Techno giant Robert Hood – who’s responsible for a long list of genre-defining work, both under his own name and a variety of other monikers – recently released a new album, Paradygm Shift, via the Dekmantel label. In the below exchange, taken from a live Red Bull Radio broadcast from Detroit on the First Floor show, Hood discussed the new LP, explained how his spirituality colors his artistic vision and dove deep into his relationship with his hometown.
You’ve lived in Alabama for several years now, but does Detroit still continue to play a role in your musical vision?
Yeah, absolutely. Detroit for me represents resilience and we’re a resourceful people. Detroiters know how to survive and that’s been paramount in my life wherever I’ve traveled in this world and wherever I’ve lived. They say that you can take the boy out of Detroit but you can’t Detroit out of the boy. Wherever I am, if I’m living on the moon, I’m still 313. It’s just a certain kind of instinct that we have about moving around in this world and that’s what I carry with me. Those streets raised me.
People often have mixed feelings about going back to their hometown, but when you see Detroit on your itinerary how do you feel?
I’m always glad to go home. Detroit is ground zero for music, techno music, soul music, such a progressive city. So my heart starts beating faster when I hear I’m headed back to Detroit.
Are there any particular spots that you always make sure to hit when you come to town?
There’s a shrimp spot on Livernois near Puritan that I always frequent, they have excellent food. I probably hit Omega Coney Island on 8 Mile and visit folks in my grandmother’s old neighborhood.
When you visit the city does it still feel like the same place that you grew up in and ultimately left? I ask because there’s so much conversation these days about Detroit changing and renewing itself. Does it feel the same or does it feel different?
Yeah, it still feels the same somehow, even though Detroit has changed and evolved. I remember when I was seven or eight years old and moved to Detroit’s west side, just the free spirit feeling I had. I wasn’t worried about anything. Then there was the drug culture that came during the Reagan era with crack cocaine. Then with the closing of plants, outsourcing of jobs... I saw the decline of Detroit, but at the same time it still feels like there’s still echoes of Detroit’s past.
I imagine Robert Hood as a sort of Robert Neville character from Omega Man. With Floorplan I push away from that Mad Max wasteland-dweller into preacher mode.
You turned 50 a couple of years ago, but between your work under your own name and then the stuff you’re doing as Floorplan, it seems like you’re maybe busier than you’ve ever been before, and you’re also making some of the best music that you’ve ever done. What is it that keeps you going and keeps you inspired?
I always say it’s when I got rooted and grounded in God and spirituality. Before I didn’t really know who I was, and now that I know who God is and I know who I am in God, it’s like there’s a well of fresh water that I keep drawing from to get me new energy every day. So I’ve got new concepts, new ideas and a fresh new outlook. It’s a new paradigm. It’s constantly shifting – I’m being transformed by the word of God every day. I could be 50 years old in this game and still sound like a 19 year old. I can defy gravity, I can walk on water. It was a choice I made to get out of the boat and let God remix me, rebuild me into this supernatural juggernaut that I am now.
When people hear your music as Floorplan it’s really easy to draw the line between the music and your spirituality, because there are gospel samples and the spirituality is just flowing out of that music. How does religion and faith factor into the stuff you make as Robert Hood, which doesn’t pull necessarily from the same musical source material?
I’ve learned how to create a spiritual balance between Floorplan and Robert Hood, that’s all. I imagine Robert Hood as a sort of Robert Neville character from Omega Man. Even in adversity, whatever the situation may be, whatever the circumstances I find myself in, if I was the last man on Earth, God still would sustain me, that’s what I believe. With Floorplan I push away from that Mad Max sort of wasteland-dweller into preacher mode, if you will. Sort of like a minister, a pastor where I have the opportunity to bring revival to a club. So it’s a balance where faith plays this part for Robert Hood in this Omega Man character and then this preacher pastor in the Floorplan world.
Listening to the new album, musically, it isn’t a major departure from what you’ve been doing in recent years under the name Robert Hood. Can you explain a bit more about the meaning behind the title? Calling a record Paradygm Shift implies that there’s a major change that’s taken place. I’m guessing that has more to do with your spiritual change.
It harkens back to my Minimal Nation, Internal Empire days more than a dramatic shift in soundscape. Spiritually, where we are now in this world full of uncertainty, we need to be transformed in our mind. To me, the tracks represent the adversity more than the shift itself. I remember that when I was first working on Minimal Nation, Internal Empire and those projects, I was constantly looking out my window. I had set up my studio in the living room, looking at what the world was becoming as I watched children ride their bikes up and down the streets and play in their front yards, imagining what the future is gonna be like. Now, with so much anger and hatred in the world, I find myself constantly thinking about how much people are searching for something that’s gonna ground them. We need a shift in our thinking, in the way that we perceive things. That’s what the concept of the album is about. We need to step out of the place where we are and grow to another level. We have to come out of Egypt into the promised land, we’ve been wandering in the wilderness for 40-something years. We can’t stay there. So Paradygm Shift to me represents that wilderness.
The Paradygm Shift series actually started last year with a couple of 12" records that you put on Dekmantel, the label that’s also putting out the new album. I’m curious, how did this relationship between you and Dekmantel come about?
I met Thomas Martojo at a festival I was playing several years ago. As soon as I put on the first track, “Omega,” a terrible storm came and shut down everything. A really, really bad storm, almost like a tropical depression. Blew away the tents and some of the equipment. Thomas and I we were under this tent just talking. I thought he was kind of strange and really eccentric at first meeting. I really wasn’t familiar with who he was. As the years progressed I remember playing a party for them and how pure it was. That purity stuck with me and their devotion to electronic music was really attractive to me, so I liked what they represented.
Even though Detroit is bankrupt we have a progressive soul.
Going back to the music on the new album, it’s obviously techno, but when I was listening to it the one word that I kept thinking about was ‘momentum.’ When you make stuff as Floorplan there are a lot more vocals and hooky elements, but the stuff you make as Robert Hood is relatively linear but also has this churning, machine-like quality where it’s always moving forward. Is that by design?
Yeah, absolutely, that’s progressive Detroit. Even though Detroit is bankrupt we have a progressive soul. Why not draw on that energy to bring us out of that wilderness so we don’t have to stay stagnant? It’s a constant drive, Detroit is always moving. Nothing can stop us but we have to know that, despite what the world says about Detroit and how we feel about ourselves, it has nothing to do with how we feel. It’s how we think. The Bible says that the man thinketh, so he is. That’s what Paradygm Shift is, really.
We live in an era when groups from the past are constantly reuniting, going on tour, playing festivals, and nostalgia has become a big business in a way. Would you ever consider doing some sort of Underground Resistance reunion with Mike Banks and Jeff Mills?
I actually have considered it. I remember Mike and Jeff and I we played at an event in London, first time we had been on stage. I actually considered it and I prayed about it. Unfortunately, my spirit is telling me that that time has come and gone. I wish Mike and Jeff nothing but the best, both are my brothers... It could be as vital as it once was but I don’t know if it’s really there. So if our hearts and minds are not completely in it and saying something that means something instead of just getting together as a way of generating revenue... For me it’s gotta be spiritual, it’s gotta mean something.