Tr38cho of Old City on How to Be a Man (Read: Good Person) in DIY Communities

Old City is a Philadelphia/Buffalo-based hip-hop/punk collective composed primarily of the eponymous producer Old City and rapper Tr38cho, who bring in other members of these musical communities for collaborations. Their latest release is “Class Act,” an explosive tribute to women in punk featuring Shawna Potter of War on Women as well as backing vocals from Melissa ‘Winter’ Hurley (BadXMouth, Pissbath) and Nastya Pavlov (Messed Up). The song premiered on BrooklynVegan in mid-May, and it combines a few of my favorite things – a good hip hop/punk mash-up in the style of The White Mandingos (rapper Murs’ 2012 collab with Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains) or Ho99o9, and men policing other men in DIY scenes – so when they approached me for an interview, I couldn’t say no.

The intersection of these genres goes back as far as the genres themselves. The origins of punk in Britain in the 1960s owes heavily to reggae and dub, and by the 1970s, punk and hip hop were flourishing simultaneously. But because they attracted an “outsider” demographic, they relied heavily on a DIY ethos. “In one group you have a bunch of poor white kids, and in another group you have a bunch of poor Black kids, the misfits,” Tr38cho explains. “Black people weren’t going to clubs in Manhattan in New York city, in the Bronx, you know? They were going out in the park. They say, there’s the classic line, ‘Power from the streetlights made the place dark.’ We couldn’t go to the clubs so we brought the clubs to the street.” He noted too that basement shows have existed as long as punk, and even once you reached clubs with more legitimacy like CBGB, you might find Blondie on stage with Fab 5 Freddy.

“Class Act” offers classic, irresistible basement show energy, with Tr38cho dropping lines like “Pardon me/I don’t mean to alarm you/I just think it’s dope how you redefine normal” over a tight beat sampling Pennywise’s “Society,” produced by Old City. He goes back and forth with Potter, set over a visual video that sews together clips of all of contemporary punk’s best female artists.

Tr38cho explains the idea originated from a deep respect for the courage and “special something” these women bring to the genre. “I was, I don’t want to say envious, but had always fangirled women in punk,” he says. “You can hear a thousand bands that are like Black Flag or Dead Kennedys, and then as soon as you throw a woman’s voice into it, it’s immediately a very interesting sound vocally. So my appreciation for that came out. Let’s try to write a song that’s not like, I want you to be my girlfriend, but it’s like, let me be that girl.”

This is a refreshing take from a man in the DIY punk community, one that is often plagued by sexual misconduct and struggles to live up to the progressive ethos that once defined the genre. This thought process is crucial and necessary, because at least from my personal experience, men tend to get defensive when women tell them the many ways they’ve wronged them (we all remember #NotAllMen, yes?). A lot more progress can be made a lot more quickly when men stand up to police the behavior of their fellow men, a belief Tr38cho is quick to confirm.

“I feel like every white dude in these types of scenes, when they hear stuff like this, they immediately go to punisher mode,” he says. “You add the layer of toxic masculinity where somebody’s friend was groped or whatever, and the guy comes out of nowhere and is like ‘I’m gonna kill that dude!’ And it’s like okay, hold on, before you go, you could stop the situation but I don’t need to hear your theories on how all rapists should be killed. Just handle the fucking situation at hand. And be aware that some of your actions may mimic those [same people who wronged your friend].” He adds that it has to be an “everyday” thing, and that men should constantly be checking themselves in terms of how they react to volatile situations such as these, or even something as seemingly innocuous as why they are attracted to a certain woman and how they treat her as a result. 

Tr38cho also notes the intersectionality of it all, that as long as one group of people is oppressed, everyone is oppressed. “As a Black person I have a perspective, like I feel this way as a Black man, [so] this could be a thing that women feel like,” he says. “I grew up with women, I got a lot of cousins, my sister, my mom, I’m married. With all these women who surround me, you get those perspectives, you hear them and sometimes you have to be wrong for a second… And I do with LGBTQIA communities and feminist communities, what I would like done from white men towards the Black community.” 

While he would definitely like Old City to release a “party song” sooner or later, their work lately has focused primarily on thorny issues. In addition to “Class Act,” they’ve written a few songs dealing with police brutality, and hope to drop a song soon in the vein of Blink 182’s “Adam’s Song.” “It’s not just women who bear the weight of toxic masculinity,” he says. “It’s men. That song particularly brings out male vulnerability between two men, and how vulnerability between men is just not promoted enough. Without some sort of gaze of football, or sports, you have to have an extra layer. Men can’t just be vulnerable with each other without a reason for it.”

