One of the techno masters explains his process and setup in great detail.
Excellent interview with left field techno and elctronica pioneers Mouse on Mars.
Machine love: Tommy Four Seven
Logic and field recorder: We discover the way in which the UK producer has made limited tools work to his advantage.
No producer wants to sound like another. Or so they would say. So why is it that so many do? It’s something that the UK-born, Berlin-based Tommy Four Seven has considered a great deal. The difference here, though, is that he took affirmative action. Faced with recording an album for Chris Liebing’s recently rejuvenated CLR, Tommy challenged himself to produce using only found sounds and vocal recordings. The results were fascinating. Yes, Primate is very evidently a techno record—an unmitigated one at that—but this is the genre cut from a different cloth. As we met at his Berlin studio, in a suitably industrial corner of the city, it quickly became clear that the idea of restricting oneself—for whatever reason—has enabled this young producer to find his voice.
You’ve said before that you’ve been messing around with music programs since you were 12—what were these specifically?
The first music software I ever messed around with was a game called Music 2000. I was around 12 years old and found myself totally addicted. It wasn’t technical, but you could write your own riffs and sample about 20 seconds. Although I thought of it just as a game, I think people like Leftfield and Grooverider even released tracks using the program. The first slightly more serious program I experimented with was Reason when it first came out and then another program called Orion Platinum. By the time I hit university I had enough funds to buy a new G5 Mac and Logic 7 (thanks to student loans) and I’ve stayed with Logic ever since.
Many people have said that they didn’t find formal music tech training overly helpful. What is your take on it?
I think it really depends on the course you take. It totally broadened my perspective on music technology. I found interests in topics I never really thought about, such as Foley and sound design and working with live recordings. Soon I began to apply these new techniques to my production process in techno.
And you applied a very specific process to Primate. Could you explain the concept behind the album?
The concept really came about from both boredom and frustration with the techno scene. Hearing the same sounds, the same hats, synths. It isn’t everyone, but a large majority of producers aren’t willing to take risks. It just seems we are going in circles sometimes and I think it’s time we all pushed ourselves to take things forward. I find it almost impossible to finish a track if I use the same sounds in previous tracks—I lose all motivation. So I needed a concept of no generic sounds, such as claps, hi-hat, and synths to keep me excited and interested.
It also created a box which allowed me to focus. There’s nothing worse than having too many options as you get distracted more easily. You need some kind of rules, you need some kind of direction, otherwise you’re going in all kinds of places.
Have you struggled with an overabundance of options in the past?
Well, I think I’ve totally restrained myself anyway. I’m not someone who’s like a plug-in whore. I’m not searching for plug-ins all the time. Everyone’s like, “Oh, what plug-ins do you use?” I just use what I’ve got and make the most of it.
So what are you using?
They’re all native to Logic. I don’t use any fancy plug-ins like Waves; it’s a little bit out of the budget at the moment. I’m actually happy with Logic’s plug-ins. I love Logic for the functionality, the interface, it works. I’ve not found a reason to change yet.
Tell me how you generated the percussion sounds on your album.
Most of them came from just grabbing the mic and recording anything that was in the studio, anything that was outside—some field recordings, anything that works.
What would one of these field trips entail?
Like going to the tube station for example, getting the haunting ambience of a train. Or when the cars drive over the bridge, you can hear this haunting ambience that’s kind of like screeching. It’s really, really surreal. So quite often I made a note of sounds like that and then came back and recorded it.
There’s a track called “Armed 3” [on the album] that the percussion was made out of tin foil. You just scrunch it up and then there’s a great metallic sound and then that’s heavily processed and distorted. Most sounds have been processed probably like ten times—bounced, distorted, crunched, pitched, reverbed, bounced again. And each time you’re bouncing it, it kind of inspires you to do something else and that’s kind of why I find using recordings really helpful because they’re like the catalyst, they’re kind of leading the way. They’re showing me a direction and I’m just going with it. It’s like you’ve got two people almost working together—you capture something and then it’s the two of you and the computer. It definitely helps when you’re stuck for ideas just to get the microphone out.
Using the example of the foil, what would you do once you have the audio in Logic?
I would then crunch it with distortion, overdrive—that’s a weapon in Logic that people never use. But you have to, to get the effects I do, you have to manipulate it a lot of times. I’m bouncing it out, crunching it, and each time I’m subtly changing it, so maybe lowering the pitch, or changing the EQ and just driving the fuck out of it with distortion.
