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Diverse voices are proving there's room for all in punk music

punk rock diversity
Posted at 11:04 AM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-14 13:04:03-05

BALTIMORE, Md. — It’s hard to put the band Pinkshift into a box, and that’s exactly how they want it to be.

Through sheer kismet and a little pushing, Ashrita Kumar, Paul Vallejo, and Myron Houngbedji formed the band while at college in Baltimore.

"They put up flyers like everywhere. It was in my apartment. It wasn't going to do it. I saw it. And I said no," laughed Myron, who plays drums.

"And then, we opened the door and we were like, 'Hey, you want to be in a band?'," said Ashrita, lead vocals.

A viral single with millions of plays and a cross-country tour later, Pinkshift is now on its way to becoming a stand-out band in punk music.

Although they were formed by fate, their rise is representing a new trend that’s shifting the way the genre has been viewed since its inception.

Since it came out in the 70s, punk has been a genre for rebellion, made for people who felt they didn’t fit into the mainstream, but the faces of the music have reflected just that— they've been straight, white men.

Pinkshift is the opposite of that status quo, but growing up it was hard to picture themselves on stage without seeing themselves in the music.

"The people who introduced me to alternative music were white, so I always thought of it as like, oh, like, you know, I don't own this music. This is their music," said Ashrita.

"Seeing mainly white people play this kind of music, you get really accustomed to like, at least singing wise, like the tambour of their voice and that sort of like sets the standard of like, what is good," said guitarist Paul. "So, growing up, whenever I like started to make my own songs and like trying to write lyrics and in singing to them, I was just like, it didn't sound like what I wanted it to sound like this, because I was trying to achieve a sound that like, I just couldn't, you know?"

From his studio outside of Philadelphia, grammy-nominated producer Will Yip has put his touch on some of the most highly praised alternative and punk albums of the last decade-plus.

"It's been very, very cool to see through, you know, the last 20 years definitely a change happening and it makes sense that other people are getting touched by it," he said.

From behind the soundboard, he’s also seen the genres he loves become more representative of society—something he, the child of Chinese immigrants, had to work through to break into the industry.

"I just love punk music. I love hardcore music and starting bands and trying to get into it was really tough," he said. "They wanted to make bands that looked like the bands that they saw on MTV and the media, hence why your representation is so important. They wanted to do what they saw. So, where did I fit in that? You know what I mean? So, that's already a hurdle that I, that I'm already back a step, you know, I have to catch up and I have to over prove myself to them."

Along with hard work, he credits finding a community and other supportive artists who saw him for his talent that helped him succeed.

"It's going to be tough. It was tough for me, but there's room there. There's a path. Surround yourself with great people, surround yourself with very positive people that support you and what you do," he said.

While Pinkshift continues to inspire in their unique way, they and Will hope others like them create their own room in whatever space they wish to break out into.

"You can still like be involved in the scene. You can still like make whatever music you want, really like whoever you are and you shouldn't let the lack of people that you can like relate to hinder your ambition," said Myron.