Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chicago Irish & The Cultural Infusion

About a month ago, Terry, Andrew, and Darryl of The Pogues stepped into the guitar shop I work in for a look around before their show. These men hardly look like the type to incite rowdy shows, long past their heyday, all baby boomers. Yet, these are just the men who were pioneers in sparking a trend in punk that still burns bright today. Irish rock, Celtic punk, whatever you like to call it, it’s one of those formulas that simply works well. Faster-paced, politically charged music mixed with danceable Irish-inspired instrumentation. Even covers of some of the oldest folk songs just get better with wear.

Yes, it’s been going on for 30 years now. One would think it’s getting old at this point, but take it from a Chicagoan: we still love it. The United States has over nine times the Irish than Ireland itself, and I’ve often heard that Chicago itself has more Irish than Dublin. I would be surprised if this wasn’t true. Irish punk naturally speaks to this city, its heavy immigrant roots, rough and tough heritage, bringing pride back into a heavy Irish population. It’s only natural that Flogging Molly has spent numerous St. Patrick’s shows right here. I can’t keep track of Dropkick Murphys fans and we have our own Tossers, home-grown from the south side.

“So”, you might say, “that’s all fine and dandy about your clover-loving, Guinness-drinking city, but I’m not Irish. Why should I care?” or simply, “I’m Irish and I don’t care.” Well, you don’t have to have particular blood to enjoy the music, the music that these artists create truly speak to a wide audience, while broadcasting a cultural flavor. More importantly, the entire genre has opened the doors for even more ethnic infusions of punk. Exhibit B: Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band (wait, what?). Infusing Romani culture with political punk party music (pun intended), you can bet it’s at the very least intriguing if not down-right infectious.

Some people may find it arrogant, infusing personal cultural backgrounds into music. But rather than an over-zealous sense of ethnic pride, I feel it’s more often a voice, a color, a lens to speak from and share. Reaching out to an audience, regardless of their heritage, with your own stories from your own background can be a truly beautiful thing.

The Pogues start their European tour in July. The Dropkick Murphys are currently touring Europe, coming to the US this summer, then back to Europe. The Tossers aren't straying far from home, but they're out there too. Gogol Bordello is currently on tour in the US and will be in Europe this summer. Check em' out!

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