Revenge of the nerds

Pub date June 19, 2007
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

"Hey, everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!" Rodney Dangerfield’s character, Al Czervik, says in one of the classic lines from Caddyshack. Oakland’s Replicator sample the line as the tag end of "Delicious Fornicake," the opening track of their new album, Machines Will Always Let You Down (Radio Is Down). The inclusion is telling: Caddyshack celebrates the redemption — nay, triumph — of the little guy, the lowly, the nobody, the nerd, the caddy, for chrissakes, despite the oppression of greedy, classist boors. Machines is, in its way, a tight, terse, aggro, nerd-rock opera, with tweed cubicles replacing expansive set pieces, and hard, noisy post-punk reminiscent of geek-rock kingpins Big Black, in an alternate universe where Steve Albini doesn’t take himself so seriously. "It’s kind of, for lack of a better term, big rock," vocalist-guitarist Conan Neutron says over the phone from his apartment. In the opening track, the narrator, with the help of "a few beers, some Scotch, and a pack of cigarettes," builds "a robot with which to have sex." In "Payment www.yzzz.rd" (pronounced "wizard"), Neutron, an IT guy for a "major financial institution" when not living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, sings, "I just got paid / So come get my cash / Come take my money / Come get it fast," the refrain of wage slaves everywhere.

The next track, "Assloads of Unrespect," is in the voice of a degenerate dot-com millionaire, the kind who crawled the Bay Area like a new species of roach in the mid- to late ’90s: "Let me begin / By saying I’m rich / I’m well-dressed / Good-looking / Hey — ain’t that a bitch? / Because I own you / That’s right, I own you." In an example of Neutron’s biting, often hilarious lyrics, the boss we love to hate goes on: "I heard it said the meek shall inherit the earth /Well, just make damn sure to shine my shoes first." The album goes on to tackle such subjects as time travel, the Enigma machine, and the spy-versus-spy uses of nanotechnology, before ending with the Office Space–like "Login with My Fist" — the battle cry of cubicle commandos everywhere — which winds down in a cacophony of screams and guitar squall, an implacable Commodore VIC-20–style voice repeating, "It does not compute," in the background.

It’s worth noting that the disc isn’t a celebration of all things techie, often a nerd stereotype. Rather, it’s a scathing denunciation of technology, or, more accurately, the devious and inhumane uses that technology has been put to in the hands of the powerful and ethically impaired. When the nerd class stops letting itself be pimped out for the glory of so-called pure science, then maybe it’ll inherit the earth. And when people stop being enamored of machines making life easier, maybe they’ll realize they’re being enslaved by technology — that, indeed, machines will always let you down.

"We make music for very pissed-off smart people," Neutron says. He goes on to acknowledge that this target demo is a small slice of the music-listening public: "Our music isn’t very popular." Formed in 1999, Replicator — Neutron, Ben Adrian on bass and keyboard, Chris Bolig on drums, and "junior partner" Todd Grant on guitar — have seen trends come and go. "First everyone was really into indie pop," Neutron says. "Then everyone was into sounding like Radiohead and then garage rock and then everyone wanted to, like, wear a mask and not really play music."

Through it all, Replicator have released three pissed-off, smart records, toured heavily, and brought to mind a time "when it was not an insult to be considered brilliant," as the lyric on "Login with My Fist" goes. I’m not saying they’re brilliant — nor am I saying they’re not — but what they’re attempting doesn’t accept mediocrity. This uncompromising approach often seems to have relegated them to the middle slot of shows while the underground flavor du jour headlines above them. Like Dangerfield, they get no respect.

One of the titles kicked around for the new album was Fuck You, Still Here. "I see bands that are more careerist," Neutron says. "They have this idea: ‘Oh, we’re going to get signed and then we’re going to make this video and go on tour with this band.’ That seems to be their end goal.

"Our end goal is to return the ass-kicking that music has given us."


With Moggs and Colony of Watts

June 30, 9:30 p.m., $6

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923