Robert Hood is synonymous with Detroit, with Techno and with a sincere approach to music comparable only to true legends of the scene like Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin and Juan Atkins. There from the beginning, he continues to create and innovate in a way that producers half his age struggle to do. Here, in a rare interview, he speaks to Benjamin Roth Lehman about those he admires, his new house and gospel inspired record and the part spirituality has to play in his music.
Pulse: This [Floorplan- Sanctified EP] is your first release since Omega: Alive. What have you been up to since the album came out? Robert Hood: I've been working on various projects, some more dancefloor and house-oriented material, doing a few remixes, and taking time out to get my thoughts together.
It feels like this is the first 'house' release you have put out in some time, do you think that's a fair statement? Yes that's correct, it's a Gospel house record, a throwback to the old disco house days, paying homage to the architects who inspired all of this. The gospel feeling has been lost, I was trying to recall those days but at the same time give a history lesson to remind people where it all started with Paradise Garage, with Ron Hardy, with the Clark Sisters, who were a gospel group from Detroit and so on. It's important to remind people that those days should not be lost and forgotten about.
Do you think there was a religious aspect to house in its early days which has been conveniently forgotten by people who are less interested in religion today? A lot of our creativity has been lost because we don't stay grounded in certain basic principles. The world system, the powers that be try to reappropriate the music and the sound and when we're focussed on the world system we have a propensity to gravitate towards conformity instead of creativity. You have to understand vision and purpose, and what the spiritual realm has to do with this. We lose sight of what's really going on when we're focussed on the world system. In the spiritual world you can regain that vision and purpose.
I know that you use a few tools to perform live in conjunction with your DJ sets. Did the tracks on Floorplan come from live improvisations? The tracks are always an attempt to tune in to the crowd response, an attempt to move in on what is moving the crowd, to see if I can tap in to their minds and hearts and hone in on what they're feeling, to try to create something that will touch and move them. I'm not just interested in screams and shouts, I want to get inside of people's souls and minds and emotions. That has always been very key for me and my sound. No matter if it's jazz or something more hardcore and experimental, it has to say something, to mean something and speak to people's hearts.
You have continued to release on your own label M-Plant. How do you balance the creative aspects of being a producer with the business aspects? It's a tough balance, it's a tightrope. The business side is always speaking to the idea of selling a commodity. But the artistic side is saying you have to be true to yourself. You can't bend your will to what everybody is doing just to generate commerce, but nobody is underground if they are selling records. Certain artists like for example Kanye West happen to be more successful than Robert Hood. It's a balance, don't worry about commerce, don't worry about being an artist, be true to your heart and be lead by the spirit. The money and the commerce will open themselves. We just need to tune into the inner vision and purpose that we are lead by.
With a few exceptions, such as Sterac, you have always released your own material on M-Plant, do you have any plans for that to change? Not really. I'm always listening and looking, if I come across someone that I feel is in tune with M-Plant and M-Plant's concepts then I wouldn't mind having another artist releasing music on the label. Of course there are artists that I admire, like James Ruskin, Mark Broom, Ben Sims, but they have their own operations. I haven't really come across anybody who I felt would be in tune with M-Plant.
Detroit still feels like the most important city in the world for Techno, does the local scene there reflect that? You can still feel Detroit techno as soon as you are in the vicinity. Detroit techno is part of Detroit's nature. It's part of the Motor City, you can breathe it in the air. It's almost hard to explain, it's a certain energy, like when you touch down in New York or Berlin you can feel the pulse of the city and its music. Along with the motown sound, techno is embedded in Detroit. Detroit techno will live forever in people's minds because it was rooted and grounded in so much purpose. There will always be people who are in it for the money and in it for the fame, but as long as you've got guys like Mark Broom who understand that it's about the feeling, the purpose it will never lose its relevance. The challenge is that we have to get the newer generation to understand that, and the best way is to live by example. They need to see that after 5, 10, 20 years of making music this guy is focussed, but still flexible. We have to grow and adapt, look and learn. You can't get tunnel vision. You have to remain flexible.
Techno is still as young as some of its major pioneers such as yourself. How will the genre attain longevity? You still have mythical figures like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Jeff Mills, Carl Craig active today. These people know how to defy gravity. For me techno and electronic music is already regarded as a very important artform. When I look at the Kraftwerk documentary Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution and when I read books like Love Saves The Day (Tim Lawrence) it feels already very solidified. The important thing for the younger generation now is you have to study and not forget about the roots of Ron Hardy, Larry Levan, Stacey Pullen, Richie Hawtin. You have to study the masters and see how these characters have managed to defy and bend time, to keep a fresh perspective on what they are doing.
Robert Hood's Sanctified EP as Floorplan is out now on his own M-Plant now, available here