Robert Hood Talks
Robert Hood, one of the many aliases of this American Producer, is often thought of as one of the founders of minimal techno and is also a founding member of ‘Underground Resistance’, a collective from Detroit with a strictly ‘anti-mainstream’ way of business and a music policy focusing on grungy, four track, Detroit techno.
We had a chat with Robert surrounding his debut Floorplan album ‘Paradise’ and found out about his Detroit roots, where the cities where a catalyst for people to move on to do bigger things, how our attitudes have changed towards race and the influences on his music. Don’t forget to check back next week for part two.
You moved from Detroit to Alabama a while ago, how long have you been down there?
It’s been 9 years exactly. 9 years on Sunday.
How’s that working out? Do you feel relieved to not be in Detroit any more – do you still feel part of that?
Yeah it’s been working out great. My career and vision and dream has been revitalised and refreshed and renewed on so many levels. You know, looking at Detroit from the outside in now I’ve gained a different perspective on detroit and so very much still a part of detroit, family and friends still there and Detroit is still very much in my DNA. Alabama has a different outlook and perspective, my wife’s family is from here. Her grandfather built up the land we’re living on now and so coming from the place where former slaves and share croppers migrated from, places like Alabama and Mississippi and the south and went to places like Detroit to make a better life for themselves and now it’s coming full circle.
Well that was the next thing I was going to ask you about – is this a thing of empowerment now that people have gone to the cities and are now able to move back out to the country.
Yeah that’s really it, you know. Former slaves and black folks, and people of all different walks of life moved to different places like Chicago and Detroit and whatnot to make a better life and then those cities being the springboard or the catalyst for people to move on to do bigger and better things. People moved on to Atlanta, to Europe from there. And spiritually speaking, my ancestors came to Detroit looking for a better life and hoping we would go to college and yeah those dreams have come to fruition. You have more black professionals, doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, professors, but also what (our ancestors) didn’t anticipate was that we would begin to dream, and to envision ourselves as space travellers and time travellers and mathematicians through techno music. And to be architects of a whole new world and that’s really prophetic and biblical, it’s like the children of Israel coming out of Egypt into the promised land. And at the same time facing adversity and struggle along the way and overcoming and that’s pretty much what ‘Motor’ is speaking of is just overcoming that adversity and overcoming the obstacles and the struggles, and people are still struggling now and it just totally reminds me of that story in the Bible.
Sure, and it seems that, even though some people are still struggling, you’ve got quite an optimistic view on the situation and I suppose the perfect example of this is that now we have a black man in the Whitehouse. 10 years ago could you ever see that happening?
I couldn’t have seen that happening 6 years ago! My wife and I were just talking about that last night. We all of a sudden started hearing about this senator from Chicago called Barak Obama and my wife thought that was such a cool name and I thought wow he’s going to catch so much flack by having a name like that.
Especially with a middle name like Hussein!
I know – when I found out it was Hussein I thought Oh Lord this is going to be rough! (Laughs) But this is what God is doing, amongst a bleak background where it seems that all hope is lost, and with this black man from Chicago with a name like Barak Hussein Obama God is doing a new thing. Of course we have opposition but there are seeds of hope if we would just learn to receive it and trust in God, and only trust Him and not this world system that we put all of our faith in. We put all of our faith and trust and belief in this world system and then when it goes up then we’re up and when it goes down then we’re down and see that’s the rollercoaster that we need to get off of. And see we’ve been riding that rollercoaster for so long that we’re used to it and we don’t know how to even attempt to get off of it.
Yeah and it seems that somewhere like Detroit is a really good example of that rollercoaster. Somewhere that a lot of people moved to and there was this boom time and then this decline. Tell me, from the time when you were growing up to the time that you left Detroit how did the city change?
Well when I was a kid maybe about 7 or 8 years old I can remember moving to the North West side, and it was quite close to 8 mile and the neighbourhood was a better place. And I remember everybody having a house with a garage and 2 cars, everybody was basically a 2 car family. Everybody was doing very well, and most people were employed by General Motors, you know, Ford, Chrysler, my grandfather worked at Chrysler. All was well, everybody was prosperous and making a decent living. The American dream was being realised. But over time the underlying politics and decay from layoffs and drugs began to increase. The decay slowly increased, almost invisible but still there. And that’s where the title Slow Motion Catrina comes from but it goes back to the days of the civil rights movement and the riots in detroit and the fact that neighbourhoods and buildings were burned out never to be restored. And you’re just kind of sweeping the dirt under a rug and hiding it but then that dirt just builds up over time. Now looking back at Detroit, I remember about a year ago visiting the Detroit and the sense of hoplessness that was there just walking down the street. I remember going to a gas station and there was a young guy maybe 22, 23 years old and he asked me if he could pump my gas and I said you know what I’ll give you a couple of dollars to pump my gas and was basically begging ‘man I really need a job do you know where I can get a job?’ and I’ve never seen it like that I mean it was so hopeless. Detroit used to be really a progressive city. I remember being a teenager at Cooley High School and the attitude of young people was such a sense of progressiveness, and you heard it and you felt it in the music and in the fashion and what people were trying to do at 17, 18 19 years old. People were trying to do big things, and looking to do great things. Now the dream and the vision is very small and people are just trying to survive.
