Saturday, May 14, 2011

"EthnoPunk" with Flogging Molly and Gogol Bordello

When styles of music collide and create something unique, some pre-existing common ground is most likely already in place.  At its inception in the late 70s, punk emerged in opposition to “the establishment,” and its anti-authoritarian ideology has proven to be fertile ground for the emergence of other cross-cultural styles.  In particular, its characteristically frenzied approach has encouraged musicians who play in styles associated with other marginalized cultures to turn up the volume and play louder in order to be heard.
SwaggerFor example, I got hip to Flogging Molly a couple of years ago on the first Weeds soundtrack.  On the suggestion of a friend, I picked up Swagger, a collection of fiery jigs and plaintive ballads that set pennywhistle and accordion in opposition to aggressive drums and distorted guitar.  Although the face of Flogging Molly’s music is bright, it hides a dark lyric undercurrent.  Lyrically, they imply the discrimination that the Irish have historically endured by singing the blues in the most Irish way - by confrontationally laughing in the face of one's trials. 

It is also easy to see that overlapping styles allow Flogging Molly to be simultaneously both “punk” and “Irish” while subtly rebelling against both by being neither.  With the proper amplification, the hyperactive Irish jig becomes highly moshable, creating what is undoubtedly a high-impact St. Patrick’s Day experience.

What Flogging Molly does with Irish/Celtic music, Gogol Bordello does for Eastern European “Gypsy” music.  This ethnic group has a history of persecution that dates far back into history, but as much they are maligned they are simultaneously revered for their ingenuity and musical ability.  Gypsy music is a fluid yet distinctive mishmash of Persian and European styles with a decidedly hedonistic and virtuosic undertone.  Gogol Bordello captures this with frenetic vigor. 

Super Taranta!After having several unrelated conversations about the band with various people, I finally put Super Taranta! in the player today.  Fine, you told me so - Its awesome.  Did I mention I am stubborn?  Anyhow, Gogol Bordello modifies and updates the polka and the tarantella in a way that allows them to retain the music’s dance-party roots.  Although their obvious virtuosity may challenge the DIY aesthetic, I think that a straight line can still be traced from Gogol Bordello's singalong sideshow to punk’s anti-establishment ideology as well as its volatile musical style.  

For a more "authentic" glimpse of the so-called "Gypsy" style, as a parting gift, I refer you again to Taraf de Haidouks.  This one sounds like a bird trying to tell you your house is on fire after drinking a case of Red Bull.  Hold on to your seat.

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