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Parliament-Funkadelic and the array of new wave and electro records played by The Electrifying Mojo, the seminal Detroit radio show host that introduced the sounds of the B-52s and Kraftwerk to those fertile young minds in Michigan. For Robert, minimal techno isn’t about the coldness of machines but rather a way of “adding to Motown and taking it somewhere else, taking the soul of Motown into the future”. “It’s really not about trying to strip down a track to bring out the best groove possible. It’s that you know when you have enough,” he laughs. “You have this driving bassline, and you have these hi-hats that are singing a melody. Even though they’re making a repetitive pattern, they seem to sing a melody. And then there’s a groove inside a groove, and if you listen close enough and long enough, you will hear a hidden groove there. A second and third melody, sometimes. “It’s so easy to put on a record, and you have this build up with the snares and then — they drop out. And you drop the beat back in and the crowd goes crazy,” he adds, dismissively. “But I’m more concerned about those one or two guys in the back of the club who’ve been listening long enough they get to that point where they lose it. They get inside that groove and they lose themselves. There’s an art to it. You can’t just put a stamp on it and say, ‘Hey, this is minimal,’ just for the sake of being minimal. It’s deeper than that. It’s emotional and it’s spiritual.”

Spirit of the South It’s an apt analogy, considering Robert’s new role as a

minister in Alabama, where he lives with his wife, having moved away from Detroit in the wake of its well- documented collapse over the last few decades. Alongside his pastoral work, he somehow manages to fit in a hectic touring schedule and extensive time in the studio, where he’s recently put the finishing touches to a new Floorplan album, as well as the latest full-length under his own name — ‘Motor: Nighttime World 3’. As with the previous installments in the ‘Nighttime World’ series, Robert’s produced a concept album of sorts, this time soundtracking the rise and fall of his home city and its connection to the fortunes of the motor trade. It’s a record that’s been four years in the making, a collection of “…bits and pieces here and there” that didn’t fully take shape until Robert saw Julien Temple’s 2010 film Requiem For Detroit on a flight home. “It inspired me to go back and recreate, thinking about Detroit, thinking about The Electrifying Mojo, thinking about my grandfather travelling to Detroit to seek a better life. All that came into play and it just took off into something else,” he explains when DJ Mag USA asks about the inspiration behind the new album. “The


documentary just caused me to ask, ‘What tracks are going to fit into this concept?’ and it just took on a whole other life. It became something new.”

Inspired by seeing this story of the city where he grew up, where his grandfather had come from the cucumber fields of the Deep South to start anew in the car plants of Ford and General Motors, Robert went back into the studio and began to refashion the tracks he already had. Seven were binned and the rest re-imagined as the soundtrack to a city fallen on hard times, plagued by racism, corruption and the exodus of its citizens. The track titles map the fortunes of the city’s black population, from the influx of migrant workers from the south in opener ‘The Exodos’ through the industry’s boom years —‘Better Life’, ‘Black Technician’ and ‘Drive (The Age Of Automation)’. But the album’s latter half takes a darker bent, as Robert tackles the problems of a city inexorably tied to the auto industry that’s seen its stock plummet over the last 30 years, leaving a ghost town in its wake. It’s a city where crime is rife, where 47% of adults are functionally illiterate and unemployment soars above national levels. The collapse of this once great city is, as the album describes it, a ‘Slow Motion Katrina’. But Robert’s not sounding the death knell, rather trying to inspire creativity and the belief that the people of Detroit can triumph over whatever adversity they face. He knows more than most about overcoming hardship — his father was murdered when he was six – but he’s keen to stress that he’s always embraced the positive and believed that he could create a better life. “From those ashes and that adversity, I had to learn

how to make the best of it. These are the cards I was dealt, and so I said, ‘Life is what I make it.’ The keys are in my hand. No matter what adversity I face, I can’t sit around and feel sorry for myself and have a pity party. I can’t say, ‘I don’t have this, don’t have that, I don’t have a dad.’ I can’t dwell on what I don’t have. What I should do is count my blessings. “This is the power I have, so let me reach inside this ‘Internal Empire’ that I have and pull it out and build on it, display it to the world. Show that through vision, I can build new planets, build new worlds, I can build this ‘Minimal Nation’ and not have to settle for a substandard way of life. So we have to look on the inside for what possibilities there are — where there are no dreams, people will perish.”

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