If I’m completely honest, the announcement that the latest release in Robert Hood’s long-running ‘Motor: Nighttime World” series was to be based around Julien Temple’s 2010 documentary ‘Requiem For Detroit’ was met with mixed feelings. Call me pessimistic, but the concept of a techno LP centred around a work that hyperbolically describes Detroit as a “man-made Katrina” (as referenced in one of the track names) worried me. It worried me because I envisaged a clumsy approximation of a portrayal of the long-running issues in the Motor City, an album wherein the concept overburdened the content, leaving an ultimately hollow shell.
Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In retrospect, Hood’s pedigree speaks for itself, with his position as a lynchpin of techno since its conception and the movement’s intrinsic link with Detroit marking him as the perfect candidate to successfully embody a modern history of the city through electronic music. Whilst I feared a heavy-handed approach, Hood's method of communicating his message is defined by its subtlety, with the emphasis always placed firmly on the quality of his production.
Despite this emphasis, the conceptual element of the record is far from a gimmicky attempt to differentiate from its contemporaries. The implementation of the tale of Detroit’s rise and demise at the hands of the motor industry contributes interesting dynamics and a real sense of progression to the proceedings, with the album, in my mind, divided into three distinct sections.
Opener ‘The Exodus’ employs swirling pads and atmospherics laid over sparse reverberating percussion, evoking a sense of dreamy futurism that’s omnipresent throughout the first few tracks. Indeed, one thing that struck me in these initial pieces was the largely unprecedented prominence of melody, which may come as something of a shock to those used to Hood’s staunchly minimal approach. The twinkling arpeggios and piano stabs of ‘Better Life’ are one of the most surprising moments of the album, but they also form one of the highlights, encapsulating the sense of hope of Detroiters in the industrial resurgence of the mid-twentieth century.
We only begin to hear shades of ‘classic’ dance-floor orientated Robert Hood in the latter half of the album, with the pounding kick drum and unsettling bass rumbles of ‘Drive: The Age of Automation’ catching the listener slightly unawares. The robotic stylings of this section undoubtedly correspond with the automation of factories that saw Detroit collapse, with the relentless acid licks of ‘Hate Transmissions’ maintaining the intensity until the arrival of ‘Slow Motion Katrina’. Heavy dub bassline and snares strike a melancholy chord that hints at the disillusionment of the current generation, with a wandering piano line mirroring the lack of direction that Hood himself sees in the city.
Despite the predominance of machinated bravado in the latter tracks of the album, the tentative chimes of closer ‘A Time To Rebuild’ will leave the lasting impression. Hood leaves the listener with a message of hope, not despair, as an air of optimism layered thickly onto industrial percussion. In his own words, Hood believes that “Detroit needs to look deep within to be able to see a new vision and thrive once more”, an especially heartening sentiment in a culture (especially within dance music) where it’s all too common to rue what once was rather than to build upon the present.
In terms of ambition, it really is quite difficult to find fault with Motor: Nighttime World 3. Through the delicate marriage of form and concept, Hood is able to convey a message in a way that is neither overly reductive nor reactionary, managing to remain true to the original ideals of Detroit techno whilst moving forward and attempting to reflect on the past. With the Detroit sound becoming increasingly prominent in the UK at the moment, you could do a lot worse than look to one of the masters for a fresh and inventive slice of techno.
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