Sanjay Suchak

Gogol Bordello’s All-Inclusive Punk Rock Victory

A class act since ’99, Gogol Bordello has remained grounded and respected. Their edginess, their roar, their energy, and their theatrics is real – but so is their awareness.

If you’re looking for a highly memorable way to end 2022, your best bet is to check out a show by legendary gypsy punk rockers Gogol Bordello. They’ll play on December 28 at Brooklyn Bowl in Philadelphia, and December 29, 30, and 31 at Brooklyn Bowl in New York City. (Each night will also feature different opening acts that range from longtime punk legends to newer bands, including Murphy’s Law, Incendiary Device, Balaklava Blues, Crazy & The Brains, and Puzzled Panther.)

This is the 15th year in a row that Gogol Bordello have done a run of New Year’s Eve shows in New York City and environs. Since the last time they did this, though, the band have taken on a prominent new role: helping to raise funds and awareness to help Ukraine prevail in the war with Russia. This is a personal mission for singer/guitarist Eugene Hütz, who was born in Ukraine. Though his family moved away when he was a teenager, eventually settling in America, he has retained close ties with his native country.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine this past February, Gogol Bordello’s shows have remained exuberant and energetic, but there’s a new sense of urgency added to the mix. “Doing our musical inspirational work had an extra charge to it this entire time,” Hütz says, during a recent video call from his New York City home. “It’s been in this frame of mind where it’s beyond just celebration – it’s actually necessary as inspiration to pull through the toughest of times. So we’ve been motorizing that movement from the first second of it. It’s a great effort, but it’s a very rewarding effort, and we’re excited with everybody who’s joining forces with us.”

Gogol Bordello may be the most famous band with ties to Ukraine, but Hütz is careful to point out that they are far from the only ones working to support the war effort through their music. “Music has actually been a huge part of the resistance movement in Ukraine,” he shares, pointing to TikTok videos of Ukrainian fighters on the front lines who have brought musical instruments into the trenches so they can recharge and raise their spirits by creating music when they can.

But Hütz knows that, for many people around the world, he is the most famous Ukrainian musician, which gives him an added level of responsibility to help since this conflict began. He is fine with taking on that role. “There will be no rest until the final victory of Ukraine on that front,” he says firmly.

However, he also adds that he looks forward to the day when he can go back to spreading gypsy punk rock joy without making political messages the main focus. “My true calling, my bandmates’ true calling, is music, so that’s really what we do best. I would love to do most of my work in that area without it getting tangled up all over the place. It’s the nature of times: that extra effort is necessary and we will continue doing it. But luckily, this situation is temporary. This war will be finished and Ukraine will win.”

In truth, though, since their formation in 1999, Gogol Bordello have always been a socially conscious band. With a wildly inventive musical mix of Eastern European traditional instrumentation and hardcore punk rock rebelliousness, they’ve championed inclusivity, highlighted the struggles of immigrants, and questioned authority.

Hütz, in particular, has been praised as an exceptionally charismatic frontman, and has been credited with being the first musician to bring his Romani (gypsy) heritage to worldwide prominence. He is quick to share credit with his bandmates, however, pointing out that the diversity within the band’s ranks is likely the main reason for their music’s widespread appeal.

“The band is comprised of people from all over the world. Latin America, Eastern Europe, the States,” Hütz highlights. “Over the years, we had people who were from Australia and England. That kind of all-inclusive vibe is very liberating to a lot of people. I think it’s a pretty strong antidote to the politics of separation. It liberates people to experience themselves as just human beings, beyond any kind of ideologies. Because we live in a highly politicized world – it’s been politicized for a very long time – I’ve actually always thought of music primarily as a psycho cathartic physical therapy.

“The music that you hear of Gogol Bordello, that’s the balance that it becomes from this incredible dis-balance that we are witnessing,” he continues. “Music is the healer. Music is the equalizer. When the right music is on, we all know how we feel instantly transported into another world. You’re still standing on the same floor, but you feel like you’re somewhere else. The right kind of music can really have you levitate above the problems.”

That kind of transportive experience is very likely to occur at these New Year’s Eve shows, especially because the New York concerts will serve as the band’s hometown record release party for their eighth studio album, Solidaritine, which released earlier this fall. 

Hütz knows that expectations will be particularly high for these shows, but the thought of it makes him light up with a smile. “That’s the kind of pressure I love! That’s the kind of pressure you want because it’s like, ‘Come and check it out and see how far we took it this time!’” He laughs and adds, “The band is red hot and [we’re] super psyched to drop all that supercharged energy on our hometown crowd.”

Although Hütz is probably the most famous Ukrainian-born musician in the world, he points out that he has actually lived in New York City for most of his life. When he first got involved in the city’s music scene, he recalls admiring trailblazing punk artists who had come before, such as the band Suicide, and as he formed Gogol Bordello, he was determined to emulate their fearless, innovative approach – and it worked. Even now, almost a quarter century later, there is no other band that sounds like Gogol Bordello.

“That was the idea, to create our own new punk rock that shakes it all up once again,” the frontman explains. “At the end of the day, we’ve all got to thank New York City for being a place that allows for these energies to come together. That’s the city that gave us everything. Without New York, there would be no Gogol Bordello. No Paris, no London, no Montreal, no L.A. could ever get that kind of energy behind us.”

So with these upcoming shows, he shares, “We are celebrating the New York City scene as it’s bouncing back from this lockdown dishevelment. People are sick and tired of shoegazing in their apartments – people are charged by being together, by sharing kind of a tribal dance around the fire. It’s a very healing experience.”