The never-ending conversation about whether rock music is “dead” tends to hinge on the absence of a certain kind of rock star in contemporary pop music. This mythic person resembles a hybrid of Kurt Cobain and Axl Rose — a guitar-slinging, truth-speaking, drug-taking outsider who takes over the culture. A bad boy, with extra emphasis on boy. Because that sort of figure doesn’t seem to be prominent right now, rock must be flatlined, goes this line of thought.
If you subscribe to this theory, you’re missing the real story, which is that more and more of the best and most exciting rock bands are composed of people who were once marginalized in the genre — women, gay and queer voices, lesbians, transgender people, and those of non-binary gender. Anyone who still expects a rock star to look and sound like an emaciated white guy with a junked-out voice is bound to be disappointed. For everyone else, these are exciting times of hope and renewal, in which the best young rock songwriter on the planet is Courtney Barnett, the most charismatic young rock singer is Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, and the reigning punk icon with Joe Strummer/Joey Ramone-level gravitas for the current generation is Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!
Enter one of the best young live rock bands in the world right now, the Brooklyn pop-punk duo PWR BTTM (pronounced “power bottom”). Composed of Ben Hopkins (who is queer) and Liv Bruce (who identifies as queer, non-binary, and transfeminine), PWR BTTM formed four years ago when Hopkins, 25, and Bruce, 24, met as students at Bard College in upstate New York. From the beginning, the band’s concept co-mingled high with low culture, intellectualism with party-hearty fun, humor with pathos, and the expressly personal with the broadly political. (“We reek of liberal arts,” Bruce confessed drolly to The Fader.)