As a three-piece, with Tim Ennis on keyboards and vocals, Scott Ryser
on keyboards and vocals and Richard Driskell on drums and vocals, the
Units make their performance
debut in San Francisco. Starting with a party they hold at their rehearsal
space in North Beach, they play a variety of other parties, performance
art events and clubs.
Units studio, Basement of Venetian Bakery, North Beach (Late 1978
and Early 1979)
Tim Ennis: "Before we played in a nightclub for the general public,
we wanted to have a kind of dress rehearsal and to show our friends what
we were doing. We threw a party at our rehearsal studio that was in the
basement of the Venetian Bakery in North Beach.
The die was cast when we bought a lot of cheap beer and wine to get our
guests good and drunk so that they would like the show no matter what
happened. We had invited lots of people and it seemed like they brought
all of their friends. It was an unruly crowd of dadaists, gay performance
artists, gypsy painters, flamenco guitarists, art institute kids, avant-garde
synthesists, recording engineers, glam-rockers who refused to change their
style, comedians, and punk rockers.
Everybody was drinking fast and furious, smoking pot, crammed into our
tiny underground rehearsal studio and the adjoining tiny room with a sink
and kitchen table where Scott and I were living. There were too many people,
so they were spilling out into the hall, up the ramp and out into the
street. People were starting to get rowdy and we knew we couldn't put
off playing any longer.
We killed the lights.
Scott had three or four movies set up to project onto us and onto the
walls of the studio. When Scott cranked up the amps and his MiniMoog started
pumping out those insane sequences he had programmed, our guests surged
forward into the studio until there was no space between the band and
the audience, people were just all around and between us. I think we could
all feel the adrenaline surging. Then Richard kicked out his drumbeat
about twice as loud as I'd heard him play before and everyone started
jumping around like crazy. People were spinning around to see the movies
on the walls and thrashing in a primitive kind of way.
We played loud and fast for about 20 minutes; the movie projectors were
falling down, people picking them up and shining them all around the room;
amplifiers on 10, sputtering, bouncing around with the vibration; bass
turned up so loud that the sound waves were pummeling all the air out
of the basement; Richard pounding his drums so furiously he was knocking
them over, people picking them up, then falling into them and knocking
them down again.
When we stopped, people were drenched in sweat, yelling crazy stuff and
trying to get us to play some more. We squeezed our way out into the hall
where people were still either pressing in, or passed out on the floor,
or making out in the corners. Three old-style North Beach Beat poet types
blocked our way. They were raving. They had heard the music from outside
and pushed their way down the ramp. "You guys are great," they were shouting,
holding a couple of jugs of our cheap party wine, slapping us on the back.
"Kerouac would have loved you, man!" We took it as a great omen and compliment.
Windows Installation, JC Pennys, SF (Jan 25 79)
Through Rachel Webber, the Units are invited to play in the windows
of the JC Penny's on Market street as part of a two day art installation.
Click here for more information.
Indian Center, SF (Feb 18 79)
The Units ("from Redding") provide sound for a Mike Osterhout
From the flyer: "He was a missionary at a leper colony in Panama
before he was a lawyer in Oakland or a radical-chic author in San Francisco.
But whenever things got tense or when he had to work close to the bone,
he was always a missionary and that was the governing instinct that ruined
him." - Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Scott: "I was also collaborating with performance artists like
Tony Labat and Mike Osterhout at that time, doing the music for some of
their performance pieces. Some of it was recorded and some live. I usually
did the live stuff on an Optigan I picked up at a garage sale."
Club, SF (Feb 24 79)
The Units and Rhythm + Noise play. The flyer is a clever parody of cards
that deaf-mutes used to sell door-to-door. The sign language on the flyer
Scott: "The Deaf Club was a scene out of a horror movie. There
was no sign or light or anything out front. You just knew where it was.
I remember going up a long narrow staircase to get to the actual club.
The staircase was full of smoke and must have been two feet wide, four
stories up, and jammed with people. Getting up there was half the fun.
I remember stepping over a dead person on the sidewalk who had fallen
out the window. Right in front of the stairs. The ambulance was on the
way, and we had a sound check, so we stepped over him and made our ascent
up Mt. Everest. If and when you made it to the summit you squirmed into
the room like a sardine into a can. Once inside, the smoke from the stairs
turned into a fog so thick the light from our projectors could barely
find its way to the screens. You couldn't hear a fucking thing. It didn't
matter because half the people in there were deaf anyway. They were either
born that way or had developed tinnitus like me from having put their
heads next to blaring loudspeakers for too many years.
I clearly remember our first show there. People were
spitting on us. Well, not really on us, more like at the stage. From the
ground level stage, trying to peer through the spit, lights and smoke,
the audience looked like the Night of the Living Dead. Only with smiles.
