A month or so ago, I started a column for The Bay Bridged. The idea was to write about underappreciated Bay Area bands from the past. The first one was about the awesome all-girl ’60s San Francisco rock band called the Ace of Cups.

A friend of mine saw that article, and DMed me about it on Instagram. She had a band she thought I would be interested in writing about. But, she admitted that she was totally biased. That band was the vintage San Francisco new wave band the Units. The thing is, the drummer just happened to be her dad.

Usually I would be hesitant to write about a friend’s father’s band. However, in the case of the Units, I chose to make an exception. The reason for doing this was simple: they were really damn good. The other reason is because their history sheds light on San Francisco’s punk and new wave scene, something I have always wanted to know more about.

The Units main members were the futuristic keyboard duo Scott Ryser and Rachel Webber. According to a wonderfully thorough WFMU interview with Ryser, the Units first got together in the late ’70s. Then, they were mainly a performance art project, mixing experimental electronic music with multimedia shenanigans. But, according to the interview, that all changed when they started seeing bands like Devo and Los Angeles band the Screamers play at Mabuhay Gardens, a long-gone punk venue in San Francisco’s North Beach. It was there that they found a framework upon which to form their band.

In 1980, the Units released their first record Digital Stimulation, which came out on the defunct San Francisco label 415 Records. The record is full of catchy synth-punk, melding wild, live drumming with complex keyboard arrangements and melodic shouts. “High Pressure Days,” the albums opening track, sounds modern even by today’s standards, with its arpeggio synth lines and rhythmic bass tones. Even though it was written decades ago, the song could easily be mistaken for a lost LCD Soundsystem demo — at least until the vocals kick in. The EDM zeitgeist must agree, because the song has been remixed by a plethora of producers, including Norwegian nu-disco star Todd Terje.

While the music was visionary for its time, their stage antics were equally of note. The band made bizarre cryptic videos, such as the one below, which they would project behind them during live shows.

The venues they played in weren’t always orthodox, either. In 1979, the band performed in a JCPenney display case at 5th and Market in San Francisco. According to an essay written by Rachel Webber I found at synthpunk.org, the show lasted for seven hours. The store window was covered in black paint at the beginning of the show. And slowly, as the performance went on, the paint was wiped away, revealing more and more of the band to curious pedestrians.

According to All Music writer Jason Thurston, the band reached mid-level success, opening for bands like the Police and Iggy Pop, and even signing a contract with major label Epic Records. Unfortunately their second record Animals They Dreamed About was never released during the band’s heyday. In fact, it didn’t come out for decades later, until Futurismo records reissued it in 2015, along with a remastered reissue of the Unit’s first record Digital Simulation.

While Digital Stimulation and Animals They Dreamed About don’t appear to be on Spotify or Apple music, you can listen to their debut below on Youtube, or go buy those sweet LP reissues I linked to above.

And, if there’s an underappreciated Bay Area band you think we should know about, let me know on Twitter!