Robert Hood is in Alabama, but his heart is still in Detroit. As a seminal minimal-techno producer, Hood’s work helped to shape the city’s much-mythologized history and had a profound impact on machine music. His most recent effort, Nighttime World 3, is the latest installment of a series he began in 1995, a year after he inaugurated his label, M-Plant.
The new LP, which was released September 25 on Music Man Records, finds Hood breathing new life into the stark soundscapes that have become embedded in Detroit’s techno lore, charging the mantra-like productions with a rare sonic richness. However, Nighttime World 3 isn’t just another remarkable addition to the beatmaker’s extensive catalog—it’s a concept album, one that was crafted in the hope of reviving Detroit. I called him at his current hometown in Alabama, where he spoke earnestly about the city he loves.
Nighttime World 3 was inspired by Requiem For Detroit?, a movie I haven’t seen. Can you tell me about the film?
Basically, it’s a documentary. It’s about black people, and how they migrated from the South and came to Detroit and started working in the automotive industry for Cadillac, Jeep, General Motors, Chrysler. My grandfather came from Georgia—and many others—looking for opportunity. The movie documents the decline of Detroit after racism in the ’60s and ’70s, and how it went through this slow-motion disaster over the years, and then how Detroit is going to rise up from this decay.
So the album is very hopeful?
My perspective is from a perspective of rising up from that urban decay and overcoming the diversity. There’s a scripture from the Bible that says, “Where there’s no dream, the people shall perish.” Hopefully, this album will inspire at least some of the upcoming new techno artists and visionaries to start to dream again and to hope again.
Techno really has been a source of inspiration for Detroit in the past few decades, hasn’t it?
Absolutely, absolutely, with artists like Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Carl Craig, and Jeff Mills and Underground Resistance, it has been, for me as a techno artist, a vehicle, a spaceship to escape—at least creatively, artistically—and build another world, another reality. I think that artists such as myself and others that I’ve mentioned were able to be catalysts in inspiring that kind of hope and carrying on the dreams and visions of Berry Gordy [the founder of Motown Records] and the automotive industry, and so many other artists and soul musicians from Detroit.
I’ve read about Detroit in books about DJ history that many of the artists you just named took inspiration from Detroit’s “post-industrial landscape.” Does that sound accurate to you?
Absolutely. Back in ’92, ’93, I sort of crafted this sound I liked to call “the grey area.” What that is is the atmosphere in Detroit from the factories that emit this smoky and grey climate, this atmosphere. It’s just like ash and dirt from the sewers that just come up from the car emissions, and it creates a grey haze over the city. That inspired me, and I kind of piggybacked off of what my contemporaries had created and rode along with that and interpreted my own Detroit sound from that.
That sound you’re talking about has been aligned with “minimalism,” which is interesting now because busy and maximalist productions are really in vogue. Do you have any insight into that shift?
Well, I mean, it’s still about the groove. It has and always will be about the groove, essentially. Now, people have decided, “OK, we’ve heard this stripped-down sound for so long, and it’ll still be there.” Minimalism will just get more and more stripped down and more and more futuristic. I’m hearing sounds now that are still harkening back to the experimental minimal sound but taking it still a step further. It’s just that, right now, this maximal sound is at the forefront. Things go in cycles, you know, and I feel the maximal, big, room-filling sounds, and at the same time, I like to sort of mix between the minimal stripped-down sound and the maximal sound, just sort of taking it up and down on a roller coaster. I think it all compliments one another. I think it goes hand in hand. You can’t always have complete minimalism throughout a two- or three-hour set—you gotta take ‘em on a ride.