Why do you bounce audio as opposed to setting up an effects chain?
It’s quick. Also if you’re committed to something, there’s no going back. Once you’ve got that sound it’s there, whereas if you’ve got a chain it could change slightly depending on the plug-ins. So I like committing and that’s a process that helps to focus it as well, to not leave it open. I mean, I don’t work with MIDI, it’s all audio.
Did you find it hard to stick to your self-imposed rules?
No… I don’t know. At the moment I’m just anti-really typical synth sounds. For that project I had this kind of rebellious, “Ah, fuck it, just do something different.” I was working with vocals to replace the use of synths.
Tell me about the melodic textures on the album.
I was using vocals to replace the melodic elements that synths would bring to a record and it also gave that kind of human element and a bit more soul because with all that distortion and the industrial size of the sounds, it was nice to have a human voice to kind of balance that out.
Did the post-processing differ much for the vocals?
Well sometimes I’d come with some ideas, some lead ideas, and the vocalist would take them and interpret them as they wanted to and give them back to me and then I would further sound design those. So yeah, that was a lot of sound design on the vocals to get them working with the elements, kind of some side-chaining, because with digital distortion to get vocals to sit in this harsh world, you have to unite it with a bit of compression and side-chaining. So it kind of needed to be worked to sit in the world of the track. It just didn’t connect otherwise.
Do you find it at all tiring to work with such heavy, Industrial types of sounds?
Harsh on the ears?
Harsh on the ears, yes, but how do you generally find working with “noise” for an extended period?
Especially because I was using headphones for some of it as well… Yeah, it was harsh but I like that. I don’t know why, I love the crunch, the energy, the aggressiveness, the kind of rebellious sound. It’s a bit more what techno is for me, it’s a bit more raw, it’s a bit more true. Techno now is really fucking clean and it’s not really like it’s played in a warehouse.
Tell me about the process you undertake when starting a track.
First I’m going to go and make a recording. For “Talus,” say, it was a washing machine. So I’ve got like five minutes worth of recordings and I’m just listening to it. I’ve got the whole audio file and then I’m just marking—I’m taking sections out that I like and I’m doing that for a while and it’s getting shorter and shorter (the amount of audio that I think I can work with). And once I’ve got the audio that is quite inspiring to work with, I’m then just jamming, jamming with the audio—taking sounds out, turning that into percussion, turning that into the bassline.
So I’ve got like an eight-bar loop going on, it’s just like a live jam and pulling more sounds in until I’ve got something that I’m happy with. And this whole process of jamming, I’m grabbing distortion here, grabbing pitch here until I’ve got a nice groove and then I stop and reflect on that and build it.
Are you literally using the mouse, rearranging sounds?
Yeah it’s just mouse and audio, dragging it and playing around.
And what sort of stage would you need to get to in which you think “OK, this is going to become a full arrangement now”?
Once there’s a nice groove, a nice bass… it might get to that point but I need a kick so now I’ve got to go and find some other sounds, so I’m just going back with a microphone and getting those things or I’m digging into files of sounds I’ve already created and chucking them in. Maybe think, “Oh, hang on a minute, there’s a really nice sound that I came up with yesterday that I’m going to chuck in.” It’s quite spontaneous.
Taking the example of the kick, how would you generate the sound?
I would just hit the chair. I could hit that and then just EQ it. It’s really simple. But I have to say that to stand up in a club sometimes you need that electronic richness to give it more body. That’s one thing I find sometimes with my tracks, some songs don’t sound that rich. The only elements that are really electronic [on the album] were layering under the kicks to boost up, to kind of give it more density. It’s a really cheap plug-in called BassIsm and you can play around with the frequencies and the decay and tune the kick to your kick, just give it that weight. And that’s actually what we did at Chris Liebing’s studio, we took the tracks there and listened to it because he’s got like a massive fucking sub, which I don’t have, and so we were just listening to the bass to make sure it stands out in the club and really just focusing on the kick and the bass to give it enough weight.
“I don’t want to recognize
what people are using.
I want to be like, ‘Wicked,
I’ve never heard that before!'”
Do you find the mixing process easier when you take this kind of sound design approach to production?
