Part performance art piece, part synth pop/post-punk/new wave innovators, the Units practically ruled the San Francisco scene in the late '70s and early '80s before flirting with unlikely mainstream success in 1983. Often cited as one of the pioneers of synth punk along with mythical Los Angeles-based group the Screamers, the Units built swirling prog rock-esque keyboards and frenetic electronic blips around politically and sociologically charged chants that echoed elements of what bands like Devo and Gang of Four were discovering elsewhere.
The band mainly consisted of Rachel Webber and Scott Ryser, but held true to the spirit of a collective as members of the Bay Area avant-garde scene flitted in and out. After a spate of 7"s and dozens of high-profile opening slots (including gigs with the Dead Kennedys, XTC, and the Psychedelic Furs), the Units released Digital Stimulation on local new wave label 415 Records in 1980. The album earned critical raves and is considered one of the earliest new wave records. By the end of the year, the group toured with labelmates Romeo Void and moved on to playing shows in arenas and theaters opening for the Police, Iggy Pop, and Gary Numan.
In 1982, peppy single "The Right Man" (released by the small independent label Up Roar Records) scaled the dance charts and helped earn the band a contract with Epic Records. While the soundtrack-ready single "A Girl Like You" found its way into medium rotation on the nascent MTV, its parent mini-album, New Way to Move, was not commercially successful. Bill Nelson worked with the Units, producing what were to be their second and third records for Epic, but neither saw the light of the day. In 1984, Ryser and Webber moved on, relocating to New York, and the band dissolved.
Over time, the Units' legend grew, and their tracks began cropping up in DJ sets and mix compilations during the mid-2000s. In 2009, the dormant band earned a new audience when the Portland, Oregon indie label Community Library issued History of the Units, a compilation of the group's pre-Epic work. Numerous DJs and producers subsequently remixed the Units' songs, including Todd Terje, Alexander Robotnick, and Klein & MBO, and Italian label Opilec Music released the triple-CD remix collection Connections in 2011, along with several 12"s and digital EPs of further mixes. U.K. new wave reissue label Futurismo finally brought Digital Stimulation back into circulation in 2015, 35 years after its initial pressing. The following year, Futurismo issued the Units' previously unreleased second album, Animals They Dream About, which had been shelved since 1982 due to label issues. ~ Jason Thurston & Paul Simpson