Friday Night Tune: Robert Hood – Unix

The heavy mass of genres and styles which have influenced electronic music are well known, and we’ve been subjected to plenty of guff about it over the years. I used to be surprised by the amount of producers willing to spraff on about their affinity with hairy-arsed, self involved, proggy bollocks in interviews, or the sort of harsh krautrock which sounds like a psychology experiment gone wrong. You don’t see so much of it nowadays. I don’t imagine this is because there is any less desire to out oneself as a fan of the sort of music which makes you question your life choices, but more because – simply – the years have rolled on enough that the influences have changed in a way which allows this stuff can be consigned to the past.

There was, I think, another reason for it. By claiming a lineage to music which had undeservedly gained a reputation as somehow intellectually and musically superior, you are sticking your own flag in that endlessly trodden ground. In the earlier days, when you could get yourself into pointless arguments with all sorts of indy knobs and snobs once it was known your tastes in tunes ran to stuff that went doof and squelch, it was natural to adopt a defensive position, to pretend that your taste was important.

It was the same reasoning which led people down that boring little road where they squirted all that pish about 126 bpm being at the same speed as the human heartbeat, as if they were welding their love for acid house to a shamanic tradition which predated the fall of Atlantis. It’s interesting to note that although this sort of thinking had thankfully been battered around the head over here, as even the indy kids realised that electronic music wasn’t some weird virus that would turn you into one of those day-glo rave clich├ęs you used to see upsetting farmers and Tories on the 9 0’clock News, the growth of EDM across the pond has fostered a resurgence. I imagine the circumstances are the same. As electronica fans over there have begun to admit it, they’ve probably been having to explain it to the sort of people who still think Rage Against The Machine are the cutting edge of underground music.

Still, that’s by the by. I’m lucky enough that both the prog rock and the dodgy heart based symbolism were things I missed. It’s not that I didn’t have arguments with Neds Atomic Dustbin fans who were strangely angry I liked techno, but more that I never realised I was supposed to be embarrassed about liking it. I did, however, find moving on to house and techno a natural progression from the music I had already been listening to. While nowadays we tend to remember the role disco played in the evolution of so much electronic music, we remain a bit reticent about giving soul its due. It’s there, though; particularly in the development of Detroit techno, for obvious reasons. In Britain these links were perhaps even stronger – the Northern Soul movement of the late 60s and the 70s was in many ways a massive precursor for rave and acid house, and the two are tied together in a common heritage.

But it was punk that I found to be the closest. Perhaps not in sound, nor in the popular meaning. It’s a difficult task to recognise the symbolism of peace and love and unity in the hard cynicism of Nation Of Ulysses or Scratch Acid; it’s virtually impossible to draw a line from Barbara Tucker’s luscious vocals to Steve Albini’s harsh sneer (and I bet that’s the only time in history you’ll see both of those names in the same sentence.)

It’s there though, the common heart, and the energy. And when I listen to a lot of Robert Hood’s earlier music it jumps out at me. I’ve written about Hood’s minimalist take on techno plenty of times before, the way he takes a tune and pares it down until nothing is left but a lean and furious groove. Many people tried to imitate him, but very few got close. There was always the need to throw something else into the mix which alleviated the almost terrifying starkness of the sound. And when that happens, the music loses its edge.

Rather than house, or even the great mass of techno (Detroit or otherwise) I’ve always felt that Hood’s tunes have a kindred spirit with the hardcore of Fugazi. The DC band often showed a similar take on sound, even though they came at it from a very different direction. Their own militancy, their anti-authoritarian stance, and fierce independence echoed something of Hood’s first band, Underground Resistance, and their music contains that same approach, the same stripped down, lean grooves powered by a compressed rage and potent, erudite, take on the world around them. That their tunes were largely powered by some of the greatest bass and drum patterns in rock music has often been overlooked as people focussed on Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto’s sharp lyrics, but Brendan Canty’s drums, and Joe Lally’s bass provided direction, and control, and – most techno of all, perhaps – a strange, alien sense of melody and completeness.

I’ve often felt that Fugazi’s seminal Repeater – one of the greatest records of the 90s – is what Hood may well have come up with had he been into punk instead of techno. Sometimes we look for links in places which are too direct, too obvious to really make sense. Often its only when we get past the surface noise and concentrate on the energy, the vibe, and the meaning, that we begin to realise that inspiration, influence, rarely comes from where we expect it too, and that sometimes we have far more in common with those who are supposed to be strangers than with those we are supposed to recognize as our own.