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Music: Prime Numbers

Rock minimalists tone it down to the lowest common denominator.


It’s hard to explain Numbers to those unfamiliar with the Bay Area trio. It’s not that their music is convoluted or pretentious—it’s just difficult to convince people that Numbers are a band. Seriously. Tell someone that you’re interviewing Numbers and the smartass might even ask which number you’re interviewing (Single-digit? Double? Odd? Even? Prime?).

It’s also hard to track down facts about Numbers on the magical World Wide Web. Type “Numbers” into Wikipedia (That’s right: Wikipedia. We do intense research at City Weekly), and you’ll get a fine description of the concept used to describe and assess quantity, but nary a mention of rock music. It doesn’t help to refine your search with “Numbers band” either, unless you’re truly interested in learning the intricate mechanisms of toll-free telephone numbers. They might as well have called their band the letter “A.”

Then again, Numbers have never been big on content, and the mystery surrounding their persona might be more than a clever journalistic conceit for segueing into the band’s growing infatuation with minimalist music.

Formed nearly seven years ago during San Francisco’s burgeoning no-wave, dance-punk scene, Numbers launched when guitarist Dave Broekema and keyboardist Eric Landmark left their similarly tech-oriented band Xerobot to work with drummer/vocalist Indra Dunis—an addition that, while slight, set the foundation for Numbers’ distinct edge. Their first label, Oakland’s Tigerbeat6, “specialized in the bleep-rock, whatever-you-want-to-call-it, electronic genre, and that confused a lot of people,” Broekema says in a phone interview. “We do have electronic aspects to our band, but having a live drummer really sets us apart. We were essentially a rock band on an electronic label.”

While they found an audience who ate up their spastic dance-rock and earned a notorious reputation for playing an instrument called the Berserk (“Which was mostly a homemade noisemaker that specialized in making irritating, jarring sounds,” Broekema laughs), they’ve since gravitated toward a more mellow sound and a new home in indie-label heavyweight Kill Rock Stars.

“It’s exciting to find a label that’s superresponsive to what you want to achieve and come to your town and just be supportive,” Broekema says. “We’ve been on certain unnamed labels that will put a CD out but won’t answer your phone calls and hide from you after they do it. I think it’s important that, with that kind of different direction we’re taking, we need that kind of label.”

¬†As for the sound sway, Numbers simply outgrew the need for speed. “We kind of did the dance-punk thing to death,” Broekema says. Our first couple of albums were kind of spazzy and fast-paced. But on [the group’s second release] We’re Animals, there are some elements that are pretty new we decided to carry that through.”

If Numbers thought they did dance-punk to death, then their latest album Now You Are This is the nail on that coffin. Taking cues from their idols, Kraftwerk (their name actually stems from a Kraftwerk song title), Now You Are This explores all the facets of electronic minimalism to create a very somber, very beautiful sound. Dunis’ voice and heavy beats clash wonderfully with eight-bit, NES-style droning. But like any good experimental band, Numbers never forget to add some pop-sensibility to counteract any sterile robotics that might alienate fans.

“We have consciously developed ourselves in that [minimalist] style, but we write for ourselves first of all,” Broekema says. “You’ll always get people asking us if we’ll play our old stuff, people who just want to freak out, but it seems like people are getting into what we’re doing now, even though it’s not the same style. We definitely don’t get the immediate audience reaction that we used to get, but it seems like we’re slowly winning them over.”

As for those hoping for a Berserk comeback, you’d better exhale: “We’ve since retired it to Eric’s basement. We’re into making pleasant sounds now.”

NUMBERS @ The Urban Lounge, 241 S. 500 East, Monday Oct. 1, 10 p.m.