“Have you heard Downtown Boys? They’re the most important band in America.” As recommendations go, it was a hard one to brush off. I’m glad I didn’t. It is rare in 2014 to encounter a group as invested in working on the front lines of social change as they are in making their own inventive punk racket. Downtown Boys pump out danceable, sax-riddled anthems that rail against cops and bosses with critiques that are rigorous, heartfelt and catchy.
What’s more, by engaging directly with radical action in their own community, they’ve become one of the more vocal and overtly political bands in contemporary punk. Members Victoria and Joey — who play together in dance side project Malportado Kids — met while working in the Renaissance Hotel in Providence, and went on to spearhead a campaign to unionize the workforce in a fight against low pay and exploitative conditions. Joey became a viral YouTube sensation by quitting that same job in a very spectacular fashion. Victoria became a social worker for the Rhode Island Public Defender, where she has helped organize against collaboration between immigration enforcement and local police. Downtown Boys prove that radical messages transmit fastest when accompanied by unforgettable deliberate action. This is especially true of the video for their first single “Slumlord Sal” — on Priests‘ Sister Polygon imprint — a police-hatin’, ass-shakin’ riot of utopian fantasy.
I spoke to Victoria and Joey about their mission, bringing people together through dance and critiquing some of the biggest names in punk. Excerpts below, the rest is here: here: http://www.wonderingsound.com/feature/downtown-boys-self-titled-political-punk-up-next-interview/
“There is a person [at the show] who looks likes I did when I was 16 — nerdy, brown and dirtying the cultural hegemonic brainwash.” Every time we play, I think that we are going pretty deep down into the darkest and brightest places of ourselves, pulling out emotions from our subconscious and conscious desires, dreams and future. We are trying to relate to people. A lot of us in the band have worked in relational organizing, where you build relationships with people in order to create demand for change. It is the same thing with people at shows. We hope to meet people where they are at. It is crazy to look to the audience and be like, ‘Wow — there is a person here singing the lyrics louder than I am, there is a person here slowly unfolding their arms and slowly moving their head, there is a person here who looks likes I did when I was 16 — nerdy, brown and dirtying the cultural hegemonic brainwash.’ [At our shows] I want people to be with us and feel completely relevant and important. — Ruiz
“We’re at a point culturally where to be subtle is to guarantee appropriation by hip neoliberal capital.” We have things we want and need to see change in the world, and we’re not going to get those things by being subtle. A hundred years ago symbols and aesthetics could be dangerous, but it’s a different historical moment. We’re at a point culturally where to be subtle is to guarantee appropriation by hip neoliberal capital. You can talk about revolution in Hunger Games and it means nothing. There’s a restaurant in Providence called “Cuban Revolution” that has a giant banner outside of it that says “The Revolution is Now.” It means nothing. Capital has done a remarkable job of defanging both resistance and young people, by packaging up rebellion as an individualistic lifestyle choice that’s mostly about making “alternative” consumer decisions. We don’t want to be a part of that, and so we say what we mean very directly and seriously.
“I’m about to take you on, I’m about to insert so much pain and beauty into you, I’m about to make you feel very uncomfortable.” Working actively for the power of the people is a very political action. If punk were not inherently political, then it would probably never have existed. Punk holds no static definition, but is constantly changing in order to meet the cultural hegemony where it’s at and to say, ‘I’m about to take you on, I’m about to insert so much pain and beauty into you, I’m about to make you feel very uncomfortable.’ And then punk produces people like me and you. — Ruiz