When the punk met the Balkan

By Liza Adebisi

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When you think of punk music, what comes to mind is something symphonically frugal or very simple in arrangement; a genre essentially economical in its configuration (think of the 2-chord song, the 2 or 3 man band) yet rich in concepts, feelings and ideas.

From another spectrum comes Balkan music and its generous display of instrumentation, with accordions, guitars, violins, violoncellos and anything else musical known to man.

If you put the two things together you get Gipsy Punk. The vogue has been loud and popular especially in the early noughties, when Gogol Bordello started taking over the music world.

This mixed genre is a hybrid child of its time; it reflects a period in which the voice of the local anarchist is being dubbed by the multi-instrumental, multi-cultured and multilingual rebel, or the Immigrant Punk as Eugene Hütz would call it.

But Erik Mut of The Worldly Savages does not like phrases such as Gipsy or Immigrant Punk. He prefers to call it Balkan Punk.

Whatever the different adjectives and descriptions, what attracted me to his band was their “worldliness”. I first stumbled upon one of their shows by mere chance at the Jamboree in East London and a few years from then I arrange to meet Erik for a chat and a drink.

I am still curious and want to know more about their cosmopolitan make up. Erik confirms that their kind of music is designed to embody his open and global perspective on the world. He tells me:

“I grew up in a multicultural environment as my parents are from Slovakia and of German origins, I was brought up in Toronto and I now live in Serbia. I travelled a lot in my twenties and visited many places in Continental Europe. The Worldly Savages, as a project, is my quest to find my home and to musically express who I am inside”

We keep talking about multiculturalism for a bit and then I ask him about his recent song Culture is not your Friend:

“Basically the best culture to be in is many cultures” he explains. “I learned this from my grandparents who lived in Bratislava in a German-, Hungarian- and Slovak-speaking territory. Belgrade, which is where I live now, is also the host of cultural collisions and cohesions, with a population that embraces German, Mediterranean and Balkan traditions – that to me makes it very interesting. Culture is Not your Friend is my tribute to Terence McKenna  – to me the concept behind it is that only one culture, the one you just happen to be born in, maybe does not teach you everything about life, about human beings – it is limiting.”

The idea of going on a musical journey to express yourself and find yourself within many countries and traditions has a very romantic appeal. Yet, as I walked home after meeting Erik, I couldn’t help but thinking that, as charming as the thought of it may be, we may all one day simply surrender to globalisation and accept being part of the one same culture… Till then we can entertain ourselves listening and dancing to Balkan punk.


Find out more about Erik & The Worldly Savages: