While working at a Renaissance Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, Victoria Ruiz and Joey L. DeFrancesco met and bonded over their contempt for the poor working conditions and low pay implemented by the hotel’s management. Instead of sulking and commiserating with coworkers, like most of us would do, they decided to fight back against their power-hungry bosses. Ruiz and Defrancesco unionized the staff, Defrancesco became a YouTube star when video surfaced of him quitting via marching band, and finally, the duo started an activist punk group, Downtown Boys. The battle cry behind the horn-infused punk outfit was to create actually enjoyable music while also inciting social change. Downtown Boys are still instigating mosh pits and forward thinking but Ruiz and Defrancesco have branched off, swapping the horns for club beats and forming a fresh new side gig, Malportado Kids.
More often than not, politically charged music centers around the message, kicking the musical element to the wayside. For Russian radical punkers, Pussy Riot, public spectacle and harsh, screaming lyrics are their choice of weaponry against authority. Ruiz and Defrancesco, on the other hand, find power in creating melodic protests, danceable propaganda. “Political music is often cheesy or boring so no one listens to it,” said Defrancesco in an interview with Wondering Sound. “It’s ineffective propaganda. We like to dance, and so do most of our friends. It’s something that brings people together.”
Malportado Kids, meaning “poorly behaved kids,” are bilingual activist-artists fighting to reimagine police injustice, racial prejudice, immigration policies and worker’s rights. The first full-length EP, Total Cultura, sounds like the Occupy movement held a rally inside a sweaty, Buenos Aires dance club. Ruiz sings, nay spits and yells, on the eight tracks while bouncy synths play beneath. Ruiz redefines common conceptions of what it means to be a singer, like the frantic yelping of Flavor Flav minus the questionable fashion sense and muted IQ (Ruiz studied economics and architecture at Columbia University). And don’t nix the Latin flair. All the songs are in Spanish, except for “Basta Huedo,” which features an English rap verse from Downtown Boy’s drummer, Norlan Olivo. And closing out the EP is a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” an electronic rendition that haunts and uplifts somehow simultaneously. Springsteen, an activist himself, should be proud.
“Our music is a tactic for using a show space as a political education and an organizing space against cultural oppression,” remarked Ruiz for Wondering Sound. “Our lyrics and songs come directly from personal experiences with injustice, body politics, policing tactics and race issues.”
Kicking the door wide open, the EP’s first track is a shouting tirade against a racial injustice perhaps personally experienced by Ruiz. On “Mi Concha,” the Hispanic American bellows, “mi concha no es bastante blanca para ti” (“my vagina isn’t white enough for you”). Graphic, right? Blush and cringe as you like but ethnic discrimination isn’t pretty and neither is punk rock. It’s intended to provoke norms, bringing to light uncomfortable truths, both ideologically and musically. But despite the harsh imagery, “Mi Concha” evokes a Caribbean breeze wafting over a dim lit dance floor as you sway and stride, a tropical cocktail in hand. It’s through this fusion of artistry and activism—a battle cry with tropical rhythm—that Ruiz and Defrancesco hit a double-punch sweet spot. Malportado Kids may be setting out to forge a new political party, but they’re doing so with an emphasis on the “party.”
Total Cultura is available June 2nd via Dead Labour.