Tim Pace's Band Doesn't Touch Drugs or Groupies, but It Wouldn't Go Far Without Juice
The Nuclear Diodes are the ultimate in heavy-metal rock. Outfitted with garish flashing lights and playing outlandishly electrified music, they are heavy metal—about 320 pounds' worth.
The four rockers are robots, built by Tim Pace, 35, a lighting and sound technician at the Bayou, a Washington, D.C. nightclub. Launched as the Nuclear Diode Robot Band last year, the group hasn't gone gold yet, but it has been certified aluminum in a big way.
To get parts for his robots, Pace frequents junkyards, garbage heaps and NASA surplus auctions. "What's junk to most people is heaven to me," he says. The human-size band members have been fashioned from such scrap as an oxygen tank, a Navy direction finder and an old weather satellite chassis. Each "musician" has a distinct look, if not gender ("I don't know how to tell a robot's sex," Pace admits). Using a three-foot control board, he makes the Diodes walk, spin their heads 360°, "sing" and "play." For their music, Pace distorts tape recordings of standards, adds echo and reverberation effects and then dubs in "weird space noises" with a synthesizer. The sounds play on a separate tape recorder while the Diodes perform. "I can space up either the Beatles or Bach," says Pace. "The robots cater to their hosts' tastes."
The Diodes' gigs—for which Pace charges $400 and up—are off the mainstream rock circuit. At a recent computer show, the Diodes performed tunes composed by their electronic peers. Last winter they played a dentistry convention.
Pace, who tinkered with electric trains and radios as a boy, did aircraft maintenance on the Navy carrier York-town, then worked as light man for Jimi Hendrix, Rush, the Byrds and the Kinks. The movie Star Wars inspired his robot sideline in 1977; at first he used an R2-D2 clone but redesigned the robot when director George Lucas' lawyer threatened suit. A sci-fi freak, Pace drives to Star Trek conventions with wife Lorrie, 27, in his own USS Enterprise. It has a gadgety control panel and fires fake laser beams but still looks like the mail truck it once was.
Pace lives in Falls Church, Va. Thirty percent of the electricity for his house comes from solar energy collectors he built and installed himself. Recently he has had to halt robot production for lack of space (storage, that is). Nonetheless, he sighs, "I can't look at a pile of metal without envisioning robots."
On Newsstands Now
- The Little Couple: A New Mom's Fight to Live
- Remembering Nelson Mandela
- Princess Kate's Style Secret!
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine