When Eugene Hütz takes a righteously indignant stance regarding the rights of immigrants and refugees, he doesn’t do so from the arm’s-length comfort of a cushy liberal arts education. Hütz understands firsthand the plight of innocent people fleeing a home they love under the threat of a power unwilling to negotiate peace or coexistence: He and his family found asylum in America in the 1990s after the Chernobyl disaster forced them to gypsy around Eastern Europe for years. Hütz actually learned to play guitar on a homemade plywood instrument and used drums made out of barrels covered in layers of adhesive tape.
Hütz formed Gogol Bordello in 1999, originally dubbing his Gypsy/Punk collective “Hütz and the Bela Bartoks,” but he quickly changed it because the reference to the Hungarian composer was largely lost on American audiences. He mashed up their current name from Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol, who surreptitiously imported his native land’s culture into the Russian mainstream through his work, and the Italian word for a brothel.
Over the subsequent 18 years, Hütz and Gogol Bordello have produced one EP and 10 full-length studio/live/project albums, including the just-released Seekers and Finders. Drawing on influences as varied as Parliament/Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, Fugazi and Russian Rock band Zvuki Mu, filtered through Hütz’s Gypsy Jazz heritage, Gogol Bordello has become a passionate powerhouse of diverse musical invention, intensely frenetic theatricality and with arena Rock volume.
In 2005, Hütz played a major film role opposite Elijah Wood in Liev Schreiber’s directorial debut, Everything is Illuminated; the band members made cameo appearances in the film and Gogol Bordello contributed several songs to the soundtrack. Although they might not be a household name among mainstream Rock fans, Gogol Bordello — which has undergone numerous personnel shifts since their founding — has appeared at some of the world’s biggest music festivals, including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Roskilde, Coachella, Glastonbury, Reading, Bumbershoot and Austin City Limits, among others. Their albums have been produced by the likes of Steve Albini and Rick Rubin, and iconic music critic Robert Christgau referred to Gogol Bordello as “the world’s most visionary band.” He’s not wrong: Seekers and Finders was recorded before last year’s election and somehow seems oddly prescient, perhaps because Hütz has seen this scenario all too often.
Whatever the process, the outcome is that Gogol Bordello offers a furiously danceable solution to an ailing society.