The Units

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The Units
Units play Windows 1979.jpg
Background information
Origin San Francisco, California, United States
Genres New wave, synthpunk
Years active 1979–1983
Sample of The Units song "i-night", written by Scott Ryser, from The Units' self-released single "Units" in 1979.

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The Units were an American early electronic music/punk rock/new wave/synthpunk band, founded in San Francisco in 1979 and were active until 1983. They were one of America's early electronic New Wave bands, they are sometimes cited (along with The Screamers) as pioneers of the genre now known as synthpunk. 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 and consumerism.

Members[edit]

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, Ron Lantz, Richard Driskell, Lx Rudis, Seth Miller, Jon Parker, David Allen Jr., Jabari Allen, Marc Henry, James Reynolds, Raymond Froehlich, D.C. Carter and their projectionist, Rick Prelinger.

History[edit]

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 (aka The Fab Mab), The Savoy Tivoli, The Berkeley Square, The Deaf Club, Valencia Tool & Die, Geary Theater and other punk clubs. The Units also opened for such bands as Soft Cell, Gary Numan, Ultravox, XTC, Bow Wow Wow, the Psychedelic Furs, the Police, Iggy Pop, Dead Kennedys, Sparks and toured the United States with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Under Wikipedia's definition of "Synthpunk", The Units "are candidates for the earliest synthpunk recording."[citation needed] "While a number of art bands moved more towards ambient, or art gallery collage sounds (Ant Farm, Ralph Records) The Units nailed it with ferocious singles like "i-night" which foreshadows The Prodigy and the more intense early work of the Chemical Brothers's "Block Rockin' Beats" for its intensity."

Notable performance art appearances included "Punk Under Glass",[1] 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,[2] a performance art boxing match between two artists where the Units played the national anthem.

The Units' DIY, self stamped, 7” EP entitled “Units” was released in 1979. It was followed by another record in early 1980, "Warm Moving Bodies"/"iNight". The Units' first album, Digital Stimulation, was released in 1980, and was the first album released by 415 Records.

In 1982, the Units released a single on UpRoar Records entitled "The Right Man". The song was recorded at the Different Fur recording studio, founded by the electronic music composer Patrick Gleeson.[3] The recording was produced by Michael Cotten, the synthesizer player of The Tubes. The song went to No. 18 on Billboard's Dance Chart and stayed on the chart for 13 weeks. Joel Webber, radio promotions man and the Units manager at the time, was also one of the founders of the New Music Seminar. Subsequent productions by UpRoar included spoken word recordings by performance artists including Karen Finley, Eric Bogosian, and Ann Magnuson.

After the success of "The Right Man", the Units signed with Epic/CBS Records and produced a music video for "A Girl Like You" that went into medium rotation on early MTV. 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 for Epic/CBS, were never released.[citation needed]

In 1984, after recording the sound and music for the artist Tony Oursler’s film EVOL, Ryser and Webber moved to New York, putting an effective end to the Units.

Visual and multimedia components[edit]

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, including the Roxie Cinema, San Francisco Cinematheque, The Intersection, and the Mill Valley Film Festival.[4]

Critical response[edit]

The alternative press publisher V. Vale called the Units "the first San Francisco band to perform using no guitars",[5] and the Los Angeles music critic Kickboy Face of the fanzine Slash 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."[6]

Later releases[edit]

In 2005, Ryser signed a licensing contract with EMI. Once again, the recordings were not released. In 2007, the record label Golden Goose released a 12" remix of "High Pressure Days" by DJ Garth.[7] In the same year, the Italian record label, Mediane, released Daniele Baldelli – Cosmic - The Original, a double album that included the original and remixed versions of The Units "The Right Man".[8]

In 2009, the Community Library label released a 21 song compilation album by the Units entitled The History of The Units that included a booklet "The Unit Training Manual".[9] In June that year, a 12" single of "High Pressure Days" was released on the German label Relish with remixes alongside the original version.[10]

In February 2010, a 12" EP was released on the UK label Hungry Beat Recordings including Rory Phillips remix of "High Pressure Days".[11] The same month, "High Pressure Days" was included on a compilation, Mylo – The Return Of Mylo on the Mixmag label. The CD was also on the cover of Mixmag magazine.[12] Similarly, Rough Trade Records included "High Pressure Days" on their Counter Culture 09 double album.[13]

In April 2011, The Dark Entries music label from San Francisco released Bart - Bay Area Retrograde (Vol. 1), a 12" compilation that included "Mission".[14] An EP was released on the French label Robsoul Recordings, which included two remixes of "High Pressure Days" by Phil Weeks.[15]