Yeah, it’s funny because sometimes what you’ve got works and however you’ve come to that point, it’s got soul, and sometimes when you pull the faders down and start again, you lose that vibe; that original kind of jam that just happens. So I always bounce it down, save that session. I will pull the faders down and bring it back up because sometimes you do get a nicer mix-down like that—it’s balanced. But generally I do have a point where I put the faders down, it’s not done as I go along and such. I think for most people it will probably work like that, but I’m more about not losing my interest in it and going with the flow. I’m going until I’ve got a track that excites me and then I’m worrying about the exact sonics and, “OK, how is this going to sound, how does that sit?” I’m more concerned about the energy of the record, the soul of it— is it alive? Because you can kill it if you have a shit mix-down.
Would you say you’re someone who works quickly?
It could be two hours and I’ve come up with an idea, it’s not a finished track, but an idea. Sometimes it can take a week. It really depends on the track. Sometimes I get fed up and I move on and I work on something else, but I’m not the fastest worker too. I’m really self-critical, I don’t tend to believe in a lot of the stuff that I’m doing, so I’m often pretty slow.
The best tracks usually come within six hours max. They’re usually the best tracks and I usually finish them within two days, but sometimes you need to distance yourself because you can get really carried away and the next day you walk into the studio and it sounds shit. So sometimes I like to give myself five days and you’re not so emotionally attached to it and I think that’s another important thing for mixing, is if you’re trying to mix it down too soon, you’re emotionally attached to some sounds and sometimes it’s not the best for them. It’s hard, coming back after, say, a week, sometimes I just know instantly where to put the faders—”No, that’s not right, that’s not sitting there.”
You’ve obviously got a specific way of doing things so I was wondered if you could see yourself moving away from that in the future? Or do you feel wedded to your process?
No, I mean, that’s why I’ve got some empty rack space because I plan to get some modular synths and just play around.
Do you see modular synths as a way of breaking away from what you were talking about before: sounding like everyone else?
Yeah I think you can get some great sounds from that. It’s more of a personal goal just to know more about that and to play around with that because it’s not something that I’ve delved into much and I feel like I’m missing out on some options of finding sounds. The whole [not using] synths thing was mainly people using presets… I don’t like a synth when it sounds like a synth, when you can recognize what it is, that’s kind of what the whole point was—I don’t want to recognize what people are using. I want to be like, “Oh, what the fuck is that sound? What’s that texture? Wicked, I’ve never heard that before,” and that’s what I’m trying to do with the albums is give people textures that they’re not that familiar with or can’t put their finger on what it is.
Great Interview and very forward looking mix from stroboscopic artefacts label boss Lucy.
The interview between Chris Liebing and Lucy lasts a good 50 minutes and covers earthing from label inception, artistic direction and being your self right through to sequencers and other tech geekery. Very intersesting and a gives one a solid idea of why Stroboscopic Artefacts is such a forward looking label.
Xhin “Insides” [Stroboscopic Artefacts – from upcoming album]
Go Hiyama “” [Stroboscopic Artefacts – Monad VII ]
Biblio “Chancylvania” [Warp]
Anstam “Albert” [50 Weapons]
The Black Dog “Floods v3.2” (Surgeon Remix) [Soma]
AOKI takamasa “mnd-sng04” [Stroboscopic Artefacts – Monad IX]
Tommy Four Seven “Talus” (Lucy Remix) [CLR]
Moby “Go” (Woodtick Mix) [Instinct]
Grischa Lichtenberger “0406_01_RS_!” [Raster Noton]
Deuce “Twerp Wiz” [Ostgut Ton]
Marcel Fengler “Thwack” (Mike Parker Remix) [Mote Evolver]
Marcelus “Shape” [Deeply Rooted House]
Dadub “Amnion” [Stroboscopic Artefacts – Monad VIII]
Lucy “Tetrad” [Stroboscopic Artefacts – Monad X]
Zomby “Mozaik” [4AD]
Robert Hood “Minus” [Tresor]
Kode 9 & The Spaceape feat. Cha Cha “Love Is The Drug” [Hyperdub]
Mike Dehnert “Klartext” [Delsin]
Syncom Data “Beyond The Stars” (Speedy J Remix) [SD]
Lucy “Decad” [Stroboscopic Artefacts – Monad X]
Good interview from 2004 with a couple of pioneers. Posted courtesy of TimeWarp. Enjoy
Interview Part 1
Interview Part 2
One of the few producers around who can claim to be putting a fresh stamp on the techno genre is London producer and label owner Ali Wells aka Perc. A gradual shift into the depths of underground techno has led to his position as one of the very best in the game; a producer with a relentless work rate and mammoth discography to match. Ahead of his live appearance in Dublin this Friday, Ali took a few moments away from putting the final touches to his debut album to kindly answer some questions we put his way…
How long have you been producing, and what inspired you to start originally?