Spitting mummies weren't bad. That's what people did then. I remember
seeing the Sex Pistols play around then in what must have been an old
opera house with balconies around the stage. It looked like a scene out
of Singing in the Rain with Johnny dancing around the stage like Gene
Kelly in a blizzard of spit coming down off the balconies. It was like
audience participation. The crowd loved us. I forget how many encores
we did. But that didn't make me enjoy cleaning the Baby Ruth candybar
spit off my synthesizer the next day.
Rachel's dad came to one of our shows at the Deaf Club.
He's a very distinguished looking fellow in a suit and everybody thought
he was a major record label CEO who had come to sign us. The audience,
as usual, was full of people from other bands. He reported that everyone
was unusually polite and conversational with him that night and he described
the crowd as Mental Patient Chic. It seemed appropriate, because as I
looked at him out in the audience, he looked more like a psychiatrist
in a mental ward than a major label CEO. I can't say I missed it when
the spitting thing became passe."
Club, SF (March 15 79)
The Units support Negative Trend. The flyer for this show was drawn up
on the stationary of an official court summons.
Club, SF (March 18 79)
The Units play with Seizure and Los Microwaves.
The second poster is an original color xerox.
Spring 1979: The Units move their rehearsal studio to Hunters Point
and begin to play higher-profile shows in and around San Francisco. They
record their first record with the help of Arnie Russell Snyder, a friend
of former Unit Randy Dunagan. In May, they played the California Hall,
opening for the Screamers along with Tuxedomoon. They are interviewed
by Vale (Search + Destroy) for their first major article, a two-page feature
in Slash Magazine.
Mabuhay Gardens, SF (March 21 79)
The Units support Tuxedomoon and Pink Section.
Scott: "The room in the Mab reminded me of CBGB's in New York.
Small and dark with a low ceiling and snotty waitresses. Like many famous
places it was really nothing special to look at. But boy would they pack
'em in. Five or six hundred people in a room the size of a two car garage!
It, like the Deaf Club, was a Fire Marshall's worst nightmare. And like
most music clubs it was a nightmare to try and project films in. Every
surface in the room had the texture of an old movie house floor...extremely
sticky. Chairs, walls, floor, everything! It was like walking into a roll
of fly paper! It smelled like stale beer, cigarettes and barf. I think
they even tried to serve meals before the shows, that's probably where
the barf smell came from...some kind of Philippine concoction that gave
food poisoning a good name. Dirk would try any angle to make a buck. It
was a lot of fun though. "
The Plastic Party, The Farm, SF (Last Week, January 79)
Eric Goode, who went to high school with Rachel Webber, organized a "Sex,
Fear and Cars" theme party at a large assembly hall near SF General
Hospital. Through Rachel and because of the press they received from their
"Windows" performance, the Units were invited to perform alongside
the Oblong Rhondas, a dance troupe, and others.
Scott Ryser: "The Plastic Party was a real scene. We wore big
white plastic garbage bags that we cut head and arm holes in. Then we
put some Japanese super-hero plastic kites on our backs like wings. We
decorated our synthesizers with tons of plastic fruit. We blasted out
our set and the place was jammed and rockin' with hundreds of people,
all dressed in plastic. It seemed like the entire S.F. music and art scene
had been shrink wrapped and sent there on a mission. We played a great
show and became instantly popular."
Tim: "I remember wearing a hat with wires that connected my brain
directly into my ARP Odyssey synthesizer (honestly!), and a roiling crowd
that danced quite vigorously. SF General Hospital is nearby, and from
the stage I saw this older Latino guy in a wheelchair with his leg propped
up in a cast being pushed around the dance floor in wild circles by his
large girlfriend. She would periodically stop pushing the wheelchair and
give him a big kiss. I talked to them after we played. Earlier that evening,
he had been working on his car while partying on some serious substances,
when it fell off the jack and broke his leg. They were going home from
the Emergency Room when they heard the band from outside and they had
to come in to check it out. "You’re my favorite band," he insisted, "just
Scott: "That performance probably did even more for us than the
"Windows" press. There was a vibrant alternative press scene
at the time, and they were all there."
(Eric Goode later managed and promoted clubs in New York.)
(Barbie of the Oblong Rhondas later created the clothing company "Japanese
Beautiful (1839 Geary) (Apr 21 79)
Units play with Irie and Noh Mercy. Though billed as "Punk Giants
Meet The Reggae Monster II," the contest seems a little uneven, with
Irie being the only Reggae band on the bill.
Beautiful (1839 Geary), SF (Apr 26 79)
With Vs, No Sisters and The Situations. "Windows Benefit"
Mabuhay Gardens, SF (May 18 79)
Units support the Dead Kennedys and the Bags. At this show, the Units
began to use a car hood as a stage prop.
