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Keeping the motor running

Words: TOM BANHAM T 036

echno can be a lonely pursuit at times. For all the moments of adulation by crowds of giddy fans there’s days spent locked up in the studio, alone on planes or just sat in hotel rooms waiting for events to begin. Even

when you’re up on stage, more often than not you’re alone, in a way that few other musicians experience. No band, no orchestra and, unless you’re a regular on the festival main stage, not even an array of glitter cannons and LED screens to fall back on. Of course, this set-up also has its benefits. Unless there’s a particularly intrusive label involved, you’ve often got complete creative control, never having to worry that the drummer’s going to turn up with a song he’s written about an octopus’s garden. You’re free to experiment, to turn out an LP of aquacrunk under some ludicrous pseudonym, or an EP of trance covers of Wagner compositions. And yet despite this, so many electronic producers squander the chance to be individual, choosing instead to follow the pack — aping the hot new sound or slavishly trying to copy the innovators of the past.

It’s something Robert Hood’s fought for more than two decades. Since leading Detroit’s second wave as part of Underground Resistance, he’s crafted some of the most innovative and above all unique techno records ever committed to wax. Across a plethora of pseudonyms and a discography that’s touched on jazz, gospel, Motown and the minimal techno he helped pioneer, Robert’s always trod his own path.

The Resistance This sense of purpose was vital in ensuring Robert

forged his own sonic identity in a city dripping with musical influences. Underground Resistance came in the wake of techno’s birth at the hands of the Belleville Three, an explosion that positioned Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson at the center of the techno universe and produced a legion of producers happy to emulate this ‘Detroit’ sound. But although Robert’s quick to admit that they were an ever-present inspiration, he stresses that, from the outset, the Underground Resistance approach was unique. “Theirs was based more in fantasy, whereas with Underground Resistance it was about rebellion. We considered ourselves to be terrorists, you know?” he says with a smile. “I’ve learned a lot from watching Derrick play and listening to Juan. I studied them. But I also studied [Italo band] Kano, I also studied Heaven 17. I’ve been a student of music my whole life, and now the best thing I can do is to be an originator, not just to be a follower and try to duplicate what they’ve done.”

In a two-decade career he’s created a global movement, been instrumental in defining the sound of Detroit and inspired more copies than Xerox. But through it all, Robert Hood’s beaten his own drum, to his own inimitable rhythm…

“I can’t be a follower,” is his succinct take on the matter. “You have to take what you’ve experienced, and just springboard off that. If you’re unable to channel that, then you end up following someone else. And if they’re lost? You’re lost.” Listening to those measured Detroit tones, that could have rolled off the General Motors production line, you get the impression that Robert Hood is a man who knows precisely where he’s going.

Certainly no one could accuse Jeff Mills, Mike Banks or Robert Hood of being followers. Since Underground Resistance split in the mid-’90s, they’ve forged three unique takes on Detroit techno, from Mills’ cantering warehouse music to Banks’ organic and instrument-led cuts. So how did the three manage to align such distinct visions? “We each knew what we were bringing to the table,” is Robert’s simple answer. “Jeff had his industrial leanings, I had my soul-ish, stripped-down leanings and then Mike had his more melodic, musical leanings. Separately, when you’re in your own studio or you’re making a drum pattern by yourself? Hey, this is what you’re doing. But when we come together as X-101, X-102, for these projects, we talk about it and discuss what it is. We’re getting in this spaceship and we’re travelling to this planet today. When you get in your own individual spaceship, it’s up to you to target your destination.”

Transistor Rhythm To stretch a metaphor a little, the central console of the

Robert Hood spaceship is an array of drum machines and rhythm boxes, centering on the Roland TR-505 — the first machine he bought when the electronic virus took hold in the late ’80s. With nothing else to make music on, his experiments were restricted to rhythm and programming, trying to come up with new ways to make music with only limited tools. Although he admits it was frustrating at the time, this constrained creativity sowed the seeds for his embrace of minimalism in the wake of Underground Resistance’s

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