I started at the age of 16 and I bought my first drum machine (Roland TR626) the day I got my GSCE results, so it’s been a while. At that age I had been in bands for a few years but was starting to realise that a group dynamic was not really for me. Electronic music was creeping into my life and the more I read about the DIY/home studio methods of producers the more I wanted to get involved.
You have released music on such a large amount of labels. With a lot of commitments to releases/remixes etc. do you have to limit the time you spend on each track?
No, by putting in long hours I can work on something until I am happy with it. When I rush, due to a deadline from myself or a label, then I am rarely happy with the results. I spend a lot of time in the studio, maybe 40-50 hours in an average week, some tracks and remixes come together in a few hours, whilst others have been tweaked on and off for up to a year. Every track is different but I know when one is ready to face the outside world.
You’ve taken an interesting route over the last number of years to where you are now. In a way you’ve done things in the opposite manner of many other producers, in that as you became more well-known and successful, your sound appeared to become (for want of a better phrase) more purist. Is this how you would describe your path?
Hmmm, I don’t see myself as a purist. I have a knowledge of house, techno, rave, drum & bass etc going back a long way but I like to think I combine my influences rather than adhering to any of the existing templates of how techno should sound. There are people out there still serving up purist Millsian loops and Basic Channel dub-techno clones. It would bore me senseless to stick to one of these well worn formulas. A good example is my track ‘Stoq’ on Stroboscopic Artefacts; it pulls on dubstep, industrial and techno and (hopefully) creates something new. Maybe my sound has become more compatible with the established techno sounds of Berlin or Birmingham etc but I like to think I mix in enough unrelated elements to not be filed amongst the hardcore purists.
By shifting your sound, you may have risked alienating part of your existing fan base. Was that a concern to you at any stage?
I make music for myself first, if I am not feeling a track even if I think it has dance floor or sales potential then it will be scrapped. If I looked at my more successful tracks and churned out copies of those then I would be dead in the water in a matter of weeks. I have to be excited with what I make and I like to think people can hear that in my tracks. Whilst my sound and style does develop and shift there is still a clear Perc sound/aesthetic that has been about since day one. The spitting snares, the big kicks, the broken beat stuff, and the kinds of distortion I use. Some things are constant whatever I am making.
You have continued to release vinyl on Perc Trax, when a lot of people and labels around you moved primarily to digital. Can you give a background into how you first started collecting vinyl?
Strangely enough my first decks were cd decks; this was a long time ago when playing from cd was commonly seen as fake or cheating. Then when I got my first paid gig I rushed out and bought a pair of 1210’s, giving me a month to learn how to play vinyl. My first purchases were looped up tribal and acid techno, which I found quite easy to mix and my collection has grown since then. Perc Trax carries on to do vinyl for a number of reasons, but if the day came when releasing vinyl was losing serious money then I’d have no problem stopping the 12’s rather than risk the label as a whole. I love vinyl but I can see a vinyl-less future for techno at some point.
Can vinyl survive? Will younger djs somehow embrace it or are we looking at a future dj culture that will bear no resemblance to the original model?
It will survive for a number of years but I don’t think it will be around forever. Younger djs are embracing it but I am not sure they are enough in number to replace people dropping out of the vinyl market. I laugh when I see a facebook post about a release that is coming out on vinyl and digitally, almost every comment is ‘vinyl for me!’ when most people posting will grab the release free from a blog and not even pay for the download. A lot of the ‘vinyl forever’ stuff is purely show, people trying to look like the real deal when they get most of their music for free from unauthorised sources.
Much of your recent material is industrial influenced. Is this the last area left in techno to truly experiment?
I think there has been an industrial element in techno since the very beginning. Even the old ’88 acid tracks created with a drum machine and 303 shared an atonality that a lot of industrial music thrives on. I think it is an interesting area that still has space for innovation and exploration, certainly within the grey area where techno, industrial, drone and noise music meet. I think for the more forward thinking producers techno is just a vehicle to carry their experimental sounds to a wider audience via the established system of djs and dancefloors. Of course Techno has other areas to move into apart from the industrial thing, some of which will be blind alleys whilst others will open up whole new worlds of possibilities. Going back to what I said earlier about the established templates that a lot of techno follows, it would be a shame if what was once seen as future music becomes too focussed on replicating past glories.
