The Units

The Units

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The Units are a defunct, early electronic music
Electronic music
Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production. In general a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronic technology. Examples of electromechanical sound...

/punk rock
Punk rock
Punk rock is a rock music genre that developed between 1974 and 1976 in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Rooted in garage rock and other forms of what is now known as protopunk music, punk rock bands eschewed perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock...

/New Wave
New Wave music
New Wave is a subgenre of :rock music that emerged in the mid to late 1970s alongside punk rock. The term at first generally was synonymous with punk rock before being considered a genre in its own right that incorporated aspects of electronic and experimental music, mod subculture, disco and 1960s...

/synthpunk
Synthpunk
Synthpunk is a music genre combining elements of electronic music and punk rock. The term was coined by Damian Ramsey in 1999 as an attempt to retroactively identify a small sub-genre of punk music from 1977 to 1984 that involved musicians playing synthesizers in place of electric...

 band founded in San Francisco in 1978 and active until 1984.
One of America's first electronic New Wave bands, they are widely cited (along with The Screamers
The Screamers
The Screamers were a punk rock group active in the Los Angeles, California area in the late 1970s. The Screamers were pioneers of a genre now known as "synthpunk," and can also be classified as art punk....

 from L.A.) as pioneers of a genre now known as "synthpunk
Synthpunk
Synthpunk is a music genre combining elements of electronic music and punk rock. The term was coined by Damian Ramsey in 1999 as an attempt to retroactively identify a small sub-genre of punk music from 1977 to 1984 that involved musicians playing synthesizers in place of electric...

." The Units were notable for their use of synthesizers in place of guitars, and multimedia performances featuring multiple projections of satirical, instructional films critical of conformity
Conformity
Conformity is the process by which an individual's attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are influenced by other people.Conformity may also refer to:*Conformity: A Tale, a novel by Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna...

 and consumerism
Consumerism
Consumerism is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts. The term is often associated with criticisms of consumption starting with Thorstein Veblen...

.

Members


Primary members were Scott Ryser and Rachel Webber. Other various members that played live shows and toured with The Units included Brad Saunders, Tim Ennis, Jay Derrah, Ron Lantz, Richard Driskell, Lx Rudis, Seth Miller, Jon Parker, David Allen Jr., Jabari Allen, Marc Henry, James Reynolds
James Reynolds
James Reynolds may refer to:*James Reynolds , American actor*James Reynolds , American involved in the Maria Reynolds scandal...

, Raymond Froehlich, D.C. Carter and projectionist Rick Prelinger
Rick Prelinger
Rick Prelinger is an archivist, writer and filmmaker, and founder of the Prelinger Archives, a collection of 60,000 advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur films acquired by the Library of Congress in 2002 after 20 years' operation.Rick has partnered with the Internet Archive to make...

.

History


The Units were one of the most popular bands of the San Francisco punk and performance art scene during the late 1970s and early 1980s, headlining at the Mabuhay Gardens
Mabuhay Gardens
The Mabuhay Gardens was a San Francisco nightclub located at , on the Broadway strip of North Beach, an area best known for its strip clubs....

 (aka The Fab Mab), The Savoy Tivoli, The Berkeley Square
Berkeley Square
Berkeley Square is a town square in the West End of London, England, in the City of Westminster. It was originally laid out in the mid 18th century by architect William Kent...

, The Deaf Club, Valencia Tool & Die
Valencia Tool & Die
Valencia Tool & Die, abbreviated as VT&D, was a 1980s San Francisco music venue and art gallery that presented punk, new wave, and new music performances, as well as performance art, film, and visual art shows from 1980 through 1983....

, Geary Theater and other punk clubs. The Units also opened for such bands as Soft Cell
Soft Cell
Soft Cell are an English synthpop duo who came to prominence in the early 1980s. They consist of vocalist Marc Almond and instrumentalist David Ball. The duo is most widely known for their 1981 worldwide hit version of "Tainted Love" and platinum debut Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret...

, Gary Numan
Gary Numan
Gary Numan is an English singer, composer, and musician, most widely known for his chart-topping 1979 hits "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and "Cars". His signature sound consisted of heavy synthesizer hooks fed through guitar effects pedals.Numan is considered a pioneer of commercial electronic music...