In the end, I share the world of Old City with the Audiofemme universe not only so you can rage to some good, old-fashioned punk rock this summer, but also that we might all find some hope in the fact that there truly are some good guys out there doing the work. For a lack of a better phrase than #NotAllMen, some of them really do want to heal these tender spots and make DIY communities, and the world at large, a more positive place for everyone. And Old City is it.

Follow Old City on Instagram for ongoing updates.

The Decade’s Best Books by Women in Music

If I hadn’t read Sara Marcus’ Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, I wouldn’t be a rock writer. It was 2013. I had recently graduated art school and was dividing my time between three retail jobs: a liquor store, a grocery store, and a clothing store. One of my friends had recommended it to me, and even though I didn’t think of music as a big part of my identity anymore — something I’d felt pushed out of because I didn’t have the right taste or the correct opinions or the appropriate body of knowledge — I suddenly found myself reading about music a lot.

Maybe it’s because I was hanging out with female DJs. Or I wanted to ably push back when men told me everything that was wrong with what I listened to in break rooms. After four years of honing how my eyes took in information, it’s possible I was trying to improve my ears, too. But when I read Marcus’ 2010 release on long bus rides between cash registers, something in me changed.

Girls to the Front blends passion with criticism, betraying Marcus’ clear love for and intimate experience with riot grrrl while carefully laying out its many skeletons. Male critics love to trot out the feminist punk phenomenon as evidence they remember women play music, too: “I’m not sexist; I’ve heard of Bikini Kill!” But Marcus declares the movement as an important part of music history worthy of critical scrutiny — and hardly a beginning or end point for women in rock. Reading her book turned on a light in me I didn’t realize existed, and made me want to build on her work.

I don’t think I was the only one to react that way, either. In many respects, Girls to the Front anticipated the next 10 years of music books. 2010 to 2019 was a banner time for publishing women writing about rock. And I’m not just saying this as someone who was so inspired by a book about ladies’ sweat-stained expressions of rebellion that I made a slow professional shift; I have the receipts. Not only did this decade give us more women’s stories, but we also witnessed small but meaningful strides in the kinds of stories prioritized (memoirs from the likes of Kim Gordon, Liz Phair, Carrie Brownstein, et al became so ubiquitous they didn’t even fit into this list). What follows is a roving, incomplete list of books — one from each year — that marked small but powerful shifts in the rock ’n’ roll landscape.

2010: Patti Smith’s Just Kids

The 2010 debut from ’70s punk-poet icon set a new standard for memoirs well beyond the rock pantheon. In lyrical prose, Patti Smith describes her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe — its evolution from friendship to romance to creative wellspring. Even more than a eulogy for one of her most formative friendships, though, it’s a love letter to her influences: Jean Genet, Arthur Rimbaud, William Burroughs, and so on. She gives longform life to Rainer Maira Rilke’s romantic ideas of art as a calling. And because of this title’s wild success — it was a bestseller that garnered numerous awards including the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction — Just Kids opened the memoir floodgates for everyone from Kim Gordon to Ani DiFranco.

2011: Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music

Ellen Willis is probably best remembered as a feminist cultural critic who touched on everything from decriminalizing drugs to antisemitism on the Left. Somewhat lesser known is that she began her career as a music writer. In 1968, Ellen Willis became the first pop music critic at The New Yorker — the first ever music critic to write for a national audience. Despite influencing writers such as Griel Marcus and Ann Powers, Willis died in 2006 never seeing her music criticism get its due. In this tome, her daughter, Nona Willis Arnowitz, brings together writing that, while very of its time, was a hugely important landmark for music coverage.

2012: Alice Bag’s Violence Girl

Before she was releasing Christmas tracks about punching nazis or clacking away on typewriters alongside Allison Wolfe and Kathleen Hanna, Alice Bag was screaming with The Bags. She first cemented her punk legacy with a cameo in Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization, but Bag has long proven her stay power. In her book, she describes growing up Latinx in L.A.; unlearning the violence she grew up surrounded by; going hip-to-hip and lip-to-lip with both men and women; and how these experiences shaped her life’s work as an activist, educator, and musician. Early L.A. punk was queer and brown, and it had so many women — and Alice Bag will not let you forget.