Industrial is also a style of music that could claim to have been a type of active techno before ‘techno’ the term was first coined in Detroit. Would you agree?
Yes, it was/is machine music, focussed on texture and rhythm over melody and lyrical content. Whilst industrial music has always featured vocals, they are often treated as another instrument, equal to machine generated sounds and that is the same with all but the most commercially driven techno. Without studying old Mills/Wizard playlists I am sure industrial music was as much an influence on the early Detroit producers as Kraftwerk. Not just through the choices of sound used but also due to a shared approach to music-making and the (mis-)use of discarded machinery.
Is techno as an experimental art form, sometimes weighed down by the now defined sounds of influential cities like Berlin and Detroit, or is it important that techno has reference points like this?
The reference points are important, to use a cliché, it is just as important to know where you are from as where you are going, but people get too bogged down in these cities and their history. Techno has often been at is most innovative away from these major hubs. Perc Trax’s Sawf is based in Athens, which has a tiny techno scene and his range of influences are truly his own, not those dictated by a select group of hyped clubs and record shops. People should remember that moving to one of these cities does not instantly make you a better DJ or producer. Often with the amount of competing creative types in the city such as Berlin your chances of making a name for yourself are reduced.
It’s argued that the innovators of today are not the producers but the people developing forward thinking software and equipment for producers. What do you think about that, and how has technology helped you over the last five years for instance?
The software developers and hardware companies have a part to play but talented people will always find ways to adapt and use a piece of gear beyond what the designs intended. It is easier than ever to make functional dance music that will ‘work’ on most dancefloors. This does not mean you should be making it or that it has any lasting value. Using preset sounds and samples is an easy way to get a few digital releases but without some innovation and thought you will not go much further than that. Technology has helped me a lot, the switch from a fully hardware based studio to Ableton interfacing with a few choice pieces of kit gives me a flexibility that I could not have imagined before. For remixing the ability to creatively and accurately edit audio visually has been a massive change for me, so much better than staring at the screens of samplers and grooveboxes.
Your debut album is about to be released. For someone with your prolific output, it seems like an album could have come a long time ago. Presumably you were holding out to do something a bit more conceptual then, that is not just a collection of 12″ club tracks?
I think the change in my sound has meant that an album is more viable for me than it was 3 or 4 years ago and now my drone/ambient tracks are getting good responses when before they were often overlooked in favour of my club tracks. One thing that really bugs me is when a producer waters down their sound to make an album more suitable for home listening. If people want an album to soundtrack their dinner parties then they will go for one from a producer with pedigree in that field, not a techno producer suddenly softening their sound. For me the classic techno albums are exactly that. Planetary Assault Systems on Peacefrog, the classic Joey Beltram albums on Tresor and Novamute, Vaporspace’s debut on Plus8 etc. Yes, there are some drone/experimental tracks on my album but they are far from easy listening. If anything they present more of a challenge to the listener than the dancefloor tracks as the sounds don’t have the tried and tested framework of a club track to cling on to.
What else can you tell us about the album?
Not a great deal right now. Roughly 10 tracks, more broken beat than 4/4. It is not a concept album but the title (to be revealed soon) focussed on two elements which run through all of the tracks. There will be one 12” released before the album and one after. The remixes for the first single are done and I’m blown away by who has remixed my tracks and what they have done with them. I know it is all very secretive at the moment but I don’t want to say too much until the album is finished.
How important was it for you to release it on your own label? Did it bring an extra creative freedom that you might not have been afforded elsewhere?
For an EP I am happy to send 3 or 4 tracks to a label and if they only want two of them then that is fine, but for an album I need 100% control. To submit an album to a label which they then start picking apart would kill my passion for the album dead.
Finally, what’s on the horizon for the rest of 2011?
The first half of 2011 is focussed on finishing and promoting the album. Aside from that a new collaboration between myself and an Italian producer is about to surface. The first fruits of that new project will be out at the end of March. Details of that will be made public very soon. Perc Trax has a full release schedule with albums from myself and Sawf plus EPs from Forward Strategy Group, Donor/Truss, Dead Sound & Videohead and Samuli Kemppi. From June or July onwards I have no real idea, a few festival appearances are confirmed and I guess I’ll start recording tracks for some other labels once the album is in the can. I don’t really know and that is what makes it exciting for me.
