Downtown Boys aren’t interested in freedom unless everyone’s invited. Since the Providence, Rhode Island, punk band formed in 2011, they’ve made it their mission to challenge capitalist entities, including the music industry. True to form, their new album, Cost of Living, fearlessly critiques complacency as well as political and economic systems that only value excess.
Downtown Boys’ music moves you, both physically and emotionally. Across 12 tracks, lead vocalist Victoria Ruiz chants powerfully over feverish riffs and snappy saxophone. Cost of Living sounds raw but clean, thanks to spotless production from Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto. Bruce Springsteen’s influence is also apparent—the band even covered “Dancing in the Dark” on their last album, 2015’s Full Communism.
“I don’t know if it’s like this anymore, but everyone [in the E Street Band] would get paid the exact same as Bruce,” Ruiz says. “What he’s done with his model of music is so inspiring, and a lot of his lyrics really get at that relentless, gritty desire and hope. You know it’s not about any dogmatic form of happiness or success. It’s about something that’s deeper than anything we probably know. That’s something we’ve tried to bring out in both Malportado Kids [Ruiz’s digital cumbia project with guitarist Joey DeFrancesco] and Downtown Boys.”
Tracks like “I’m Enough (I Want More)” and “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)” will make you feel both heard and enraged. Ruiz—who’s both a musician and community organizer—says the band is continually examining how best to utilize its platform to fight for collective power. Their survival within the music industry is itself a form of resistance.
“You have this vision and this dream for future and for justice, but you simultaneously have to navigate the status quo,” she explains. “So we’re always remembering—even when we’re playing spaces like [the Budweiser Made in America Festival]—that we’re navigating reality in order to push for something bigger. Those spaces are powerful institutions, but we shouldn’t let them have more power than they actually have.”
Ruiz says that rather than comparing the merits of playing DIY versus commercial venues, it’s more meaningful for her to look at the bigger picture and every person’s role within it, from audience members to the media. Because of Downtown Boys’ explicitly political lyrics, says Ruiz, “We get asked questions that other people don’t get asked, even though we all have a role and have agency. That form of emotional labor happens outwardly.”
And though it can be taxing, Ruiz says she’s motivated by the fact that Downtown Boys’ music might reach another Chicana punk who needs it.
“Do I think that music can set us free? No. Do I think that music is a tool in a bigger movement for justice? Yes.” Here’s hoping Downtown Boys never stop shouting.