Sure, this will be a controversial superlative, but fuck it, I’m going out on a limb and declaring right now: Downtown Boys are currently the best active punk band in the United States.
I don’t make such statements carelessly.
Providence, Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys may not be a household name, even in most punk houses, but they should be. The six-piece utilizes highly danceable manic punk blasts as a soapbox for their confrontational but heartfelt radical political screeds. The self-billed “bilingual political sax dance punk party” draws many influences together to create something that sounds familiar enough to pull you onto its frantic wavelength, but refreshing enough to keep you there. One might detect hints of The Fall, Bikini Kill, The Contortions, and The Ex, as much as the obvious comparison, X Ray Spex, who Downtown Boys share more in common with sonically than simply a saxophone and female singer.
In an excellent interview on wonderingsound.com, guitarist Joey L DeFrancesco touches on what sets Downtown Boys apart from most “political punk” acts:
We like to dance, and so do most of our friends. It’s something that brings people together. That’s just a good baseline. We aren’t trying to create a distraction from the awful world, but rather help create a new world inside the show space, and hopefully inspire folks to go out and do it in the outside world, too. There’s a power and joy in that, and that goes beyond just going to a club (which is still awesome and valid). Love and rage together are greater than the sum of their parts. Political music is often cheesy or boring, so no one listens to it. It’s ineffective propaganda.
Insert appropriate Emma Goldman misquote here.
Singer Victoria Ruiz paints a picture of the vibe at a Downtown Boys show—a vibe I can personally vouch for, as I was lucky enough to see them live last year. While most of the crowd waited outside for the by-the-numbers, headlining, cool-guy-hardcore-band, a smaller contingent of folks who had never heard of opening act, Downtown Boys, were at first stunned, and soon bouncing off walls, as the band utterly transformed the room. Ruiz conveyed a depth and realness that is so lacking in most of what passes for “punk” in 2015, and the audience picked up on that bigtime.
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.
OK. I made a rather bold statement up-top, and so it comes time to provide some musical evidence to back it up.
Ladies and gentlemen, the best current punk band in the United States:
This track appears on Downtown Boys’ incredible debut 7 inch:
Their new album, titled Full Communism, features this cut: