Clad in trademark chains across his arms and neck, JBOT walked through the crowd with a drum strapped around his shoulder, banging out rhythm along with the Russian national anthem that bellowed out of the speakers. He carried a red flag with the words “We’re all f***ed” hand-painted on it.
Curiosity and wonder filled the room as all eyes held on Jay Vance, more commonly known as JBOT, as he marched around the Garage on Sunday night, and when he took the stage between his bandmates, the crowd pushed forward, awaiting what was to come. Their enthusiasm was understandable — after all, JBOT’s bandmates are actual robots.
Controlled and pre-programmed through a mixing board towards the back of the stage, the two robots make up drums, guitar and bass, thrashing out a mathematically precise blend of grindcore and crust punk.
GTRBOT666 stands almost 8 feet tall, cradling a double-neck guitar/bass combo in its mechanical grip. DRMBOT 0110 sits at an eight-piece, stainless-steel drum kit wired with triggers and pedals. The robots moved and bobbed their head and had personalities all their own, closing the gap between human and machine. The style of metal and punk music the band plays has been heard many times before, but Vance makes up for the familiarity with perhaps his enthusiastic performance and unique accompaniment.
Between songs, JBOT shouted his discontent with current national politics, even engaging in witty dialogue with GTRBOT666 and DRMBOT 0110 who cursed and hilariously let loose on their frontman. Marching in to the Russian national anthem and hanging American and Russian flags on either side of the stage added a compelling political edge to Captured! by Robots’ performance, one that stirred fans into brays of cheering and that launched a wild mosh pit in the middle of the crowd.
Jay Vance built his robot band in 1996 and, as stated in his professional bio, says the idea came about because he was extremely unlikeable and wanted to play in a band after all of his past human bandmates hated him. Vance says he built the robots and programmed them to play music, but eventually they turned on him and enslaved him, forcing him to perform while they lash out with verbal abuse on their captive throughout the show.
Based out of San Francisco, Captured! by Robots has been touring the country since the mid-1990s. This 2017 tour, entitled the 20 Years of Suffering Tour, marks the 20th anniversary of the enterprise. While the band originally consisted of nine members, only one of them human, only two robots remain.
If something is lost in the music by the fact the musicians are robots, the ravenous crowd cheering for more didn’t seem to notice. Vance ran throughout the downtown Winston-Salem club while screaming out vocals, joining the mosh pit, throwing beer and water on fans and stirring the crowd into action.
Opening the show for the night were Winston-Salem-based bands Mortimer and Primovanhalen. Both bands laid down solid sets for the night, maintaining a large crowd of local fans for the duration of the show. Yet it seemed the openers got swept under the rug when the robots took the stage.
The moshing didn’t let up as the night wore on, and the crowd gathered close to the stage to witness the robots and Vance’s wild performance. As Captured! by Robots finished the last song on the set list and the robots thanked the crowd, Jay Vance ran to the back of the club to work his merch booth and meet with fans. These activities required a more human touch.