Friday, March 21, 2008

Master Builder

How do you sum up the career of one of the most influential Detroit Techno artists ever? One word.... MINIMAL. Not in the sense of his contribution being less than prolific but in the sense that Robert Hood (with help from Jeff Mills) invented Minimal Techno. The fact that (so-called) Minimal Techno now rules dancefloors all over the world is testament to the vision of Robert Hood and his ethos of less is more.

Hood's career started out when he picked up some basic equipment from a pawn shop in Detroit and began recording demos. Unable to find someone able to do “some kind of political abstract MCing – a cross between Chuck D and Q-Tip,” Robert laid down his own lyrics on his productions. He eventually passed on a demo, through friend Mike Clark (Agent X), to Mike Banks of the (then fledgling) Underground Resistance. Instantly hooked with his lyrical styling, Mike Banks and Jeff Mills took Robert on board as an MC for 2 tracks on a compilation they were putting together. As Robert’s productions grew stronger, the incomparable Underground Resistance crew formed, mixing political outrage with electronic beats, and Robert found his place as a seminal member, the “Minister of Information.”

It was with the formation of Axis Records with Jeff Mills, however that propelled Robert's music to the attention of everyone in the Techno world. "Minimal Nation" was a ground breaking production and hit the electronic music world with unprecedented explosion – it is credited today as a turning point for Techno.

Following on from this Robert then branched out on his own with M-Plant records. “M-Plant kind of borrowed from the sound I was using from Axis and really expanded on that sound. I had developed this “grey area” sound - what I mean by that is that in Detroit, even when the sun is out, there’s something in the atmosphere. The sky has a grey haze over it. It’s got to be something from the industrial factories there. I’d never really heard a sound like that before and it came from a Roland Juno - it was a chord sound that really went along with my depiction of what Detroit was at that time. A lot of buildings were abandoned and there was a lot of lifelessness in the city, especially downtown. The M-Plant, in minimalism, kind of reflected that. I remember thinking of Detroit like a museum. You know, like a work of art standing still, suspended in time.” – Robert Hood

Since his formation of Minimal Techno 14 years ago the genre has taken on a life of its own and other producers, most notably Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos with a whole host more working in Europe, have snatched the baton from Robert Hood and expanded (or should that be contracted) the sound to reach new audiences throughout the world.

“These days I am focused purely on minimalism and really embracing minimalism, because it’s taken on a life of its own. It’s now a music style separate from Techno. I would never have imagined that it would take this direction. I didn’t see that one coming! I saw minimalism in life becoming more and more evident - in furniture, in electronics, in art, in automobiles, appliances - you know, I could see that coming. But, as far as music itself being thought of now as an art form? Back then, I think people looked on at it as a trend but they didn’t realise that minimalism is an art form. I did not realise it would take on this characteristic as it has now. So, where I’m at right now is embracing minimalism and seeing how far I can push it - in my interpretation of what simplicity and the music is all about. I am really representing it as an art form and not a trend. As the future evolves, we’re going to get more and more minimal...” Robert Hood

The main reason for this career retrospective is that Robert has a new mix cd release as part of the Fabric series. Fabric 39 manages to cram in a whooping 32 tracks into its 74 minutes. The mix is a fast paced audio assault through minimal Detroit Techno with tracks from Robert himself, plus Jeff Mills, DJ Skull, Pacou, Joris Voorn and Marco Lenzi. Robert's mixing style is like that of many of his Detroit peers - quick. He doesn't mess around here and the cd starts of pumping and ends (well you can guess the rest). My only criticism is that the tracks do seem to be stuck in a time warp. The mix is in a very late-nineties style. Open hi-hats all the way. I think that he could have included more modern sounding productions in there as well to create a much more interesting journey, especially as Minimal Techno has come so far since it's inception. However these Detroit guys have never been bothered about fashion. They are the creators, not the followers. Respect is due.

I couldn't leave you without some gems from Robert Hood's extensive back catalogue. The three productions below are classic examples of his sound. I love the way he modulates just one synth sound to create numerous subtle variations to create a beautiful sonic landscape that you can get lost in. "The Pace" is a classic example which also blends two different tracks seamlessly together.

Robert Hood - Museum // Minimal Nation LP. Axis Records 1994

Robert Hood - The Pace // M-Plant 1996

Robert Hood - Who Taught You Math (Edit) // Peacefrog 2002

The Fabric Mix is out now. Buy it here and here. His back catalogue is still available if you look hard enough. Check out his newer material at his Myspace

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Good to have you back. Great review of Robert Hood's influential career.

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