Friday Night Tune: Robert Hood – Who Taught You Math

Every so often, if you are lucky, you get to experience something which changes your perception of music. Sometimes it’s a subtle thing; a slow reinterpretation of how you process the music, its place within the greater scheme, or your relationship with it. Other times it hits you with the force of a jack hammer, forever, irrevocably, altering your tastes.

I was only vaguely aware of Robert Hood when I first heard his solo work. The name was familiar – I knew he’s been involved in Underground Resistance, and a handful of projects with Jeff Mills, but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Both Mills and Mike Banks occupied a far bigger space in my musical knowledge at the time. Hood remained a far more shadowy figure, one out on the fringes of my techno understanding. I had heard that he was doing ‘minimalist’ techno, but that term meant nothing to me in a musical sense. I hadn’t really been one for exploring grand traditions of the avant-garde. I was – and I remain – a fairly simple creature. I like watching war movies when I’m hung over. I like listening to the football on a Saturday afternoon, and I tend to like music that connects with me on an emotional, visceral level rather than anything requiring too much thought. The last thing I wanted was some difficult concept getting in the way of my Friday night decadence.

It was an idiot worry. I got my hands on a copy of Hood’s Internal Empire and got a great deal of that inverted musical snobbery knocked out of me on the first listen. Well, perhaps the second or third listen because the truth was I had little idea what I had just heard, and in actual fact it scared me a little. Some of his slightly later material (Minimal Nation, or the Movable Parts stuff) would take this basic minimalist framework and refine it, distill it, even further, but Internal Empire was the master-key which forever unlocked a new way of understanding what techno could be.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll argue until the day I die that Hood’s take on minimalist techno has little to do with what later became minimal, and even less to do with the latter’s further incarnation as something that veered closer to tech-house than anything coming from Detroit. Hood’s sound ( and I know I’ve also said this before) was breathtakingly naked; He took a scalpel to the music, and left nothing but furious grooves wired together with a tiny handful of the most essential components. In some ways it was less about being minimal than creating a sound that was the embodiment of a straight-edge ethos – but one that was transplanted into the fabric of the music rather than providing a code to live your life by.

Of course, Hood’s music evolved as time passed. His emerging Floorplan material was far more conventional than the abstract sounds released under his own name, and it seems to be something he has become interested in pursuing more and more, fusing gospel and disco touches to the basic framework. As for his harder material, it has evolved also; sometimes growing harder, others more introspective. And that’s the thing about Hood which remains important. You might not particularly like some of the directions he has chosen over the last 25 year, but you can never accuse him of standing still, of trading on past glories. And that’s not something you can say about a lot of the old guard.

I’ve not gone for one of those original minimalist tracks tonight, surprisingly. Who Taught You Math, from 2002’s Shonky In The Hood is a criminally underrated Hood tune – one of his very finest in fact. But it isn’t the stripped down, abstracted assassin of old. While it has elements in common with his previous form, it reworks the groove to do something very different. It becomes a piece of deep space dancehall, gliding weightlessly, and transforming into joyous machine soul. It is one of the funkiest, warmest and most playful tracks Hood ever released, and while it aims itself towards the future, the melody is as pure a paean to Detroit techno’s unique blend of beauty, muscle, and history as you will ever find. It is, I think, one of the last of the truly great tracks to emerge from Detroit’s period of techno dominance. Sit back and listen to the Master Builder work.