Yeah like you say that guy at the gas station – a $2 handout for pumping your gas is one thing but then he’s saying ‘can you get me a job’ and he wants to pull himself out of the situation.
Right. You can tell he hasn’t stopped to do anything illegal. Yet. And I don’t know the dude and I don’t know what he’s doing but you can tell he’s got a sense of ‘I want to do this for myself, I want to pull myself up but I do need some help’. And that left a strong impression on me.
Going back to those early days when you were finding yourself in music, tell me what the atmosphere was like at that time.
Again there was a sense that you could do anything. You had highschool and college age kids throwing progressive parties on downtown pubs. And I remember the energy and the progressive attitude was just so powerful. That’s the first time I heard DJs like Ray Berry, Terrence Parker, there was a guy named DJ Kink from Southfield and just getting into the sound of Metroplex. Well actually before there was Metroplex there was Cybertron. Even going back to highschool I can remember I took drum classes with Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir and we would trade records and talk about music all day long and the progressive conversations that would come up from talking about Cybertorn and Gary Newman and Kraftwerk and Prince and so forth, and Roger Troutman and it was just a sense of you could do what ever you put your mind to and there was no limit and there was no boundaries. And that’s the feeling that I got from it. And then I saw people doing it and I saw people like Juan Atkins and Cybertron and they’re from Detroit and I was like ‘oh wow this is fantastic! There are forward thinking people right here in my neighbourhood’. And then I begin to hear about people like Derrick May and listening to Electric Crazy People on the radio, it was just growing at such a fast rate. And it was growing so fast that radio just said that this is too forward thinking and too ahead of it’s time. And I’m just like ‘well this is right up my alley, and this is something I want to do and this is something I have to do’. And I was listening to music by people like the B52s and Human League, Heaven 17 coupled with James Brown and Parliament Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone and it was just like a perfect fit in my mind on a creative and artistic level. And I thought ‘I just have to do this music, I have to get involved in this culture or I’m going to bust!’.
I read somewhere you citing Eddie Grant as one of the reasons you got into electronic music which I wasn’t really expecting. What was it about his music and is there anyone else who influenced you that people wouldn’t instantly think of?
Well what I found from Eddie Grant, you know him taking Reggae, and that Raga sound and mixing it with synthesizers and it took on a space aged feel. What I got from that was that you could cross genres and you could do what ever you imagined and whatever you dreamed of. And so again with Heaven 17 and Depeche Mode, and they took earthly and unearthly sounds and merged them together and I found that very interesting. And it just broke down borders, and again with Parliament Funkadelic and with Talking Heads and what David Byrne was writing about, and Tom Tom Club, they were breaking down boundaries. Run DMC when they did ‘It’s Like That’ changed my whole outlook on how music and music structure was created and the structure was completely torn down and minimised. And it was just stark and it was raw. And I remember skipping school to go down and see Run DMC, and they were just brand new and I’d just found out what their name was, who made this music and I thought ‘that’s a strange name – Run DMC, what kind of a name is that?’ because we were used to Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five and names like that. And so what they called themselves and how they approached music and the drum programming was just in your face, that whole attitude really changed the way I thought about music. And if you couple that with this New Wave music and all of these influences and the influence of Electrifying Mojo and you’ve got yourself a time bomb just waiting to happen. The Motor City was just waiting to explode. And when the Belleville 3 took off it was really something. And I remember going to the Music Institute and the electric energy that was in the air. And not just the 3 of them but people like Dee Win and Blake Baxter and all of that. And then DJs like Kim Colly over at Heaven, everything was on the move.
Well you talking about this atmosphere makes me think of when all of the early Detroit records came over here to the UK and collided with the melting pot of multicultural Britain in the late 80s and how that fed into the early rave and jungle scene. How aware of that whole thing were you at the time?
Yeah sort of. Say for example with Sting and the Police, you know what they were doing with reggae music and rock, and then later on what Sting in his solo endeavours with rock and jazz and classical music and whatnot. And then you got the Blue Turtles and all that. That was another time when the walls were coming down in music and I started to think about how music can be done and not just a pop, or RnB or top 40 way of doing things. It was just really an exciting time.
Part two soon come.