Music News

Billa-bing Billabong

Aerial photographer by day, drummer and indie-rock impresario by night, 31-year-old Steve Copeletti gains a new perspective on his surroundings when he's tooling around in a chopper.

"It's a beautiful way to see Florida," he says. "Looking at it from the sky is a lot different than having to trudge on disgusting roads always packed with people driving. Eighty percent of Florida is farmland. I always thought it was all urban hustle and bustle."

The rest of us must suffer a force-fed diet of hot concrete, construction zones, and traffic cones. Still, it's easier to escape via Copeletti's musical exploits than to climb into a helicopter and tag along for a ride. That's because admission to Poptopia, the monthly local music showcase he founded in 1999, and performances by his bands Whirlaway (old-school shoegazers) and New Graduates (collegiate Britpop) cost only about $5. Originally held in Boca Raton, Poptopia migrated south through Wilton Manors, ending up in one of those semiautonomous regions with an identity more secretive than Deep Throat. To wit: Copeletti places the Billabong Pub in Hollywood; the Yellow Pages says it's in Hallandale Beach; and the pub's matchbooks claim the miniature enclave of Pembroke Park as its home.

Wherever it's located, the Billabong has attracted a humble assortment of local bands performing original music, which has traditionally failed to thrive in Broward County. Copeletti resurrected Poptopia there in March with double-drum duties for his two bands. Since then, he's packed the 'Bong with regional winners such as Humbert, reversing a Poptopia trend of pulling down more bands from Palm Beach County. Because of the new location, Copeletti reckons, a wider assortment of Miami-Dade bands will appear.

"Poptopia was originally more of a tricounty thing," he says. "It's hard for bands from up north to draw well down south. Having 'em drive even another half-hour south is a little bit of a stretch."

Indeed, Saturday nights at the Billabong have drawn more Miami kids up to (just barely) Broward: Bling Bling, the Stop Motion, and the recently disbanded Bicycle Rider performed in May, and Deadline Publicity's Elana Effrat has brought in adventurous acts from the rest of the state, like Venusian Skyline from Vero Beach and the Pawn Rook Four from Gainesville.

Poptopia's brand-name recognition guarantees a busy Saturday evening at the Billabong, and this month's episode should be no different. The New Graduates will perform an acoustic set sans bassist Thom Hammond, and the Marisleysis Alien Conspiracy (a surf-rock project from Ed Artigas) will return to Broward.

Not long ago, a certain local band (which will remain unnamed) profiled in these pages took considerable umbrage when asked to sit still for photos. In fact, the group made life unnecessarily difficult for us in the interest of rigorously maintaining their capital-A artiste street cred. Now that's OK, to a certain extent; being posed like a department-store mannequin modeling the latest casual-yet-sporty action wear can feel as uncomfortable as a molar extraction. But one can't help thinking that a more creative approach (as opposed to whining about maintaining artistic integrity) would have made life easier for everyone. Unfortunately, photographs are a necessary evil in the publishing/publicity world. Without them, life would be that much grayer, no?

Thankfully, a new Broward band, FiveSixSixFive, has solved the photo-shoot problem with intellect, humor, and self-effacing grace. Seth Brody (five-foot-six) and Jimmy Allen (six-foot-five) have recorded a slew of some of the most dementedly inventive yet immediately appealing tunes Bandwidth has heard all summer, an electro-bohemian collection of strange, spoon-bending songs. They've also sent out a press kit with a homemade CD and photo, obviating the need to dispatch a highly paid and snobby photographer to their rehearsal space to steal their souls. Brody and Allen don't have to feel like sellouts in need of a shower, because they have created a pair of life-size, Styrofoam cut-out silhouettes to stand in for them. That means they never have to comb their hair and sit still for a lame-ass photo shoot, freeing up that much more time in their busy and important lives.

More on the ever-intriguing saga of FiveSixSixFive later.