Reposted with permission from Earwiggle Dublin
A fun informal interview with the guys form Modeselektor (now Moderat), they talk about champaign showers and meeting Bjork in New York.
To factor the influence that Robert Hood has had in modern electronic music is no easy task. For not only was he part of the era-defining, second wave, Detroit techno militia Underground Resistance, but also can claim to be almost single-handedly responsible for what we now term minimal techno. His Internal Empire and Minimal Nation albums stand to this day as blueprints for the genre that has since sparked ongoing generations of imitators with few managing to capture the raw essence of Hood’s vision. His M-Plant label has stood mostly as a vehicle for his own releases, though has from time to time played home to kindred spirits, and after a hiatus of some seven years was reactivated in 2009 with a run of new material and critical re-issues of classics from the vaults. In a career that spans some twenty years Robert Hood has indelibly left his mark on the techno landscape and to this day he continues to explore his particular brand of stripped back, haunting techno funk. we spoke to Mr. Hood about his new album, Omega, injecting faith into music and hearing the echoes of Motown through techno.
Let’s start with the new album. Lately you’ve been selecting pieces from your back catalog and re-issuing them. There may be some confusion about calling this album Omega and the title of one of your 2003 releases of the same name.
Robert Hood: Well the album Omega is based on the movie “Omega Man” and “I Am Legend,” so those are two separate ideas there, as the track “Omega” was taken from the album Wire To Wire and was just a B-side or a one-off from that album. This album is something completely different. It is talking about the end of times and it’s about the character Robert Neville (I don’t know if you’re familiar with the movie or not), but here you have a man who is trying to survive. He is seemingly the last survivor of biological warfare and he’s trying to survive the best he can and at the same time trying to come up with a serum or a cure for the plague that has affected these other inhabitants.
Was the music a metaphor for you providing the serum for a plague of not-so-great music out there?
No, nothing like that really. It was more me looking at if I was the last man on earth and chronicling that struggle; me putting myself in his shoes and dealing with my own psychosis and dealing with loneliness and dealing with a band of demented people who were out there to destroy me. So the music is me looking through the character’s eyes.
Is that something you do with your albums generally? Do you like to construct a concept behind them? Does that help you to structure a whole album?
Well yeah, I try to envision a world or an environment or a situation or circumstance and try to make a soundtrack to it, much in the way I did with Internal Empire. So I reflect and immerse myself in this environment and try to express that through the music.
You’re now living in Alabama. How does the more scenic surroundings go with producing something as raw and uncompromising as Omega?
Well you see it’s all in the mind, I just go inside myself and inside of my visions. When I was living in Detroit I had to step outside of myself sometimes and just observe the environment and grasp these visions and interpret them the best that I could. I would see life in Detroit as an observer. For instance on the Nighttime World albums, it’s basically observing urban life from a watchers point of view. So now, living in Alabama, I’ve had to go inside myself and pull out my imagination from experiences and imagining what life must have been like here in the South during the slave times and during segregation. It’s a process of pulling these thoughts and ideas and stories that I hear from other people and expressing them as best I can.
Your music has always stood out from the rest of Detroit techno. Can you tell us about finding your own sound and how conscious you were of making it so distinctly recognizable?
Well that was the first thing that I determined; I had to sound original. Of course I draw a lot of influence from a lot of other musicians and DJs; I also draw a lot of influence from a lot of film directors, from writers like Langston Hughes, from soul music, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, from lyrics, listening to David Byrne and Talking Heads. I determined that I had to identify with my own profile and not be like anybody else although I was made of many different influences. But I had to turn that into an original thought and an original vision. I had my own interpretation of electronic music and music as a whole; how I looked at love songs and traditional concepts and structures within all music. So I had to remember those things and at the same time take them apart and re-assemble them, so it’s just a strong identity and a strong need to be myself and not try to follow anybody else. The 70’s was a great blueprint for that; you didn’t have artists try to sound like and copy each other to sell a product the way we do today. We have this cookie-cutter idea in principal about music where it’s just a product and a commodity and it’s not art.
One of the things that has struck me about your music over the years is just how well it’s aged over the years in terms of sound quality. I remember picking up some of your earliest releases and you can still put those next to some of your latest material and there is just this clean precision of sound all the way through. Short of getting you to divulge your production secrets, what is your secret?