2013: Evelyn McDonnell’s Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways

I do a women’s rock history podcast, and my first season is on the Runaways; there may be some heavy bias in this choice. But I’m letting it stand because Evelyn McDonnell has long written about the varied and important ways women have contributed to popular culture, and to me, this is her magnum opus. Queens of Noise provides cultural context while separating fact from fiction for one of rock history’s most storied, undervalued bands. In 2015, the Runaways’ bassist Jackie Fox revealed she was raped by the band’s manager and producer, Kim Fowley. While McDonnell’s book hints at this, she resists outing Fox or even letting Fowley’s predatory, abusive behavior define the band’s legacy. The book is not about what was done to these women; it’s about what these women did for themselves.

2014: Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

While Viv Albertine’s memoir tells the story of being an influential musician at the center of 1970s British punk, it’s also an account of everything that comes after that: marriage, motherhood, cancer, divorce — even relearning how to play the guitar. Among other things, Albertine reveals shrinking her musical past to emotionally accommodate her husband and fighting with her publisher to forego a ghostwriter. Thank the stars she won that fight, because her voice is strong, insightful, and intimate. One of the simple elegances of Albertine’s autobiography is how she marks time in a way familiar to so many women and femme music lovers: what she was wearing in that moment, what she was listening to, and who she was dating.

2015: Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic

When I initially saw this in a bookstore, I actually scoffed. At the time, I was regularly reading so much excellent music criticism from women that my brain couldn’t yet wrap itself around the bold and unfortunate fact of the title. Highlights include Jessica Hopper’s essay on emo (“Where the Girls Aren’t”); Hole fact-checking Wikipedia during an oral history of Live Through This; and an interview with journalist Jim DeRogatis where Hopper unpacks her initial instinct to separate R. Kelly’s art from his abuses and admits that was a mistake.


2016: Laura Jane Grace’s Tranny

Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace uses diaries entries dating back to the third grade to open up about transitioning, which makes it a landmark trans memoir. But beyond what the book means for transgender visibility, Grace also talks about what led her to punk and anarchism; being part of one of the most celebrated punk bands of the aughts; and reconciling her DIY punk past with finding commercial success — and what it meant when early audiences rejected Against Me! for “selling out.”


2017: Jenn Pelly’s The Raincoats – The Raincoats (33 1/3)

Stories of ’70s heroines really came of age this decade, but so did the critics raised on them. If contributing Pitchfork editor Jenn Pelly’s articles are like singles, here was her first LP. Drawing on glimpses into the Raincoats’ personal archives and using interviews from bands such as Sleater-Kinney and Gang of Four, Pelly provides a tender, collage-like account of the Raincoats’ self-titled debut and how its influence lives on. But perhaps as important as the book was its New York launch party, which bridged multiple generations of music. In attendance was a veritable who’s-who of women in rock, and it led to Bikini Kill’s reunion tour.

2018: Michelle Tea’s Against Memoir

Against Memoir is exactly what the title suggests: it’s not a memoir, but it’s not NOT a memoir, either. Which also to say, it’s not a music book, but it’s not NOT a music book. Some writers observe things like how music is made or who it’s made with; Tea chronicles what happens after it’s heard, sandwiching it between myriad other cultural observations and self reflections. The result is a piecemeal queer history of music that resists historicization. Highlights include her “Transmissions from Camp Trans” — Camp Trans being the trans-inclusive music festival that sprung up across the road from trans-exclusionary Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival — and her history of HAGS, a ’90s San Francisco dyke gang orbited by Tribe 8 who kept bands like L7, Lunachicks, and 7 Year Bitch on heavy rotation.

2019: Shawna Potter’s Making Spaces Safer: A Guide to Giving Harassment the Boot

Drawing on over 20 years of experience fronting the hardcore band War on Women, Shawna Potter has been an active voice for improving physical and psychological safety for marginalized people in music spaces. She’s led trainings at large clubs and tiny DIY venues alike, and now she has a book of actionable advice for minimizing and responding to harassment. Potter takes the conversation beyond acknowledging the aggression targeted at so many people in music, especially women and gender-nonconforming people, and declares, “Here’s some things we can do about it.” This, like so many other titles on the list, gives us a glimpse into what the next decade (hopefully) holds: a more inclusive future for women in rock – musicians, fans, and writers alike.