Style: punk, ska, rap, ethnic
Label: Essay Recordings Year: 2009 Home: Berlin, Germany
Members: Yuriy Gurzhy ~ guitar/bass/vocals Simon Wahorn ~ bass/guitar/vocals Dorka Gryllus, MadMilian ~ vocals Dan Freeman ~ sax Max Bakshish ~ sax/clarinet Daniel Kahn ~ accordian Anke Lucks ~ trombone Jan Pfennig ~ drums
What comes to mind when you mix together the musical aggression of punk with the funky backbeat of ska? Probably many bands, actually, including the famed No Doubt that helped make ska mainstream. How about when you mix acoustic European gypsy music with free flowing Klezmer horns & female vocals lines? Probably that ethnic album of gypsy violin music your NPR listening uncle likes to play but you only find chaotically & exotically strange. Okay, now the challenge question. What about when you mix the ska, punk, gypsy & klezmer together & even through in a dash of hip-hop? No, I'm talking about a joke album by Wierd Al, though considering some of his experiments that might be a good guess. I'm actually referring to the popular German group Rotfront that does indeed mix all of the above, & quite successfully, creating something that I would highly recommend seeking out. Founded in 2003 by DJ's/guitarists Yuriy Gurzhy & Hungarian Simon Wahorn, Rotfront, or in its full form, the Emigrantski Raggamuffin Kollektiv RotFront, is as much a political-musical movement as it is a cohesive band with its rotating door of musicians depending upon the desired outcome & gig. It's half party band with a ska backbeat behind Klezmer-esque horn solos & a rotating line-up of male & female singers & occasional rapper ... a distorted rock guitar appears only in the bridge of "Klezmerton" ... but at the same time is clearly a punk band with a socially relevant message underneath the fun. It's a bit easy to even dismiss the message as the music is so upbeat & the singing careful & often comical ... everything but angry ... but the disgruntled feelings with society are clearly there & hidden just enough to catch you off guard. Though, it should be noted that the songs are in either German, Russian or Hungarian, so one has to assume that the few English songs share similiar themes as their foreign brethren. "Sovietoblaster", one of the best English songs which verges on hip-hop, paints a deceptively content yet dismal picture of the Soviet Union with underground contract killers. Or another example is the chorus of "Red Mercedes" with "the world is going mad, it makes me feel bad ... my red mercedes will take me away ... everywhere I go I smell destruction, but who remembers what they're fighting for", or from "Rotfront FM" with "no heating on a winter morning, is a sign of global warming ... making love is the only thing we can still enjoy for free." It's hard to let that bit of woe slip past your ears unnoticed. Some songs are more punk sounding ("Kemenyek A Fenyek") while others take a more gypsy-esque free-flowing approach ("B-Style", "Berlin - Barcelona") that creates for a diverse array of music that never gets dull or predictable. The closet band I can think of to compare are the equally musicially diverse yet socially relevant Chumbawumba, who had a single hit in America but are much bigger in England, who create upbeat music filled with cutting social criticism. Like Rotfront their music is deceptively not angry sounding. It's the complete opposite of death metal bands that try to make everything angry sounding ... but it's the contrast that is the missing key ingredient. While at times (i.e. "Red Mercedes", "Devil") I recall the socially relevant Jewish hip-hop ramblings of Matisyahu with his fast rapping style. The only thing missing are guest vocals by J-Lo. She would fit in perfect. For those curious, Rotfront is German for 'Red Front', or the 'Red Front Fighters League' that was a paramilitary branch of the Communist Party of Germany that engaged in street fights with the Nazis before being banned in 1932 ... but not before having their raised arm salute borrowed by Nazis. I should also clarify that it's not necesarily gypsy music Rotfront play but more a Mediterranean style, but my American readers know immediately gypsy sounds while Mediterranean would only lead to them scratching their heads.
Posted by Aaron Joy, RMM Owner at 12:10 AM