By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
In the narrow, gravelly parking lot of the Billabong Pub in Pembroke Park, a visibly intoxicated young man makes a joke about being from the wrong side of the tracks. The pub sits in a strip mall on the west side of the train tracks that cross Hallandale Beach Boulevard, which doesn't necessarily make it the wrong side, but it is right across from a mammoth strip club called Scarlett's, and nestled next door to a "massage parlor" called Mandy's. On this breezy Saturday night, the 'bong is packed for the Holy Terrors' CD-release party. The sweet sounds of Humbert drift out the front door as people walk in and out, and the four members of Bling Bling -- singer and guitarist Ivan Marchena, guitarist Jonathan Jaffee, bassist Kristina Miranda, and drummer Ed Artigas -- are standing around, talking about the first concert they ever went to.
The amicable Jaffee divulges his first: "Mine was the Thompson Twins." A round of "ooohs" follows. Artigas ups the ante -- "Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam at the Beat Club in Kendall" -- to another chorus of "ooohs," then adds, "but my first stadium concert was Van Halen in 1984 at the Hollywood Sportatorium." A woman standing nearby overhears the conversation and adds her two cents: "I saw Prince on Easter Sunday during the Purple Rain tour and everyone was appalled!" The band erupts into bad Prince impersonations, their laughter subsiding just in time for Marchena's attempt at the Purple One. "Ladies and gentlemen," he says, pausing sensually, "let's give it up ... for Eastah."
The Bling began in the summer of 2001 in Miami. All four members had played in South Florida bands, and Artigas was already a figure in the indie scene with Spy-Fi Records, the label he started in 1998, which released albums from local bands like Monotract, Whirlaway, Machete, and Zira before issuing Bling Bling's 2001 debut, Always Give Candy to Strangers.
"[Kristina] called me up and told me she was on summer break from nursing school and asked if we could play," Artigas recalls. "So we started playing and [Jon] had played with me before, so now all we were missing was the frontman. I remembered this guy," he says, pointing at Ivan, "so I called him up to ask what he was doing, and he said -- "
"Nothing," Marchena deadpans. "Working at a friggin' mortgage place, making copies. And I was like, 'Okay, Ed, I'll be there tomorrow. See ya.'"
The conversation again dissolves into a mélange of "I remember when ...", which happens often among these four friends. Someone asks Jaffee if he was ever a raver, and everyone bursts into laughter at the mention of the archaic word. The collective nostalgia then shifts to the first albums they bought.
"It was a 'Rapper's Delight' twelve-inch, but it melted in my car, so I had to return it and get the Knack," Artigas says.
Marchena, with a straight face, replies, "It was a 45 ... 'Too Shy' by Kajagoogoo. Oh, I bought the Fletch soundtrack too."
"Mine was the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack," Jaffee adds with an even straighter face.
"My brother and I used to listen to Chaka Khan and the Fat Boys," Miranda offers. "But the first album I bought myself was a tape, and it was Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction." Marchena mentions that he hopes Axl's hair extensions get caught in a door.
Bling Bling's music matches the energetic dialogue. Their songs are poppy, angular uppercuts that make contact with the frantic, pointed snarl of bands such as the Pixies or Television. Diary of a ..., Bling Bling's latest album, is twelve pages filled with vibrating bass lines, ass-shaking drum beats, and the swerving, interlocked axes of Marchena and Jaffee on songs such as "10-4 on the Makeout," "Garb for an Age," and "Blade of the Made."
"We all contribute to writing songs," Artigas says. "We all put something in, stick it in a blender, and see what comes out. We did [the album] on analog tape in about a week in North Carolina. We recorded fifteen songs after driving sixteen hours."
"And a lot of those songs were new," Marchena continues. "So we'd only played them a few times. But I think it was really cool that the songs were fresh. I like the one-take approach, gives it more character. Integrity, even."
"Well, that was how our first album was recorded," Artigas says, "but mostly because we were a new band and if you don't have something to promote, your band stays stagnant. The songs were brand-new, but we had the technology to go ahead and throw stuff down."
"We write a song every rehearsal, but we throw it out," Marchena laughs.
"We're not looking for a major record label deal," Artigas sums up. "We're not looking to tour nonstop. We're not looking for billions of dollars. I just want to get better as a band."
As folks leave the Billabong to continue the night elsewhere, one final topic must be broached: love songs. Which ones get them in the mood? As the question is asked, a train rattles by, obscuring the inspirational view of Scarlett's. Songs are fired off: "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)" by Talking Heads, "All the Way" by Richard Hell and the Voidoids, "Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)" by R. Kelly, "Pumps and a Bump" by MC Hammer, "Da' Dip" by Freak Nasty, "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones, and "Come and Talk to Me" by Jodeci. An amused silence passes as four brains try to think of other songs they might get busy to.