It’s tempting to want to categorize Downtown Boys. Rolling Stone, for example, dubbed the Providence, Rhode Island-based quintet “America’s most exciting punk band.” Flattering, sure, but inaccurate.
“We don’t really use the word ‘punk’ because it puts us in a position where we’re required to defend or explain a term we didn’t put on ourselves,” Joey DeFrancesco, the band’s guitarist who writes most of their music, retorted when I mentioned the anointment, noting that punk purists would vehemently disagree with that assessment. They’re punk-ish, but sorry, Rolling Stone, Downtown Boys isn’t the shape of punk to come.
They’re also not a Latinx band. For the unfamiliar, the term “Latinx'” is a more inclusive, ungendered version of ‘Latino/Latina” that acknowledges those within the community that don’t conform to the gender binary. “We are Latinx-powered, but we have white membership,” Victoria Ruiz, lead singer and principal songwriter, clarified during our phone interview. “Having Latinx membership is very important to us, and it’s part of our message and who we are as a band, but that results in people putting all of these expectations on us.”
It’s a valid point. Any person of color who’s found themselves in a predominantly white space will tell you that they often become the de facto representative of whatever group they belong to. It’s a wack classification because it suggests that Downtown Boys’ music is chiefly meant for a Latinx audience, which isn’t the case at all. Sure, some of their songs are completely in Spanish (Ruiz: “Spanish is basically a national language and we try to normalize it as much as possible.”) and they’ve been known to play a cover of “Fotos Y Recuerdos”– a well-known song recorded by Selena, the slain Tejano singer and Mexican-American/Latinx icon — at their live shows. But the bulk of their music is in English and their previous album, Full Communism, ended with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark.” You wouldn’t call Rage Against The Machine, an obvious influence on Downtown Boys, a Latinx band simply because frontman Zack de la Rocha is Mexican-American.