of culture and extracurricular DJing

Julie Seabaugh

Your band pulls out all the stops for every show, so is it difficult to top yourselves when you’re playing festivals?

It’s not really our way of thinking, how to top ourselves. It would be strange, for example, to ask a shaman, “Do you always try to top yourself when you do the ritual?” That’s not the function, to top it. It’s a particular cathartic experience that serves a cultural purpose. Topping it is really kind of enforced by capitalists, show business. It’s always going to be good. It can be good in a more introspective way or it can be good in a more extroverted way. But there are many layers to the band. Everybody wants the wild show, and we can always provide it. But actually the shows that truly, truly stuck in ours and other people’s minds were more minimal shows, which people found to be hypnotic. The whole jumping-around thing is just a little element of it. I’ve never looked at it as “jumping around.” I don’t care about “jumping around.” It just happens anyway. I don’t raise my stakes or see anything in it really besides spontaneous excitement.

What excites me the most is at this point critics and fans are starting to see the band for what it really is, which is a great Gypsy rock ’n’ roll band. I personally never relied anything on our exoticism or on any performance or anything like that. I always relied on my songwriting. And that’s what I’m excited about, that we got very nice reactions for songwriting and for the music that it brings. The rest is easy.

Any other acts you look forward to seeing at Vegoose?

I would love to see Rage Against the Machine.

Given that optimistic and forward-facing music seems to be more often created and embraced during times of widespread uncertainty, what does the critical success of Super Taranta! say about the world’s current sociopolitical landscape?

The philosophy of life that the band tries to promote has a lot to do with optimism and survival because we come from survivalist cultures where that matters a great deal. The idea of endurance and persistence is not a myth. These people’s lives are based on that. Maybe now it’s finding more resonance because before the year 2000 the world was obsessed with apocalyptic imagery, that shit is just really going to go down the tubes. Then 2000 comes and nothing happens, and things go on as before. Now the world is going to end when the natural resources burn out. That’s how it’s going to go down. The realist ideas inspire the resonance.

You frequently travel to Eastern Europe on cultural pilgrimages. Has the focus of what you look for changed over time, and are you encouraged or disappointed by the direction you see things heading?

I’m always discouraged by the direction of Eastern Europe. And as far as the condition of culture, it’s pretty much on the verge of extinction. There is a fragment that I do like to learn about it, but I have to dig pretty f--king far to get to them. Basically when I go to Ukraine I don’t really go to the capitol city or to my hometown; I go straight to the mountains. That’s where it is exciting to me. That’s where the spirit I miss is. But largely Eastern Europe needs to work on the copycat syndrome. Because that is basically what they go on for now. They’re completely infatuated with making a quick-as-possible copy of what they see in the West. In the meantime, they have hundreds of years of their own culture and tradition and school of thought, and unless they come to terms with that—which they will; it’s going to take another generation, perhaps—but the faster, the better. They need to come to terms with themselves, you know?

It’s the kind of interesting things that’s going on across the world because American kids oftentimes pack up and go to Eastern Europe in search of authenticity. And you find that just like me they have to dig into the mountains and into the extreme countryside, because people in the city are basically just as lost as people in the city here, you know? People in Italy are suddenly starting to take big pride in their phenomenon of tarantella [a traditional Italian dance], which has been around for hundreds of years, which kind of was forgotten. People in Estonia start going back to the popular Gypsy music. Same thing in South America. Even in the U.S. itself, the popularity for example of White Stripes does have to do with new generations trying to revisit their culture, part of which is blues. So it’s going on all over the world, that reinterpretation of authenticity.

What does DJing allow you to express that Gogol Bordello doesn’t?

I guess it’s just kind of the way I process information. I’ve always been a fanatical collector of music, and new music keeps being made and sent to me, and I keep finding it. I look at it as just exploring everything that’s around and maybe looking for connections between styles that are not obvious at first glance. That’s why my DJ sets are the way they are. You’ll find everything next to each other, from Romanian Gypsy music to Slayer, from flamenco to reggaeton. I don’t discriminate against any kind of music. It’s like making a symphony out of other people’s songs.

Gogol Bordello > Saturday, 12:45 p.m., Jokers Wild Stage.

DJ Hütz > Las Vegas Weekly’s Big Honkin’ After-Goose with Sparkler Dims, The Skooners, A Crowd of Small Adventures. Saturday, doors at 9 p.m., free. Beauty Bar, 598-1965.

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