Lessons on oppression and liberation.
Written by Ida V. Eskamani
When I first heard Victoria Ruiz proclaim “She’s BROWN / And she’s SMART” on the band’s 2015 album Full Communism, I knew Downtown Boys would claim a permanent chunk of my heart. As a young woman of color raised by working people, it was the defiance, fearlessness, and rectitude that led me to fall head over heels in love with both punk music and social justice. It was in the pit and on the picket line where we could be our authentic selves, support one another in solidarity, and join a cause greater than ourselves.
Downtown Boys embody this critical intersection of punk music and social justice. Self-described as a “bi bilingual political dance sax punk party from Providence,” this is a group rooted in labor organizing, and are unapologetically queer and Latinx. Their most recent record, Cost of Living, mobilize the marginalized and challenge white supremacy in all its forms with furious lyrics, unrelenting rhythms and rapturous saxophone solos. This record is aggressive, honest, and a necessity.
Raw, ardent, and enraged, Ruiz’s voice thrusts the listener through lessons on oppression and liberation. The record opens with seething lyrics “How much is enough? / And who makes that call?” A Wall runs much deeper than anti-Trump sentiment; it exposes the lines of outrage designated by those in power. The lyrics “When you see him now / I hope you see yourself” expose the white supremacy ingrained in every person, and Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas) speaks on how to unlearn these entrenched behaviors. Violent Complicity is beautifully defiant, and It Can’t Wait captures racism in America with a single lyric: “You're worried I'll treat you like you treat me.” From track to track, the lyrics are explicit, and as a consequence, absolutely liberating.
It was in the pit and on the picket line where we could be our authentic selves, support one another in solidarity, and join a cause greater than ourselves. Downtown Boys embody this critical intersection of punk music and social justice.
Frenzied guitar lines and unrelenting drums dominate this record. The melodic tension resonates in your bones, and the band's inclusion of the saxophone never ceases to amaze. In the opening track, it is as if the sax is another vocalist, perfectly complimenting Ruiz’s smoldering growl. This reverberates throughout the record, along with some epic sax solos that would make Clarence Clemons proud. But this record is not all about the woodwind section. Aligned perfectly with pogo drum beats are epic breakdowns and no-nonsense grooves. The bass line in Clara Rancia is decisive, and the lead guitar in I'm Enough (I Want More) is euphoric. This record was destined for the pit.
In between these intense offerings, our hearts simultaneously rise and sink to the perfectly placed writings of Aaron Swartz in Heroes, which reads “We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story.” The record concludes with spoken word from writer and educator Vatic Kuumba in Bulletproof. Kuumba's words “Stay beyond woke / Stay safe / Stay bulletproof” speak directly to the cost of living for people of color, and provide a powerful close to this record.
Cost of Living is an urgent and earnest record. It is a call to action, set on dismantling white supremacy, cultivating solidarity, and empowering marginalized people to wield the power inherently theirs. Downtown Boys do everything with purpose and are quintessential punk. In an era where white supremacy is on the rise and people of color are systematically under attack, this record is essential.
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.