Lou Reed once recorded an entire album of white noise. The electronica group Herbert sampled surgery-the sounds of spleens being sliced and epidermal cell colonies going up in a sizzle of laser technology. Now that's experimental.
Every description of New York City quintet Gogol Bordello uses that catch-all "experimental" term. Experimental really should be replaced with an entire clause when referring to music. Something akin to: "Doesn't sound like the ABABAB pop we hear on AAA radio, the type of stuff that microchip-brained chess champion Deep Blue cranks out in its off time."
"There is much chaos in [our music]," contends Gogol's frontman, Eugene Hutz. "It is also very crafted."
Sure, they've performed with Mongolian throat singers and ballerinas. Their live shows often turn into vaudevillian skits, like when dancers imitating Russian border police took a rope to Hutz and he sung an entire song hog-tied like a Cold War defector. Last album, their producer invited drunks into the studio and the band recorded tunes lying on their backs. Ripping solos with your sensitive anatomy exposed to stumbling sots is pretty experimental... or maybe just stupid.
But if you really listen to Bordello's two releases, Voi-La Intruder and Multi Contra Kulti Vs. Irony, the music respects melody. Simple melody, even. Though fond of the corrosive breakdown and extracurricular mini-solos, their migrant cabaret is undercut by cantina-like feel-good song.
It must be the lyrics that people find so experimental: some songs are based on a novella Hutz wrote, in broken English, inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov's political conspiracy, The Master of Margarita.
"I was 13 beers drunk/where myself I heard I say/I ventured on New York freeway/shall I be classic self-crasher/ or be a goat slasher?!" on Multi Contra Kulti sure sounds drunk, but being drunk is only experimental for kids named Jebediah.
Only a Russian-born immigrant like Hutz could stumble onto such mongoloid metaphors. His poesy is a compelling bastardization of the English language, like magnetic poetry in the hands of someone mentally ill.
Hutz says he's nearly perfected English now, and is bored. Of course, as he's saying this, he sounds like a con artist who couldn't afford ESL classes:
"Now that my English is approaching pretty much right altogether, I feel like I have to start writing in Spanish. I really enjoyed the not knowledge of all the rules of syntaxes. There was something very brilliant about using all these new words when you didn't know all their meanings."
Indeed, there is something smart and wordly, if not brilliant, about Gogol Bordello. Hutz coined the term "gypsy punk cabaret" to describe it, and now New York hipsters and art fags can't get enough of their ramshackle Slavic-ness.
Really, they're just five foreign dudes making sense of this community of commerce called America. At age 14, Hutz' family fled Kiev to avoid growing extra ears as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear spill, which was 60 miles from his home. He spent three years in refugee camps in Poland, Hungary, Austria and Italy before coming to New York. His bandmates are from the Ukraine and Israel-two more countries that haven't quite registered on any "Top 10 Time Share Locations" lists.
"I think the authenticity comes not from the fact that it's so attached to the tradition. It comes from the fact that it is the product of a real immigrant lifestyle," Hutz says.
That's it. Hutz and crew approach their native music with a filmmaker's dedication to authenticity-where dirty-fingered Russkie field-workers jig with apron-wearing, lard-scented matriarchs at the only feast of the horrible, pitiful year.
Americans see Gogol Bordello as experimental because, though we've heard Brits and Japanese and Latinos explore alternative music, Eastern European refugee hoe-downs haven't been aired on much more than NPR talkathons.
Call Webster's: Global illiteracy is the new synonym for "experimental."