Robert Hood stops time with stripped-down techno in this week’s recommended mix

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Robert Hood. Photo courtesy of the artist.

It’s hard to think of a techno artist with a more robust catalog than Robert Hood’s.

Though he started out as a rapper, Hood turned to making tracks soon after he hooked up with fellow Detroiters Jeff Mills and Mike Banks in the early ’90s. As Underground Resistance, the trio was the most important techno group America, or anyone, has yet produced, influencing the hard-and-frantic Euro-techno of the period before Mills and Hood departed, leaving Banks with the name, which he took in a jazzier new direction that proved just as significant.

If you’ve heard of “minimal techno,” it’s because of Hood: His 1994 Minimal Nation, a double-12-inch that wouldn’t be issued on CD until 2009, inspired the term. Like the stark visual artists he adopted the term from, Hood sees his work as a statement. “I’ve come to the conclusion that the music we do is not meant for mass appeal,” he told the zine Generator in 1996, adding: “It’s not just some money making machine.”

Minimal techno is built to interlock sonically as well as rhythmically -- all the better for overlaying in a DJ set. Yet while that often means the music is barely there outside of a club context, Hood’s work always feels fully present. His tracks seethe with momentum and his timbres are meaty rather than hollow. In particular, the three volumes of his Nighttime World (volumes one and two from 1995 and 2000; Motor: Nighttime World 3, a charged, melancholy masterwork, came in 2012) have an emotional undertone that’s hard to pin down but easy to replay. More recently, he’s been concentrating on the more overtly disco-flavored project Floorplan, issuing acclaimed albums under that moniker in 2013 and 2016.

Hood is also a master DJ, as his Dekmantel Podcast 120 (May 1) makes plain. Every time I’ve put this set on over the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten busy doing something, figured about ten minutes has passed, then looked at the timer and realized it’s been playing for half an hour or longer. Usually longer.

It isn’t because I’ve stopped paying attention, either -- my leg is keeping time too rigorously for that. Rather, these tracks have a train-track chug that speeds through the individual selections’ aural signposts without feeling hurried, like a fast ride through a city without the distraction of traffic.

And the more you play it, the more inevitable those signposts feel. The languid title phrase of Gary Beck & Debra Debs’ “Get Together,” presumably sung by Debs, makes the rhythm feel like it’s going slower than it actually is. It’s followed by the springy, canted two-note synth riff of Hood’s own “Form,” originally released last year, which moves through a patiently modulated filter like it’s going through a car wash. Nothing stays still long enough to grow tired. That’s Hood’s trademark -- making a handful of elements dance around one another so energetically they never stop sparking, until suddenly they stop, right before you’re ready for them to.

Each Thursday, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set -- often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily -- and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.

 


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