Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, Downtown Boys are a fired-up five-piece whose pull-no-punches lyrics highlight harsh truths and amplify queer, Latinx voices — with joyful resilience and radical humor.
Downtown Boys (no, they're not all boys) lit up my radar six years ago when I saw a Tumblr photo of singer Victoria Ruiz on stage with her fist extended, screaming through a cloud of metallic streamers and wearing a shirt that read "I JUST LOOK ILLEGAL." I was instantly intrigued.
The band's horn-fortified punk sound and powerful protest-like choruses compel audiences to move and feel, transforming venues into bilingual dance parties. They even cover Bruce Springsteen. Their jaw-dropping animated music video for "Wave of History" is like a kick-drum-driven Howard Zinn history lesson punctuated by catchy sax, and the band's latest album, Cost of Living, has that same urgent snarl but with velvety synth edges.
The Inlander recently emailed band members Joey DeFrancesco, Victoria Ruiz, Joey Doubek and Joe DeGeorge; the interview has been edited for length.
INLANDER: When I listen to your music, I think of X-Ray Spex, Bikini Kill and Rage Against the Machine — loud bands singing about their personal experience with oppression, yet often categorized as "political" bands. Do you think "political punk" is an accurate description of Downtown Boys?
DeFRANCESCO: All those bands are great and important influences. I think "punk" can be an unfortunate term because it carries so much baggage at this point. I'd say we're influenced by, and want to be, a band that puts a lot of emotion, energy and social and political concern into our music. Bands that do that can be punk, hip-hop, dance, jazz, whatever. We plug in those characteristics and it comes out how it does.
RUIZ: I think that our genre is like "hustling rock 'n' roll." We work really hard to get out there because we appreciate so, so much being able to play shows to people who want to be there or who are at least wondering what we are about enough to stay for a few songs.
With an album titled Full Communism and song names like "100% Inheritance Tax," you've always been up-front about your far left-leaning values. How do those values shape the band's inner workings and guide you through the music business?
DOUBEK: Regarding the inner workings, on tour we each take turns as "group leader" where we essentially manage the band for the day. It's a great practice in accountability and leads to happier, healthier tours. As for business, we all have day jobs so our goals are primarily to keep this project sustainable.
What do you think the rise in chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America and the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez say about the future? Do you think policies once deemed "radical left" will be more readily embraced by younger generations?
DeGEORGE: It says that other worlds are possible. We're imagining worlds with different power structures. We're choosing to organize and elect the energy to redistribute that power. In New England, we just had a massive supermarket strike with Stop and Shop workers fighting to maintain decent pay and benefits while their parent company pocketed $2 billion dollars last year.
RUIZ: I think it says that people are desperate for change and are making new holes through ceilings to let the sun shine. I don't think we can put anything or anyone on too high of a pedestal.
In the past, you've worked with smaller record labels (Don Giovanni, Sister Polygon) or self-released music. But your latest album is on Sub Pop, a label with far bigger reach. How has the switch to Sub Pop changed the way you tour?
RUIZ: Touring is its own beast, people invite you to play things from basement shows to giant festivals and everything in between for a variety of reasons. I think Sub Pop really helped get our music into the eyes and ears of many people that would have otherwise not listened to us or we just wouldn't have crossed paths with. They're kind of like a music post office that helps get your music and therefore message out there. Likewise, I think that there are bands on [Don Giovanni] and Sister Polygon that play shows or tour places that are still on our dream list! I think it really comes down to just working and working and working and loving and loving and needing what you're doing. ♦
Downtown Boys • Fri, May 17 at 8 pm • Free • 21+ • Lucky You Lounge • 1801 W. Sunset Blvd. • luckyyoulounge.com