In 2011 The Opilec Music label from Italy released The Units - Connections, a triple boxed set of 25 songs written by The Units, that were remixed by over 40 international DJs, producers and bands from 13 different countries.[16] It included a download card of extra tracks for a total of 52 remixed songs of The Units.[17]

In 2012, The Opilec Music label from Italy released an EP. with three songs written by The Units and remixed by Todd Terje from Norway and I-Robots from Italy.[18] The same year, The Opilec Music label from Italy released two songs by The Units on the We Are Opilec compilation.[19] Also the Tsugi Sampler label from France released the Ivan Smagghe – A Walk In The Woods With Ivan Smagghe that included a remix of "High Pressure Days" by Todd Terje.[20]

In 2013, The Units are included (two songs performed live) in a film The Seven Deadly Synths, along with six other synthesizer bands including Suicide, Sun Ra, and Our Daughter's Wedding.[21]

Influence and cultural significance[edit]

Jandek is an outsider musician, who has self-released 59 albums without ever granting an interview (save for one in 1985 to Spin). His first album, Ready for the House, 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, who holds a U.S. Trademark on the name "Units".

In September 2013, Los Angeles noise rock band HEALTH covered "High Pressure Days", titled "High Pressure Dave", which was included in the game and soundtrack album for Grand Theft Auto V.

Discography[edit]

  • "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")

Videography[edit]

  • Unit Training Film 1: Warm Moving Bodies[22]
  • Unit Training Film 2: Cannibals[23]
  • High Pressure Days 1979 - with intro by Dirk Dirksen[24]
  • The Units & Larry Cuba - Warm Moving Bodies with Calculated Movements[25]

Filmography[edit]

  • Unit Training Film 1, Warm Moving Bodies (1980) by Scott Ryser
  • In 2011, the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive purchased and restored the original Unit Training Film and included it in a program called "Punk, Attitudinal: Film and Video, 1977 to 1987" as part of their series "Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area". The program continues to be shown in major cities throughout the United States.[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Punk Under Glass" by Jeff Jarvis, S.F. EXAMINER, Fri., Jan. 26,1979.
  2. ^ "Ring Cycle" by Bill Mandel, S.F. Examiner, June 5, 1981.
  3. ^ Damian Ramsey, Discs - The Units Discography, Synthpunk.org.
  4. ^ Damian Ramsey, Playback: Film and the Units, Synthpunk.org.
  5. ^ V. Vale, "Ultrasonic Security", Slash, Vol. 2, No. 6. June 1979.
  6. ^ Bessy, Claude ("Kickboy Face"). "untitled," Slash, Vol. 2, No. 9, September 1979.
  7. ^ "King & Hound - Burnin' Up / High Pressure Days (Vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 2007-10-02. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  8. ^ "Daniele Baldelli - Cosmic - The Original at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  9. ^ "Units - History Of The Units - The Early Years: 1977-1983 at Discogs". Discogs.com. 2011-10-12. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  10. ^ "High Pressure Days: Remixed at Juno Records". Juno.co.uk. 2009-06-22. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  11. ^ "Rory Phillips - Remixes Volume #1 (Vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 2010-02-12. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  12. ^ "Mylo - The Return Of Mylo (CD) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  13. ^ "Various - Rough Trade Shops Counter Culture 09 (CD) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 2010-02-15. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  14. ^ "Various - Bay Area Retrograde (BART) Volume 1 (Vinyl, LP) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  15. ^ "Units, The* / Motel Connection - High Pressure Days / H.E.R.O.I.N (Phil Weeks Remixes) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  16. ^ "Units - Connections (CD) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 2012-04-21. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  17. ^ "RA News: The Units get remixed for Connections". Residentadvisor.net. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  18. ^ "Units, The* - Connections - EP at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  19. ^ "Various - We Are Opilec...! at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  20. ^ "Ivan Smagghe - A Walk In The Woods With Ivan Smagghe (CD) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 2012-03-07. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  21. ^ "Seven Deadly Synths". Artclips.free.fr. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  22. ^ "Unit Training Film 1: Warm Moving Bodies on Vimeo". Vimeo.com. 2010-01-03. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  23. ^ "Unit Training Film 2: Cannibals on Vimeo". Vimeo.com. 2010-01-03. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  24. ^ "The Units - High Pressure Days 1979 - with intro by Dirk Dirksen on Vimeo". Vimeo.com. 2012-10-20. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  25. ^ "THE UNITS & LARRY CUBA - Warm Moving Bodies with Calculated Movements on Vimeo". Vimeo.com. 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 
  26. ^ "BAM/PFA - Film Programs". Bampfa.berkeley.edu. 2011-01-30. Retrieved 2013-03-03. 

External links[edit]