Scott: "I loved the car hood. It was a big white Cadillac car
hood we found on the street by our studio. We would hang it up on stage
on a wood 2x4 tripod we built and we would project slides representative
of materialistic, consumer driven, corporate America on it. Images like
corporate logos, suits, politicians, briefcases, beautiful models selling
shit you didn't want or need, I put in a shot of my work boots. We would
open our set with my sequencer playing a fast repetitive sequence of synthesizer
notes and Tim's synth set on a deep bass drone. Both of our synths were
playing by themselves, set on cruise control at maximum volume. Then we
would run onstage with guitars we had cutout from sheets of plywood. We
would beat the hell out of the images on the carhood with the plywood
guitars, the carhood sounded like a gong, and the guitars would shatter
and fly all over the place, including into the audience. They would throw
them back on the stage. We were lucky someone didn't get killed! If we
broke one we'd pick up another one, we had a stack, and continue pounding
for a few minutes."
Hall, SF (May 25 79)
Benefit for Yuth Productions with Punts, Fillmore Struts, Units and The
Mummers and the Poppers.
Hall, SF (May 25 79)
Bill Graham presents "A Nite of Electro Psycho Rock" with the Units, Screamers
The show was underattended due to the high ticket prices ($6.50/$7.50)
and the local new wave scene's apparent distrust of Bill Graham Enterprises.
Press regarding event.
June 1979: Slash Magazine runs a two page feature
on the Units.
Berkley, CA (Jun 1 79)
Units play with Pressure and Big Wow.
Barrington Hall, Berkley (Jun 2 79)
Units play with the Jars.
Gardens, SF (Jun 17 79)
Units play with the Blowdryers and Symptoms. It was "Military Night"
at the Mabuhay. Anyone with a military ID or wearing a uniform was admitted
Summer 1979: The Units
leave on their first tour, a three-day stint at the Hong Kong Cafe in
LA. After the tour, Tim Ennis decides to leave the Units.
think I was frustrated with my keyboard playing and wanted to learn
how to play the drums. The Units was a great experience, but I was ready
to try a different project."
Peter Buck, from SVT, comes in as a temporary replacement.
Alex Rudis is soon hired as a permanent replacement.
The Units compose the soundtrack for Tony Labat's "West/East"
The first Units EP is released to favorable reviews.
Mabuhay Gardens, SF (Jul 4 79)
Units with the Dead Kennedys and Vs.
Kong Cafe, LA (Jul 5/6/7 79)
The Units play three consecutive nights with Pink Section, the Bpeople
(5/6) and Human Hands (7).
In this sequence of shows, the Units finally succeed in destroying their
Scott: "It was a real pain in the ass to schlep around anyway."
The show was reviewed by Slash and Flipside. Read
Gardens, SF (July 12 79)
Units with Pink Section, JJ-180
9 1979: The Units' first EP is released. The tracks are "High
Pressure Days," "Cannibals," "Work" and "Cowboy."
It is a 7" housed in a plain white sleeve rubber-stamped "Units"
and "San Francisco." Some copies come with an insert comprised
of credits and press clippings. Read advertisements
Mabuhay Gardens, SF (Aug 11 79)
Units with Crime
Mabuhay Gardens, SF (Sept 15 79)
Units with "other bands, NYC video, 'Nightclubbing'" (Ivy Calendar)
Fall 1979: The Units return to LA a couple of times, playing the
Hong Kong. They also play the Western Front Festival. Labat's "West/East"
Deaf Club, SF (Sept 23 79)
Units with Nervous Gender.
Trivoli, SF (Sept 30 79)
Units with Voice Farm.
Scott: "An interesting thing about this (poster) is that it was done
with a rubber stamp. We whipped out 30 or 40 of them in different colors.
No two were alike."
Kong Cafe, LA (Oct 5/6 79)
The Units play with the Mutants and the BPeople
Slash Magazine's Kickboy Face enthused: "...with
that amazing rolling beat put out by their drummer and the barrage of
riffs, notes and tight vocal harmonies provided by the rest you find yourself
totally immersed in what must be the most accessible and immediate sounds
ever produced by the experimental edge of the pop world."
- Slash Magazine, November 1979. Entire Review.
Deaf Club, SF (Oct 10 79): Units, Voice Farm, 2+2, Red Asphalt.
Part of the Western Front festival.
Folsom Studio, SF (Oct 12 79)
Loma Linda (Oct 13 79)
16 1979: Labat's "West/East," which features a soundtrack
by the Units, is shown in New York at the Franklin Furnace.
Hong Kong Cafe, LA (Dec 8 79)
Units play with the Plugz