, Ultravox
Ultravox
Ultravox is a British New Wave rock band. They were one of the primary exponents of the British electronic pop music movement of the late 1970s/early 1980s. The band was particularly associated with the New Romantic and New Wave movements....

, XTC
XTC
XTC were a New Wave band from Swindon, England, active between 1976 and 2005. The band enjoyed some chart success, including the UK and Canadian hits "Making Plans for Nigel" and "Senses Working Overtime" , but are perhaps even better known for their long-standing critical success.- Early years:...

, Bow Wow Wow
Bow Wow Wow
Bow Wow Wow were an English 1980s New Wave band created by Malcolm McLaren to promote his and business partner Vivienne Westwood's New Romantic fashion lines.The group's music is described as having an "African-derived drum sound".-History:...

, the Psychedelic Furs, the Police
The Police
The Police were an English rock band formed in London in 1977. For the vast majority of their history, the band consisted of Sting , Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland...

, Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and actor. Though considered an innovator of punk rock, Pop's music has encompassed a number of styles over the years, including pop, metal, jazz and blues...

, Dead Kennedys
Dead Kennedys
Dead Kennedys are an American punk rock band formed in San Francisco, California in 1978. The band became part of the American hardcore punk movement of the early 1980s. They gained a large underground fanbase in the international punk music scene....

, Sparks
Sparks (band)
Sparks is an American rock and pop band formed in Los Angeles in 1968 by brothers Ron and Russell Mael , initially under the name Halfnelson...

 and toured the United States with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are a synthpop group whose founding members are originally from the Wirral Peninsula, England...

.

Notable performance art
Performance art
In art, performance art is a performance presented to an audience, traditionally interdisciplinary. Performance may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated; spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or...

 appearances included "Punk Under Glass", where the Units performed in the windows of the JC Penney building in downtown San Francisco, as part of a two day art installation, and the "Labat / Chapman Fight at Kezar Pavilion
Kezar Pavilion
Kezar Pavilion, located adjacent to Kezar Stadium, is an indoor arena in the southeast corner of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California. The Pavilion, built in 1924, seats 4,000...

", a performance art
Performance art
In art, performance art is a performance presented to an audience, traditionally interdisciplinary. Performance may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated; spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or...

 boxing match between two artists where the Units played the national anthem.

Since L.A.’s The Screamers
The Screamers
The Screamers were a punk rock group active in the Los Angeles, California area in the late 1970s. The Screamers were pioneers of a genre now known as "synthpunk," and can also be classified as art punk....

 never released a record, the Units' DIY, self stamped, 7" EP
Extended play
An EP is a musical recording which contains more music than a single, but is too short to qualify as a full album or LP. The term EP originally referred only to specific types of vinyl records other than 78 rpm standard play records and LP records, but it is now applied to mid-length Compact...

 entitled “Units” released in 1979, may be the first example of a "synthpunk" record. It was followed by another self released 2 song 7" record in early 1980, "Warm Moving Bodies"/"iNight".

The Units critically acclaimed first album, Digital Stimulation, released in 1980, was the first album released by Howie Klein
Howie Klein
Howie Klein is an American DJ, music producer, record label founder, record label executive, and political blogger, who was president of Reprise Records from 1989 to 2001....

’s fledgling 415 Records
415 Records
415 Records was a San Francisco record label created in 1978. The label focused its efforts on local punk rock and new wave music acts of the late 1970s through the late 1980s, including The Offs, The Nuns, Romeo Void, and Wire Train...

, which is considered to be the first North American record label devoted to New Wave music.

In 1982, the Units released a single on UpRoar Records entitled "The Right Man". The song was recorded at the Different Fur
Different Fur
Different Fur is a recording studio located in the Mission District of San Francisco, California, and is located at 3470 19th Street...

 recording studio, founded by the electronic music
Electronic music
Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production. In general a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronic technology. Examples of electromechanical sound...

 composer
Composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

 Patrick Gleeson
Patrick Gleeson
Patrick Gleeson is a musician, synthesizer pioneer, composer and producer, from California, USA.Gleeson began experimenting with electronic music in the mid-'60s at the San Francisco Tape Music Center using a Buchla synth and other devices....

