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Can Balkan Beat Box Bring Us Together?

Mother Jones

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Ori Kaplan/DJ Shotnez

It’s 3 p.m. on a foggy August day at San Francisco’s Outside Lands music festival, but inside the Heineken Dome it feels like an after-hours party. Ori Kaplan, a founding member of the contagiously high-energy ensemble Balkan Beat Box, and formerly of the popular gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello, had just performed as his solo alter ego, DJ Shotnez. Festival goers writhed and cheered to his mix of cumbia and Balkan horns, an amalgamation of sounds he calls Global Crunk Base.

In his trailer after the set, Kaplan sparks a cigarette and kicks his feet up on a table. His appearance at the fest was one stop on a short West Coast tour to test out his new material on a non-European audience. A local promoter stops by the trailer to offer praise. “Today was really excellent,” Kaplan says, grinning. “It was a super crowd, really open and excited. I love San Francisco.”

The Israel-born, Vienna-based DJ and multi-instrument has had a love affair with the City by the Bay since his early days with Gogol, and before that with the New York band Firewater, a pioneer of the immigrant punk sound. This week, Balkan Beat Box launches a new mini-West Coast tour before heading into the studio to work on a new EP. With its members spread to the winds—Kaplan in Austria, other members in New York and Tel Aviv—the band keeps its sound fresh by “meeting on airplanes” and bringing the sounds and influences they’ve collected from their side projects back into the studio. At Outside lands, we chatted about the virtues of DJing and the origins of melting-pot music at Mehanata, a little black hole of a bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

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Can Balkan Beat Box Bring Us Together?

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