Robert Soko: Here we have water and wine.
Gypsy Box: Water is important. Water brings life.
Robert Soko: Abel, for the record, can you just tell me a few short words about yourself – who you are, where you come from.
Gypsy Box: My name is Abel Reyes. As an artist I’m called Gypsy Box. I come from Mexico City. I was raised there till I was 21. And then I moved to London and started a new life in Europe.
Robert Soko: And now you are in Spain. How come Spain now?
Gypsy Box: Because I was in school in London, studying fine arts, and when I finished there, my visa expired. And many people said I’d be better off in Spain. Because if you are illegal, Spain is the place to be. Also, I speak the language and so forth. I moved to Spain to see what would happen there.
Robert Soko: And if you compare London to Barcelona, where you currently live, what can you say? Or the United Kingdom with Spain.
Gypsy Box: There are huge differences, like the things in Spain are more natural. And London is also a very expensive city. It’s hard to live there.
Robert Soko: What was your natural inclination to music? Now you are 33, but in your twenties what were you into?
Gypsy Box: I was into the swing music. Because I was playing the trombone in a band in Mexico and we were playing swing. From there I started playing ska music. And then when I moved to London I started to listen to music from different kinds of cultures.
Robert Soko: Just to let me know, when did you move to London?
Gypsy Box: When I was 21. But what was interesting was that in Mexico we didn’t have this influence from all over the word. From Africa, from everywhere. So my life changed a lot in London- Because Mexico is very local. You have the tourists, but you don’t have the immigrants. You know what I mean? It’s just local people. You’ve got influences, but not like in London. So, when I moved to London, I started to listen to more African music. Not just reggae, but roots music. From Angola, for example. And then I started to listen to more Gypsy music.
Robert Soko: So basically you discovered Balkan music, Gypsy music, however you label it, in London.
Gypsy Box: I discovered Gypsy music. I heard it in Mexico where I knew it from the movies of Kusturica, but I was not very much into that, to be honest. I remember when I watched Underground. It was a great movie, and the soundtrack was great and it gave me something fresh, because I was playing trombone at the time. But I was moving in different directions. But then, when I arrived in London, I began to learn about this music, where it is coming from and the immigration that was fueling it.
Robert Soko: What does it make you feel like? Can you describe it? You know, all of a sudden there is this Eastern European, Orientally flavored rhythms.
Gypsy Box: To be honest, for me it was a coincidence because we were squatting a place in London, living for free in a flat with some guys that were from Bulgaria. They were a couple, the Bulgarians. We put on a party together to raise money for the flat. And it was in the kitchen, like forty or fifty people, and I brought some Latin American music. And we were mixing music and playing DVDs. And the Bulgarians brought all that Eastern European, Gypsy music. They showed me many bands from East Europe. So, I got influenced and started to learn, and it was great because I was living for free in London in a flat, squatting in London with parties every Saturday and DJing – but not really DJing, just playing music with DVDs. But same vibes at the end, with people dancing. All of a sudden we started to mix Latin American music, Gypsy music, Balkan music. And I started to learn where this music was coming from. It was a great experience because I was 21 living in London for free. Great parties there, great events. And then I started to find out what was going on more professionally. In the beginning it as just having fun. And it was great music.
Robert Soko: Do you remember any names of musicians you mixed, or listened to?
Gypsy Box: The other people were playing more than me, but I remember they were playing Besh o Drom. I remember they were playing more Besh o Drom at that time. I was like, what is this? It was like trance music, but it was Gypsy music, not trance music. So Besh o Drom, Goran Bregović, of course. Then they were playing the first album of Balkan Beat Box. That was something fresh at the time. This was the new influence in Gypsy music, or Balkan Music. But I was not playing that music at the time. I was playing Latin American. So I was mixing, bringing my CDs from Latin America, and I was playing that. When I moved to Argentina to live and I started playing Gypsy music as a DJ. Goran Bregović, Balkan Beat Box. But Besh o Drom for me struck me as especially cool. That was the first band that I thought, “Wow, that is something fucking great”. Besh o Drom is one act that changed my mind about music.
Robert Soko: We love to believe – I mean by “we”, the people who are dealing with Balkan music, that we were some sort of a punk movement at some point in Europe, let’s say in the middle of the nineties. Do you see it like this?