. The recording was produced by Michael Cotten, the synthesizer player of The Tubes
The Tubes
The Tubes are a San Francisco-based rock band, whose 1975 debut album included the hit single, "White Punks on Dope". During its first fifteen years or so, the band's live performances combined quasi-pornography with wild satires of media, consumerism, and politics...

. The song went to #18 on Billboard
Billboard (magazine)
Billboard is a weekly American magazine devoted to the music industry, and is one of the oldest trade magazines in the world. It maintains several internationally recognized music charts that track the most popular songs and albums in various categories on a weekly basis...

s Dance Charts and stayed on the charts for 13 weeks. The Uproar label was the creation of Rachel Webber's brother, Joel Webber. Webber, radio promo man extraordinaire and the Units manager at the time, was also one of the founders of the New Music Seminar
New Music Seminar
The New Music Seminar was a series of multi-venue music showcases held annually in New York City, in the month of June, from 1980 to 1995, then relaunched in 2009....

, New York's major new music fiesta of the '80s and early '90s. Subsequent productions by UpRoar included spoken word recordings by performance artists including Karen Finley
Karen Finley
Karen Finley is an American performance artist, whose theatrical pieces and recordings have often been labelled "obscene" due to their graphic depictions of sexuality, abuse, and disenfranchisement...

, Eric Bogosian
Eric Bogosian
Eric Bogosian is an American actor, playwright, monologist, and novelist of Armenian descent.-Personal life:Bogosian, an Armenian-American, was born in Woburn, Massachusetts, the son of Edwina, a hairdresser and instructor, and Henry Bogosian, an accountant. After graduating from Oberlin College,...

, and Ann Magnuson
Ann Magnuson
Ann Magnuson is an American actress, performance artist, and nightclub performer who first gained prominence in the 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan...

. Upon Joel’s death in 1988 Rachel Webber took over as head of the label.

After the success of "The Right Man", the Units signed with Epic
Epic Records
Epic Records is an American record label, owned by Sony Music Entertainment. Though it was originally conceived as a jazz imprint, it has since expanded to represent various genres. L.A...

/CBS Records
CBS Records
CBS Records is a record label founded by CBS Corporation in 2006 to take advantage of music from its entertainment properties owned by CBS Television Studios. The initial label roster consisted of only three artists; rock band Señor Happy and singer/songwriters Will Dailey and P.J...

 and produced a music video
Music video
A music video or song video is a short film integrating a song and imagery, produced for promotional or artistic purposes. Modern music videos are primarily made and used as a marketing device intended to promote the sale of music recordings...

 for "A Girl Like You" that went into medium rotation on early MTV
MTV
MTV, formerly an initialism of Music Television, is an American network based in New York City that launched on August 1, 1981. The original purpose of the channel was to play music videos guided by on-air hosts known as VJs....

. They released an EP titled New Way to Move on Epic Records, but typical of a hard-luck recording career, the Units' second and third albums — both produced by Bill Nelson
Bill Nelson (musician)
Bill Nelson is an English guitarist, songwriter, producer, painter and experimental musician...

 for Epic/CBS, were never released.

In 1984, after recording the sound and music for the artist Tony Oursler
Tony Oursler
Tony Oursler is a multimedia and installation artist.- Tapes, Installations: 1977-1989:Tony Oursler is known for his fractured-narrative handmade video tapes including The Loner, 1980 and EVOL 1984. These works involve elaborate sound tracks, painted sets, stop-action animation and optical special...

’s film EVOL
EVOL
Evol is the third studio album by American alternative rock band Sonic Youth, released in 1986 on SST Records, and recorded and mixed by New York recording icon Martin Bisi. The album cover features a picture of Lung Leg, a still taken from Submit to Me, a film by Richard Kern...

, Ryser and Webber moved to New York, putting an effective end to the Units.

Visual and multimedia components


The film Unit Training Film#1, produced by Scott Ryser and Rachel Webber, compiled from films the band projected during performances, was shown sans band in movie theaters around the San Francisco Bay Area
San Francisco Bay Area
The San Francisco Bay Area, commonly known as the Bay Area, is a populated region that surrounds the San Francisco and San Pablo estuaries in Northern California. The region encompasses metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, along with smaller urban and rural areas...

