Dee Pop, drummer and downtown New York fixture, dies at 65

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Dee Pop, drummer and downtown New York fixture, dies at 65
Initially known for his tight and soulful playing with the celebrated post-punk band Bush Tetras, he later became an entrepreneur of avant-garde music.

by Alex Vadukul

NEW YORK, NY.- Dee Pop, a drummer who first found grimy rock stardom as a founding member of underground New York band Bush Tetras during the no wave and post-punk scene of the late 1970s, and who later became an elder statesman of the city’s alternative music scene, died Oct. 9 at his home in Brooklyn. He was 65.

His brother, Tom Papadopoulos, said the cause was heart failure.

Some 40 years ago, an avant-garde punk movement was rumbling from the underground scene below 14th Street. Bands like the Contortions, Liquid Liquid, DNA and 8 Eyed Spy led the charge, playing nightly at venues like the Mudd Club, Tier 3 and CBGB. Amid the fray emerged the moment’s must-see band, Bush Tetras, who disbanded just four years later but left a profound impact on the scene.

The female-fronted quartet, often clad in headbands and leopard-print scarves, played a danceable breed of post-punk rooted in jagged guitar hooks and funky rhythms. Key to the band’s dub-struck groove was their leather-jacketed drummer, Dee Pop, whose tight playing laced some soul into the nihilism of the no wave era.

“The funk part of it,” Pop recently told The Village Sun, “became central to our sound. I guess I kind of destroyed no wave by putting a 4/4 beat to it. That’s what made the Bush Tetras a little more accessible.”

The band’s other members were vocalist Cynthia Sley, guitarist Pat Place and bassist Laura Kennedy (who died in 2011). The group’s “Too Many Creeps,” a punk anthem about the frustration of having to dodge being hassled by men on city streets, was released in 1980 and became a dance-floor hit. Rock critic Robert Christgau wrote at the time that it “summed up the Lower East Side circa 1980.”

Thurston Moore, the singer and guitarist of Sonic Youth, said that in his 20s he admired what he described as the band’s abiding downtown cool.

“When Bush Tetras first started playing out I was extremely impressed,” Moore said in an email, “and very envious.”

Bush Tetras gradually started performing beyond the underground scene, at venues like the Roseland Ballroom and Irving Plaza, and shared bills with bands including X, Bad Brains and Gang of Four. They were a supporting act for the Clash during the band’s storied 1981 run at Bond’s International Casino in Times Square, and the Clash’s drummer, Topper Headon, produced their EP, “Rituals.” But before the group could record a full album, they disbanded in 1983.

“When I first left Bush Tetras in ’83, one reason was that I felt we’d gone as far as we could,” Pop told The Village Sun. “I was very dissatisfied and looked at all of my influences — my love for Béla Bartók or King Oliver or 1940s and ’50s R&B — and that wasn’t what Bush Tetras was about.”

Indeed, Pop’s musicianship stood out as more than a gutsy punk-rock attitude.

“He was a very versatile player, and that’s not something that can be said of many drummers who came out of the East Village post-punk scene,” Andy Schwartz, editor and publisher of New York Rocker magazine, the scene’s bible at the time, said in a phone interview. “He could play blues, jazz, free jazz, post-punk. He never seemed to stop learning.”

After Bush Tetras broke up, Pop drummed across genres.

He first joined Los Angeles punk band the Gun Club, then played with artists like Richard Lloyd and Jayne County. He was a member of Radio I-Ching, an experimental outfit that dabbled in blues and Americana and incorporated unusual stringed instruments like the lotar and the glissentar. He went on to jam with free-jazz luminaries like Roy Campbell Jr., Eddie Gale and William Parker.

Dee Pop was born Dimitri Constantin Papadopoulos on March, 14, 1956, in the Forest Hills section of Queens. His father, Dino Papadopoulos, was a vascular surgeon; his mother, Gigi (Bakalis) Papadopoulos, was a homemaker and artist.

She was also a jazz enthusiast and introduced him early on to drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. While his friends at school listened to Jethro Tull, Dimitri favored John Coltrane and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He graduated from St. Paul’s School on Long Island in 1974 and studied journalism at the University at Buffalo in New York.

In addition to his brother, he is survived by his mother; a sister, Tara Papadopoulos; a daughter, Nikki Ziolkowski; a son, Charlie Papadopoulos; and a granddaughter. Two marriages, to Elizabeth Vogdes and the musician known as Deerfrance, ended in divorce.

In the late 1990s, Pop began hosting a weekly performance series that roamed the East Village showcasing live avant-garde music. He started it at a tiny coffeehouse called the Internet Cafe before moving on to CBGB, where he secured the club’s basement space Sundays.

“I wanted diversity,” he said of the series. “I wanted to challenge people.”

After CBGB closed in 2006, Pop moved the series to Jimmy’s No. 43, and The Village Voice called him an “avant guardian.” In recent years he held shows at Troost, a bar near his apartment in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn.

Around 2015, Bush Tetras reunited. The group recorded an EP, “Take the Fall,” in 2018, and then put out a single, “There Is a Hum,” on Third Man Records. A boxed set, “Rhythm and Paranoia: The Best of Bush Tetras,” is to be released next month on Wharf Cat Records.

Pop died the night before a release party was held at the Howl! Happening arts space in the East Village. The gathering turned into a memorial.

As video clips featuring Pop’s furious drumming played on a projector screen, Place and Sley stood up in front of the crowd, holding each other as they remembered their bandmate.

“He lived to drum,” Sley said. “He loved the Bush Tetras.”

She choked up.

“Bush Tetras,” she added, “is a force that cannot be stopped.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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