Ekko Astral
Ekko Astral singer Jael Holzman; Credit: Zachary Beadle

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More than just musicians, D.C. punk rockers Ekko Astral are a collective eager to leave their mark on the national scale. Making a name for themselves throughout the DMV as the pioneers of “mascara moshpit,” I’ve never seen a band work for what they want more than Ekko Astral and the tireless efforts of their singer, Jael (pronounced Jay-EL) Holzman.

Their debut EP, QUARTZ, released Oct. 28, was a concept record Holzman wrote and recorded in the early months of her gender transition based on diary entries as she was going through a “second puberty.” As she tells City Paper, “Ekko Astral is by and large about making one of the greatest rock bands to ever exist, and it just so happens some of us are trans.” 

The formation of the band was born out of the 2020 lockdown. Aside from Holzman, drummer Miri Tyler, lead guitarist Liam Hughes, bassist Guinevere Tully, and rhythm guitarist Sam Elmore are the local rockers who push Ekko’s music to new heights. Elmore, who joined in September, is the band’s newest member. With a rhythm guitarist on board the band’s sound has only gotten bigger.

I met Holzman at the band’s Public Option show this summer. Shortly before the concert, I decided to come out—necessary for my career as a writer—in an article highlighting local LGBTQ bands and why I, a trans woman, loved these groundbreaking acts. 

Ekko Astral made it toward the top of that list thanks to their Bandcamp single, “TRANSDEMIC, BABY,” a track that spoke to my frustrations as a woman learning her feminine ropes in her early 20s. Starting off with a hypnotically pounding drum beat that had my heart playing a frenzied catch-up, I melted in my seat when I heard the first lines: “I never was a kid/ So many things that I never ever did.”

Just like that, I was pulled in, enamored with Ekko’s contagious punk charisma. Written by musicians who probably took the same public transit I did, the song made me feel righteous in my anger and perfectly encompassed what I had felt for so long. It left me with the desire to scream: “I want my youth back!”

The concert at Public Option kicked off the band’s summer of packed shows and growing notoriety. Holzman’s penchant for community-building is clear. New faces appear at every concert, and are often blown away by the band’s insatiable excitement. Reaching a pinnacle of local success, drawing fans from all corners of the D.C. area, and selling out venues, Ekko Astral’s unique take on modern punk is seeping into the national sphere. On Sept. 3, Ekko Astral headlined a sold-out show with two other up-and-coming musicians, Titmouse973 and Chloe Hotline, at Silver Spring’s Quarry House Tavern. The lineup perfectly represents Holzman’s ability to orchestrate major showcases with groundbreaking artists from both within and outside the DMV. 

The joint efforts from all of Ekko’s showstopping members launches Holzman’s personal narrative into the stratosphere. Hughes, who, in addition to playing guitar, also serves as the band’s producer at times, has had a large hand in promoting the Ekko message. The two met while they were attending the University of Vermont back in 2014 and have remained friends. (Holzman says Hughes embraced her identity with open arms since her coming-out and has been pivotal to her mission to produce kick-ass music.)

“Liam’s like the yin to my yang,” Holzman confides. “I love his guitar style. It’s part of what makes our band unique sonically.” 

Musically, Ekko Astral strive to do as many bands have done before: leave the confines of the punk rock box. Holzman has an affinity for the Detroit rock sound and Hughes has a proclivity for Radiohead experimentation. Such diverse melodies appear on tracks like “RENO INT’L,” a song reminiscing a hazy trek through the desert, where the harsh echo of the guitar shocks you with a sense of hyper-focus.

In totality, Ekko Astral perfect a classic punk blueprint throughout QUARTZ. Still, tracks venture away from rock band typicality due to their unique lyricism such as, “I wanna kiss from a total abyss/ A body in a body in a plastic binder.”

“It’s all about taking your unique traumas, writing them down, then universalizing it so everyone can understand, and setting it to the best rock music people have ever heard,” Holzman explains.

Ekko Astral; Credit Zachary Beadle

But you haven’t really listened to Ekko Astral until you’ve heard them live—especially with their fuller lineup. Ekko’s sound sets them apart with equal portions of energized, jump-happy attitude and slower, more swaying sincerity. Tyler, a versatile musician, approaches her tom-tom-smashing drumming with an excited fervor while backing vocals from Tully, Elmore, and Hughes lend an almost Greek theater veracity to their shows, deepening the band’s wall of sound as Holzman puts out her soul for all to see. The effect is one of hyper authenticity.

Since the summer, Ekko Astral have continued to raise the bar. They’ve played smaller house shows, headlined local venues, and supported a plethora of critically acclaimed acts visiting the area, including New York’s Kid Sistr and moon kissed, as well as Pittsburgh’s Short Fictions.

There’s a lot that I’m still figuring out. But one thing is certain: I never want my identity to be quiet. Channeling Holzman’s femme ferocity, Ekko Astral are by no means a mere echo. They are a band that is reaching beyond typecast sentiments toward a universal acclaim they deserve.

Ekko Astral play with Anita Velveeta and Glass Crush at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 at Quarry House Tavern. quarryhousetavern.com. $16.07. And on Nov. 17 at Slash Run, with Flowerbomb, the Warhawks, and the Bronze Age. slashrun.com. Their debut EP QUARTZ  is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp.