Unit of Force
Think music and the word ‘unit’ and your mind might freeze in terror. But fortunately we’re not talking about ‘Unit’, the indie pop album by the Australian band Regurgitator or hip-hop group G-Unit. This is nothing like that. Cape Town electro-rock outfit Unit-r are hard to define, which is partly what makes them so exciting.
On their myspace page, the band (Matthew de Nobrega, Justin de Nobrega, Goran Manojlivic and Aleks Manojlivic) say they’re “all about the synthesis of human and electronic”, which to most of us means precisely nothing. Think of them as the lovechild of the Pet Shop Boys and Daft Punk, with the brain of Bloc Party, Postal Service sophistication and the manner of a half-Killer, half-Klaxxon hybrid. Got that? Good. We tracked a quarter of the Unit down as their debut album, Phosphenes, is released countrywide.
If the four of you were the Beatles, who would be whom?
Goran: We usually get hit with first questions like "So, who are your influences? or "Why did you decide to start a band?". Stuff that you can only answer horribly. So thank you for not asking any of those. We could never really compare ourselves to the Beatles, we've got way too much respect for their work, especially songs like ‘A day in the life’ or ‘Helter Skelter’. But let’s do it for a laugh: Matt would have to be John, the hippie; Justin would be the minimalist, George; Aleks would be Ringo, the quiet one: and I (Goran) would have to be Paul, the bass guy.
Would you hit me if I called your music 'nu-rave'?
Goran: Nah, people have called us many different things. I guess ‘nu-rave’ is just the latest one, probably because we often use bright synths and love dancing. But we don't really wear the neon clothes or anything; we prefer being at home programming synths. I think because we've been around as music producers for a long time, and people have called us everything from pop to rave to indie folk (and rightfully so I guess), it really doesn't matter. I'll bet you could call us something else next month and you'll be right again.
Where is South Africa's best crowd?
Goran: The best crowd we played to was at the Levis Young Guns show in Cape Town. It’s all about the enthusiasm and being able to jump in unison so hard that the ceiling cracks below. That was awesome.
Did you produce the album yourself?
Goran: Yup. We wrote every song, programmed and played every synth patch, placed every mic on the drum-kit, sang every bit, pressed record on the console, wrote the string arrangements, edited, mixed and mastered it. Its all us, we're selfish like that.
I know (because Wikipedia knows) that a 'Phosphene' is a spot of light brought on by eye movement. But why is it also the name of your upcoming album?
Goran: It's not really a spot. It can be a pattern, a tunnel, a shape, an explosion of colour. And you only get to see it if you close your eyes and press on them pretty hard for about 30 seconds. We really don't like giving clear cut meanings to titles. To this day we haven't let anyone know what the "R" stands for. It's just so much better letting everyone fill in the gaps in any way they like. With Phosphenes, we could be thinking about the physical side of the phenomenon - which is all about our bodies and electric stimulation of our senses, or we could be alluding to the significance of it, whether a phosphene is something unpredictable that we can create out of nothing, or the escapist state of our current culture. I prefer letting others make up their minds.
What could the SA industry do with less of?
Goran: Violently boring music pumped on most radio and TV stations. I threw out my radio, so I don't know. It could be better now, but judging by what I hear in people's cars when driving past it’s not.
And more of?
Goran: Supporting and developing the true local artists. It sounds cheesy, and we've never worried about 'the industry', but some of our truly creative and amazing friend bands can't continue being the best they can be when they have to take an exhausting 9-5 and then listen, write, record, practice and tour on weekends only. Making music is truly a time and money consuming process, so how are local bands supposed to stay on the cutting edge and be internationally relevant when they don't have the time to truly explore and further develop their creativity? And it is obvious that the support has to come from the public first in order to enable 'the industry' to help. But the public has to be aware of the artists first and this is where media support has to come in.
A blogger likened you to the Killers. How does that make you feel?
Goran: It's all good, but you now see my point about nu rave - this was probably two years ago when The Killers and indie music was the big thing. They were probably right; we had synths, guitars and drums. Now its called ‘nu-rave’ and they will compare us to Klaxxons or whoever the proponents are. It's cute and it's fine. The Killers were a decent band, and so were Klaxxons. Maybe we should become The Unit.r's. Or The Unitards?
When and where can we buy the album?
Goran: The album should be in the shops in April 2008. I have seen the design, the CD case and the disc. It is illustrated by our favourite artist, Kronk, and it is incredible. We are huge fans of his work as is the world - he has designed toys for kidrobot, shoes for Nike - so you really want to get the album at the launch parties because there will be lots of other cool stuff going around like posters and T-Shirts so on.
Unit.r will launch ‘Phosphenes’ in Durban, Johannesburg, Tshwane and Cape Town. See www.unit-r.com for dates and venues.