Gypsy Box: I don’t understand
Robert Soko: If you remember the punk movement – the progressive rioting, resistance sound: punk.
Gypsy Box: Of course.
Robert Soko: And the Gypsy. At some point Bregović said Gypsy music is actually pure punk. Do you see it also like that? There was something rebellious in the movement, isn’t there?
Gypsy Box: Yeah, that was the point. We were living in a flat, squatting, playing Gypsy music in a kitchen in London. There were. A lot of immigrants there. It was a very punky moment. It was punky parties. It was not rock. It was Gypsy music and the people just went crazy with these rhythms. And it was for me, like, “What the fuck is this, dude?” It was like heavy metal but with trumpets and with drums.
Robert Soko: And ever since you started playing this music. You gave yourself the name “Gypsy Box”. You are running an event called Balkan Cumbia in Barcelona and in Madrid and in London. How is it going? I mean to say now in 2022, the whole Gypsy movement has waned a bit in the time being; it has faded out a bit; it’s not hype anymore. Yet we are there. How does it feel to you?
Gypsy Box: I think of course we are not at the peak anymore with this music. But the Gypsy Balkan Cumbia parties that I am organizing are still working because the immigrants from Latin America, the immigrants of Eastern Europe are always going to be there. And the immigrants from these places will always come to listen to the their music. It’s not like the electro-swing, for example. When this electro-swing music appeared in the scene it disappeared as quickly as it arrived. This music is more than just a style of music. It’s a culture. So I think it’s never going to disappear. Cumbia is a culture. It’s part of where I come from. Balkan Gypsy music is also a culture; it’s not just a style of music. It has waned, but it is never going to disappear.
Robert Soko: Just like Porn Hub is never going to disappear from the internet.
Gypsy Box: Exactly.
Robert Soko: I love to compare Balkan music with Porn Hub.
Gypsy Box: It’s necessary. It’s fucking necessary.
Robert Soko: Speaking of which, porn, Porn-Hub, what about fucking back stage. Did you have a lot of this? How is it going with Balkan events?
Gypsy Box: The Balkan nights and the whole scene, I’m very grateful to for it all. I had a lot of experiences with great DJs and great friends, and very wild nights. Wild nights! Wild, wild, wild. Yeah, having sex in the backstage with the girl behind the bar. Because that is the good thing about this music is the people there, who are working in a club, perhaps they listen to techno or whatever. And then we destroy the dancefloor, no? Because it is totally different thing we are doing. The people who work there say, “I don’t know what this fucking music is, but I love it!” So you have experience with people who are not into this music. But they love it. And for some of them it is their first experience. I have many stories.
Robert Soko: For me what is interesting was that it was embraced in Western Europe by different communities, also the gay community or feminist community, which makes me really happy. But at the same time there is a big controversy because Balkan to some extent stands more for the macho lifestyle. It is rooted in this wild man shooting around cowboy style and not necessarily being politically correct. Yet, it has been embraced by all sorts of people once it started being a trend, being a hype.
Gypsy Box: The rock & roll, the movies, the theater, much of it comes the machismo lifestyle, if we can call it that. Which doesn’t mean that it’s bad or not bad. I had one experiences with a girl band. We shared the stage in Barcelona at a big concert, together with another band that were Gypsies. They were just making jokes backstage, like, “Guapa, what is your name?” The girls joked around a bit as well. But then two weeks after the show they started to complain that the Gypsies were very aggressive. And I said to them, “Girls, you have to realize they are not coming from a big city, these guys. They are Gypsies. They are not trying to be rude. It’s just their culture. This is the way they are trying to be nice”. And the girls say, “why do they call me gwapa? I’m a girl. And my name is whatever.” And I said, “Yeah, because you’re living in a big city and you have a good education. But they are coming from somewhere else. They are not behaving aggressively to you.” These feminists, or whatever you call them, they don’t understand this whole business with education. I’m not saying it’s good what they are doing. But you have to understand that this music is coming from rural environments, from people who have been differently socialized and educated. There are many things to take into consideration. It’s not just about playing the music and having a good time. You have to learn about where these people are coming from, rather than just complain about what appear to be sexist attitudes. Or saying, “I like this music, but I don’t like the Gypsies.”
