Robert Hood ‘Rhythm Of Vision’

Robert Hood’s 1994 album ‘Minimal Nation’ stripped techno back to its vital organs, marking the birth of an entirely new way to feel a genre. The Detroiter reveals the story behind one of its standout moments, ‘Rhythm Of Vision’

“I was living in a studio apartment in downtown Detroit, where I was struggling to make ends meet. I laid down the rhythm track and sampled the hook from a Parliament-Funkadelic record I loaned from another musician down the hall. I felt I was replanting the seeds from this new tree that had grown from the musical spirit of Detroit in Parliament-Funkadelic, but in a minimalist way.

“Digable Planets were in town, and earlier that day I remember hooking up with King Britt. I was driving him and the trumpet player and we got pulled over on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit. The police let us go after they got a radio call about something more pressing, but they gave us a warning. Those times were tough to navigate and that atmosphere definitely fed into the music.

“From the Motown guys to the Detroit techno guys, music was a spaceship for black folks to teleport to a different metaphorical time and space as a way to cope with racism, police brutality and joblessness. That struggle makes you dig deep within yourself to come out with a song or story that you can share with people. I might not be on the firing line any more, but there are situations of police brutality that are less recognised than Trayvon Martin and George Floyd, so that struggle is still continuing.

“I bought a used 4-track mixer from Mike Clark – everyone knows him as Agent-X – and a used 909 from Gerald Mitchell. I also managed to get a Roland SH-101 synth and a 202 from a pawn shop. I had a little Yamaha pocket sequencer and a BOSS Dr Rhythm drum machine – just a handful of used equipment that I had to make work. 

“I borrowed a sampler from Blake Baxter and the bassline for ‘When We Used To Play’ was on it – somehow I accidentally erased it! I felt sick about that. It was so iconic, it was like erasing the bassline for ‘No UFO’s’ or something! I apologised I don’t know how many times but I think Blake is still mad at me today.

“But in my mind there were no limits. If I had a sampler, a 909 drum machine, a mixer and a synth then there’s nothing I can’t do. I had a Roland TR-505 and I used to make it reverb where there was no reverb by making the crash cymbal mute as it came against the closed hi-hat. Everything was intentional and nothing was forced. ‘Rhythm Of Vision’ and the whole collection of work that became ‘Minimal Nation’ just flowed out of me like poetry.

“I called it ‘Rhythm Of Vision’ because The Vision was the name I used for my records with Underground Resistance, and I wanted to announce that this was my new sound. It was imperative that it was reminiscent of Detroit, but distinctively different from Underground Resistance or The Belleville Three or any other Detroit techno artists. I grew up in the 1970s listening to Barry White, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations – everyone had their own unique voice that you recognised the moment you put the needle on the record and Robert Hood needed his too.

“Before I did ‘Minimal Nation’ I did a track called ‘Sleep Chamber’ and that was the advent of what I call that ‘grey area’ sound. I first learned about the reaction to it from Jeff Mills who played ‘Sleep Chamber’ and ‘Rhythm Of Vision’ at his residency at The Limelight in New York. He said that when he put those records on people would form a circle and start breakdancing in the middle of it.

“I hadn’t told Jeff or Mike this, but my original intention for that track was to give the Jit dancers back in Detroit something to move to – so it felt natural that people’s reaction was to break into a battle dance.

“I also remember playing ‘Rhythm Of Vision’ at a dinner party in Berlin before ‘Minimal Nation’ came out, and everyone’s reaction was like, ‘What is this?’. It was progressive techno with a house approach – a blend of Detroit and Chicago. I intended to put the humanistic element back into techno – to get away from the machine controlling man and return to where the man is in control of the machine.

“‘Rhythm Of Vision’ was vital to my whole direction. You can see the empowerment that I felt from it – I called the album ‘Minimal Nation’ and then went onto ‘Internal Empire’. I was one of those kids who loved playing with Lego by myself, so it’s just building piece by piece – building a house, then a city and then a universe.

“‘Minimal Nation’ and ‘Rhythm Of Vision’ spun off separate side projects to show that I’m not one-dimensional, and I make more than diminutive music. There are multiple musical sides to me – there’s hip hop, jazz, ambient and abstract experimental music. Floorplan shows off my house side, but even when I laid down the first Floorplan tracks like ‘Funky Souls’ it was very stripped-back and minimal, more about the rhythm tracks than where we are now, performing full songs.

“People think making minimal techno is easy, but it’s not. It’s actually harder because you’re trying to create a feeling with less elements. A lot of minimal music in the early 2000s or today lack emotion. They don’t feel organic – they feel forced. If it’s not real to you then it’s not going to be real to anyone else. When I made ‘Minimal Nation’ I wasn’t trying to be like any of the big rave artists of the era. I was just being me, and that authenticity and raw emotion is something that can never be duplicated or replaced.”

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