Well, listening to Kraftwerk and listening to Dr. Dre and people who take their time. You know, I really don’t consider myself an engineer in the traditional sense. In my opinion my ears are bad but I try to meticulously go through each sound and make them as vivid as I possibly can with the sparse equipment I have and just try not to clutter it up and try to keep it separated. Again, I’m not an avid technical person, I just try to listen as best I can. I just marvel at the engineers who worked on all of the Kraftwerk records and I just try to pay attention and to listen.
Throughout your career you’ve done so many remixes of incredible artists. What have been a couple of your favourite ones and perhaps ones that have challenged you?
I did one for a guy called DJ 3000, a Detroit native. Frankie is his name and he’s a very melodic type of cat and he has this pristine production too. So that was a challenge, to approach this particular mix and I had fun doing it too. It hasn’t been released yet but that was definitely a challenge. I had a lot of fun working on the Ben Klock remix too and it’s one of those records where it’s fun to play and it was fun to reassemble too. There was also a remix I did back in ‘94 or ‘95 for Ian Pooley and that was big fun. I still love that record today. I also did a remix of an X-103 project, “Atlantis,” and that’s one of my favorites as well.
You were talking a little earlier about being in to the sounds of Marvin Gaye and soul when you were young. Listening to your music, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to see the influence there. For you, how much do you feel that your minimalism draws on that legacy of funk and soul?
Well, for me personally, I hear echoes of James Jamerson (the uncredited Motown bassist on most of their 60’s-70’s hits). So the sounds that were able to take you into a place and a time after the riots in Detroit and give you a vision of an atmosphere that was like telling you a story. Isaac Hayes, for example, was able to give you an idea of life on the city streets through the “Shaft” soundtrack, so for me with minimalism, it was taking listeners into an atmosphere of Detroit the way I saw it; the greyness and the hopelessness. But through that hopelessness there was also a hope of a potential of what could be a bright future, of still having faith and hope. I think I’ve been able to do that through minimal music. It is at times dark and kind of sinister but then we’re dealing with reality, with situations and circumstances that are obviously there in our lives. We see what’s happening in Haiti, what’s happening all over the world with the environment, with wars and destruction but I try to evoke a feeling of hope and a hopeful future. And for me, with Marvin Gaye through songs like “Holy Holy,” “What’s Going On?” and “Save The Children,” Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life, that’s what I try to weave into the tracks that I make and I feel that’s been accomplished.
With that in mind, you’re a religious man. Do you tie in your faith to your music and how you approach it?
Oh absolutely, God is the source of everything I do, is the source of our existence and the source of our vision. God is a spirit and so are we; I’m just in tune with the Holy Spirit and I give all honor and credit to that driving force and am always mindful of God’s spirit. I think we don’t realize that we are all spirits but there have been times I haven’t paid attention to my spiritual calling and my inner vision, so to speak, and tried to do it on my own. But it’s amazing what a person can do when they are in tune with the spiritual self.
The ideas behind the early second wave of Detroit techno always seemed to me to be more than just about the music. Can you tell us a bit about the ideals you had and those of people like Mike Banks and Jeff Mills who you were working closely with and how they extended beyond just making great music?
Yeah it was all about reality and dealing with reality. At the time Public Enemy was out there pushing this idea of being culturally and socially aware about our surroundings and about ourselves. That was the main focus of Underground Resistance, whereas some of our contemporaries were more concerned about a fantasy landscape. We were definitely all about reality and that was the driving force behind UR. We dealt with the experimental subjects on the X projects. But when you’re living buildings that are burned out from the Detroit riots, it just seeps into your DNA and so we felt it necessary to chronicle this life in Detroit. You know I rode the bus with these single mothers that would get up at 6 o’clock in the morning in the dead of winter and would have to struggle, the Detroit struggle was what it was about. We tried to focus on documenting this experience.
I’m not going to ask you the same question about what happened with you guys at UR because I’m sure it’s very boring for you, but are you ever in touch with each other?
I don’t know if Mike and Jeff keep in touch but we see each other on the road and it’s friendly. I mean, we’re brothers and we have a tie and a bond, musically and spiritually. We lived together, worked together and travelled together and that won’t ever change. They definitely blessed and touched my life and I would like to think that I did so likewise, so when we do see each other it’s all love.
It must be really interesting having been in that collective that was such an incubation unit for amazing ideas, being able to see where each other’s careers are at, that you’re all still upholding these ideals you forged back then.
