Text Faizal Nafis
TWO DECADES OF TECHNO
This review is as much a reflection of the state of Detroit techno today as it is to digest 20 years’ worth of oeuvre by a techno deity. If you are new to Detroit techno and would like to understand further – not only its celebrated past but also its trajectory into the future – then this compilation, although being the work of one singular artist, would be a good starter-pack. The resurgence of ‘90s-indebted raw techno at the turn of the decade suggests that there is a timeless quality to this hyper-machinated version of electronic soul music. Just think about how even the best young underground DJs of today (think Ben UFO, Jackmaster or Objekt) are hammering these tunes, some of them older than they are. Of course if you ask the man himself, he would say he already knew this would happen from the very beginning.
Simply put, Robert Hood is a techno luminary that should be mentioned in the same breath as Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin, and Carl Craig. As the founding member of Underground Resistance, he helped laid the ideological foundations of Detroit techno. One of his first solo releases, Minimal Nation (1994), was considered by many to be genre-defining, advancing the techno that was going denser and more complex at that time to a gleaming new aesthetic that was stripped-down and back to its emotional and soulful core. From that point onward his output has been relentless, arguably there are only a handful of techno producers who can rival the quality of his discography and this compilation goes out to prove this.
The compilation itself is split into three discs, and you could easily label these three parts as being the past, the present, and the future. The first disc is focused on the “formative years and the golden age of Hood’s minimal approach”, the second disc looks into his work in the past five years with extra focus given to his Floorplan alias, and the third disc is made of either unreleased tracks or new remixes. It is hard to digest all of them in one sitting for there is an unraveling quality to Hood’s tracks, thus each song has to be listened to in its entirety as his description of his music being the “unfolding of a dream” isn’t far-off. Bearing this in mind, and with the exception of the excellent ‘A.M. Track’, the compilation would be better served with the omission of the last disc, or instead, a great good thematic idea for the last disc is to include his future jazz and IDM-leaning tracks, particularly from his Nighttime World trilogy, as to gently wind down the frantic pace of the first two discs.
As you can expect of the first part, there are times where those TR-909 rave-sounding patches might sound a little bit trite, but overall the tracks have aged remarkably well that you could easily drop the driving and galvanising ‘Protein Valve 1’ or the sinister deep funk that is ‘The Pace’ at any big club today. Also, you could easily feel the progression between the classics of the first disc to the more updated and current sounds of the second disc. The jazz-influenced ‘Stereotype’ on the first disc has now evolved into the song ‘Minus’ on the second disc, which sounds like a clear template for one of techno’s all-time greats, Mathew Jonson’s ‘Marionette’. On the first disc, Hood sampled Sister Sledge’s ‘He’s the Greatest Dancer’ and metamorphosed it into the not-techno, not-disco but similarly-named ‘Greatest Dancer’, slightly cheesy, yes, but that track preceded by some distance the deluge of disco-sampling tracks that we are seeing today. ‘Dancer (Remix)’ of disc two is the continuation of ‘Greatest Dancer’, this time effectively sampling a track off another disco great, Gino Soccio. The transformation was complete by the time he started producing gospel-tinged techno under the alias Floorplan that the ‘Re-Plant’ version of the track ‘Never Grow Old’ was considered by many to be the best techno track of last year. So yes, 20 years on and Robert Hood still does the finest techno you can dance to.