Robert Soko: Once one old Gypsy woman said, “Nowadays everyone loves Gypsy music, but no one loves Gypsies.”
Gypsy Box: That’s true.
Robert Soko: One interesting anecdote under the heading of Japan. Let me just make a better introduction: at some point, the people from Balkanska crew invited you to play in Berlin in collaboration with SO36, all of whom stand for quite a strong feminist movement in Berlin, which is sometimes very useful concept, sometimes quite an annoying blah, blah, blah bullshit. Whatever. This I just my opinion regarding them. And then…you help me…
Gypsy Box: The point is I finished my tour in Japan, and I was touring round Japan, and then ended up in Berlin shortly after the Japan tour was over, at the Balkanska party. And the girl that was running the party, she asked me about Japan, no? “What were your experiences?” And I started to give my impressions. You can’t talk about Japanese culture if you have never been to Japan. In Japan you experience totally unexpected things. The Japanese live in a way we outsiders can’t begin to comprehend.
Robert Soko: Also with regards to sexuality. It’s just different.
Gypsy Box: In many things. So the point was I was in Japan, and I explained to this woman at SO36 that I was at a show, and I asked a couple of local guys from Tokyo if they could bring me to a local and exotic place, something a little bit different. And they said first off, “Are you sure that you want to see something local and very exotic?” And I said, well sure. And we weren’t talking about sex. I just wanted to see something a little different. And they bring me to this place that is called “Milk Bar”. When you first arrive it looks like just a regular bar. A big, big, big bar. But it looks normal; there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. But then in the back there are red curtains. And we opened the curtains, and behind the curtains there were like six capsules one after another. And then you had a lot of men – there were just men – and inside the capsules six girls. And the girls were naked, with tubes attached to their nipples, and they were giving milk. You could order a cup.
Robert Soko: Directly from their tits.
Gypsy Box: You had two options. You could have one up served from the tits. And the other option was you could go to the girl directly and suck on her nipple like a baby. Well, it was such a horrible moment for me because I saw a bunch of guys taking milk like babies. It was a very horrible, just fucking horrible. And then I realized that these men were all alone, without any families. It was not very sexual. They were not, like trying to have sex. They were just very alone, and they were feeling like they were a baby again. Very weird. So I explained the situation to this girl from Balkanska. I mean, I was just sharing an experience. I didn’t say that I had actually bought a milk or anything. I was, after all, very afraid of this, and I didn’t like it. But after I got done talking the girl got very angry with me and said I was a macho and that all the problems in the world were the result of people like me. But the point is, to be honest that moment it wasn’t about me searching out this experience. It was a coincidence. And also in Japan, you experience this kind of thing which is on the one hand very sad, but at the same time, when I witnessed that, it was more than a sexual thing it was about poor people who had a…
Robert Soko: A social deficit.
Gypsy Box: Exactly. It was not about sexual things. They were not having sex. It was just this very sad moment.
Robert Soko: It’s an amazing story. It’s such a fascinatingly good story about how you can see sexuality. And I would also feel utterly awkward to see something like this. To drink someone’s milk would be totally perverse. And yet I understand completely what you experienced. And it’s a crap situation that such a shit storm should arise from certain feminists, especially here in Germany, where some people are just very hysterical.
What happened to me, just to round it up. I was playing in Tokyo, and there were three girls who actually had something to do with the porn industry. One of them was a porn movie director. And therefor they walked around with practically no clothes on. And they loved Balkan music, and it was for me like a lightning bolt. What, there are naked girls here, almost naked girls. They were showing me their tits as though they were showing me the rings on their fingers. Ok, they wanted to take a picture with me. I was glad to do it. A picture was taken. I posted a picture and what a shitstorm I got on Facebook from certain people in Germany, me being a douchebag macho asshole etc. And I felt really furious about that. It’s just what you describe. It’s not me that I asked them to do it. This is how they act, how they deal with certain things. For us Westerners it might be awkward at times, but this is how the Japanese are, to some extenet. This is how they do it, and I don’t see anything wrong in telling the world, look, this is the way the Japanese do it; this is my experience. Am I an asshole? No I’m not. You are the asshole for judging me from your position of ignorance. Well, thanks for this; your amazing story.