Yeah it is, and I was like a sponge, man. At the time I was just a young impressionable adult just trying to learn from them masters. It was like learning from Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, learning how to use the force. It was amazing to see how they worked together because individually they’re both such completely different people. Mike was this militant, raw street guy and a great musician, skilled on the keyboard and the strings as well as on production. And then Jeff, it was amazing just to watch him edit on the two-inch reel, it was like watching a surgeon and scientist operate and making these drum patterns, so I was just a greedy sponge watching all this. And then the way they thought and their concepts helped me to develop and it was just an amazing experience.
You continued to release music after M-Plant went inactive in 2002. What was the reason behind putting a hold on the label and the reason for reactivating it, too?
Distribution after 9/11, it was already going bad and the industry was just over-saturated and I was becoming disheartened and uninspired. So all of these factors were just starting to mount so I just wanted to take step back and put M-Plant on hold to look at another approach. Music downloads were really starting to take hold and put a strain on the market so I was very unsure about what was happening as I’m sure a lot of labels and producers were. Bringing it back was just a matter of time; I just needed to catch my footing and approach things differently. The new minimal movement; you have a handful of artists who really got the artistic properties of minimalism, but for the most part, 85-90% of them did not and are just going minimal for the sake of it. So we had to bring it back to continue to tell the story and to set it straight.
Are we likely to see a continuation of Drama and Duet and some of the other labels as well?
I don’t know. I’m thinking that over right now and I’ve got a new Floorplan EP coming out later this summer. I haven’t decided on the others yet whether I’m going to revisit them too; I’m just so wrapped up right now in reinventing M-Plant and reinventing Robert Hood and reintroducing myself and the label to this newer generation and rehashing the old relationships for those who have been down with me throughout the years. So at the moment that’s my focus and we’ll look at the other labels a bit later.
Let’s talk about some of the pseudonyms you’ve used throughout the years. A lot of Detroit producers have played around with different names and you’re no different there. Some of your aliases are obvious — for instance when you use the Floorplan moniker. But what makes a Monobox release different from a Robert Hood release?
A Monobox release is — well, I don’t like to use the term “intelligent techno,” but it is more experimental. It’s taken from a book I read when I was a kid, maybe 13 or14-years-old, about these aliens who came to earth. There was this black box that floated above the Earth for weeks on end. It was just this ominous box floating above the earth and the book dealt with the minds of the earthlings who were just trying to grasp what this box was. The diminutive sound that comes out of this side of me is very different from the more soulful Robert Hood, Minimal Nation sort of sound. It’s more of a cold sound, looking at art and electronic music from more of an alien, android perspective rather than a human side.
And what about The Vision?
I got that name from a comic book character from The Avengers and at the time it seemed kind of fitting with being a part of Underground Resistance because I considered myself a rogue member of the UR organization, a renegade affiliate of theirs. I saw myself as this comic book character.
Technologically how much has your studio evolved over the years? Are you more digital based now?
It’s still pretty much the same as it’s always been. I mean I don’t use a 909 any more but I still produce the same way but the gear — I never really relied on samplers that much. Only really with Floorplan with some disco loops here and there but I still produce the same way. Hardware sequencing is still my choice. The biggest thing I’ve changed is my drum sounds.
You’ve focused the bulk of your career on minimalism. Being very ideas rich in how you approach your records, after all these years do you find your music is still giving back to you and teaching you?
Absolutely, I mean when you’re in tune with where your wealth of creativity and inspiration is coming from then it’s a never-ending well of discovery and that for me comes back to my belief in God. On this Omega album I felt that inspiration coming from many different moments in time. I mean, there are moments on there that remind me of 70’s kind of David Axelrod feeling and then also a futuristic, sci-fi, cinematic feeling too. So I’m constantly discovering minimal grooves and percussion, bass lines, it’s just never-ending. I feel like I’m perpetually stuck at the age of 22. I feel like I’m growing spiritually and as a man but there’s this fountain of youth and my state of mind is constantly being renewed.
What can we expect from Robert Hood in the next year?
You can expect for me to work so much harder at expressing my spirituality through music and I want to take us to places we never even thought we could go. I want to express who we are as aliens, as spirits and I really want to expose and put out there that this is not our home, that we’re just passing through. So I really want to push the envelope on that principle that we are all spirits. Musically and spiritually I want to be able to take us there. How I’m going to do it I don’t know, but faith is not seeing the staircase but taking the first step.
Reposted from: littlewhiteearbuds.com