The year is 2037. Amid a decaying social order and broiling anger at the corrupt, corporate plutocracy, the disenfranchised masses finally revolt after the catastrophic mishandling of a global viral pandemic from an indifferent political class. Mass protests and civil war engulf the Western World, and the fascistic agents of hyper-capital come to a chilling solution: eliminate all dissent. For the compliant remainder of humanity? Nerva Sky, a VR simulator that keeps the mind in a state of opiated entertainment while the body performs hard labour for the wealth hoarding elite. Will the docile enslaved ever break free from their augmented shackles?
Philip K. Dick? Could be, but pessimistic depictions of blurred reality, tech addiction, and massive, corporate hegemony become less far-fetched as the world spins out of control into an abyss of algorithm news and dwindling faith in liberal democracy. Watching the creeping terror of fear and uncertainty grip America and beyond from various bedroom windows during lockdown is Nervous Guy, a side-project combined with members of Content, Leakage, and Mystiker who have infected their punk notoriety with a nasty malware of synth corruption and electro defect. Written and recorded across two different states and time zones amid the pandemic, Nervous Guy’s debut album is a product mutated and engineered in cyberspace, a net-ravaged concept album rendered more hideous with each digital exchange akin to the The Fly‘s bloody conclusion that crawls out of Dr. Brundle’s steaming transportation pod…
Nerva Sky (NERV-US-SK/GUY, get it?) is a glitchy brew of all manner of tech-noir synthpunk, a scrambled signal that transmits its ten tracks with ruined audio interruptions and sonic rot. The one track accompanied with a video is ‘Cyber Cruiser’, a signature song of sorts that encapsulates the many dimensions of the album, paranoid drum machines panic against atonal keyboards and warped samples fronted by guttural death metal vocals, a scabby coagulation of their hardcore stripes and affinity with the electronic end of post-punk. Their immersion in synth-soaked neon flicker is brilliantly pulled off in the cinematic ‘Prediction’, an utterly evocative mood piece awash with Michael Mann thriller guitars and sexy/edgy narration that prickles with drama, images of hologram red light districts and stripper robots are conjured in its sordid skulk. Moments of molten lo-fi channel the dehumanized art-punk heritage of Der Plan or Nervous Gender on garbled cuts like ‘Stroll With a Robot’ or ‘Mechanical Man’, but the album smoulders with acrid splendour on the punk pummelers. Album opener ‘Cyborg’s Dilemma’ beats the shit out of you with lightning guitar and buzzing bass, but the corroded garage rock rush of ‘Cybergang’ is perhaps the standout moment, a stirring and impossibly exciting hit of misshapen riffs and weird celestial chimes that twist and intertwine to a thrilling conclusion of apocalyptic choral keys.
Despite the album’s exploration of the current tumultuous zeitgeist, this is no po-faced narrative project that’s lost in its own conceptual indulgences. The bleak dystopic vision is more in the vein of William Gibson’s cyberpunk sprawl, a soundtrack to the illicit alleys and back streets of Mega-City One. Pulp sci-fi and B-movies influence Nerva Sky with vigour, from its Westworld inspired cover to Caitlin Hickey‘s frenzied video, Nervous Guy drape themselves in pop-culture aesthetic, your senses are transported to old worn VHS’s of RoboCop and The Terminator next to weathered issues of 2000 AD comics. Even their story of a herded masses imprisoned in a state of virtual sedation takes elements of The Matrix and The Time Machine, their appropriation never slipping into derivativity.
Sci-fi is at its best when it exorcises our societal anxieties and casts a cold light on our uncertain tomorrow. In an era characterised by political failure, climate catastrophe and mass alienation, Nerva Sky pops up like an unexpected download, beckoning you to join some underground cyber-resistance against the faceless edifice of authority. With one Power Glove in comic-book escapism and a T-800’s foot in social commentary, Nervous Guy has delivered an expert slice of caustic synthpunk that lifts a mirror to our putrid present while daring enough to have fun with it.