, including the Roxie Cinema, San Francisco Cinematheque
San Francisco Cinematheque
San Francisco Cinematheque is a film society founded in 1961 by a group of filmmakers, including Bruce Baillie and Chick Strand. Working with other groups like Canyon Cinema, the SF Cinematheque has shown experimental film and video in cooperation with venues such as San Francisco Art Institute,...

, The Intersection
Intersection for the Arts
Intersection for the Arts, established in 1965, is the oldest alternative non-profit art space in San Francisco, California. Intersection's reading series is the longest continuous reading series outside of an academic institution in the state of California....

, and the Mill Valley Film Festival
Mill Valley Film Festival
The Mill Valley Film Festival is an annual, non-competitive film festival presented by the California Film Institute. Known as a filmmakers’ festival, the annual Mill Valley Film Festival offers a non-competitive environment for exhibiting independent and world cinema.Founded in 1978 by MVFF...

.

Critical response


The alternative press publisher V. Vale
V. Vale
V. "Valhalla" Vale is a writer, keyboard player and, as Vale Hamanaka, was a member of the initial configuration of Blue Cheer, prior to that band becoming famous as a power trio. He is the publisher and primary contributor to books and magazines published by his company, RE/Search Publications...

 called the Units "the first San Francisco band to perform using no guitars", and the Los Angeles music critic Kickboy Face of the fanzine Slash
Slash (fanzine)
Slash was a punk rock-related fanzine published in the United States from 1977 to 1980.The magazine was a large-format tabloid focused on the Los Angeles punk scene, though it did not restrict itself to local acts: its first cover featured Dave Vanian of The Damned. It regularly covered such L.A....

 wrote of a Units performance, "That night, watching the Units pound their machines into submission, I knew that another cliched concept of mine was biting the dust once and for all. I also knew that there probably was a future to rock n roll after all, and that future did not necessarily include anything resembling guitars."

Attempts at later recognition


In 2005, Ryser signed a licensing contract with EMI
EMI
The EMI Group, also known as EMI Music or simply EMI, is a multinational music company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. It is the fourth-largest business group and family of record labels in the recording industry and one of the "big four" record companies. EMI Group also has a major...

. Once again, the recordings were not released.

In 2009, the record label Community Library out of Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Portland is a city located in the Pacific Northwest, near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2010 Census, it had a population of 583,776, making it the 29th most populous city in the United States...

 released a-21 song compilation by the Units.

In June 2009, a 12" single of "High Pressure Days" was released on German label Relish with remixes alongside the original version. http://www.juno.co.uk/products/High-Pressure-Days-Remixed/357698-01/

Influence and cultural significance


Jandek
Jandek
Jandek is the musical project of an anonymous outsider musician who operates out of Houston, Texas. Since 1978, Jandek has self-released over 60 albums of unusual, often emotionally dissolute folk and blues songs without ever granting more than the occasional interview or providing any biographical...

 is an outsider musician presumably from Houston, Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, who has self-released 59 albums without ever granting a real interview.
His first album, Ready for the House
Ready for the House
Ready for the House is the debut album by Jandek, and was released in 1978 by his own Corwood Industries label, with the catalog number #0739. The artist has said in letters that the number was meaningless. Corwood Industries reissued the album three times on CD, first in 1999, then sometime in the...

, was first accredited to a band called "The Units". Jandek stopped using the Units name and started using his own after being contacted by Scott Ryser of the S.F. Units.
Mr. Ryser holds a U.S. Trademark
United States Patent and Trademark Office
The United States Patent and Trademark Office is an agency in the United States Department of Commerce that issues patents to inventors and businesses for their inventions, and trademark registration for product and intellectual property identification.The USPTO is based in Alexandria, Virginia,...

on the name "Units".

Discography

  • High Pressure Days (7")
  • Warm Moving Bodies (7")
  • Units (7")
  • Digital Stimulation (12")
  • The Right Man (12")
  • A Girl Like You (12")
  • New Way to Move (12")

External links