Robert Hood – Internal Empire (Tresor)
It probably goes without saying, but Robert Hood’s music has changed by quite a bit over the last 25 years. There is perhaps no greater evidence of this than the current primacy of his Floorplan project, with its emphasis on warmer, fuller, and more straight-up dancefloor friendly techno. It has also helped introduce him to a new generation of fans for whom the term ‘minimal’ has greater connections with Berlin, Richie Hawtin, and a more recent take on the sound, than anything Hood was doing back at the Dawn Of Time.
Minimal techno in its original form had many masters, but few pushed the sound so far, or became so symbolic of it, as Robert Hood. Not long separated from Underground Resistance, and reacting against what he considered a loss of feeling and meaning in techno, Hood spent the middle years of the 90s creating a sound which took everything back to the genre’s most basic and functional form.
The results are still startling, perhaps even more so today than at the time when innovation crowded the woods with trees. Hood’s vision was a techno in which everything that didn’t help carry the funk was pared away until all that was left were grooves and sinew. It was, and remains, a devastatingly futurist take on the genre, one where everything is predicated upon movement, and Internal Empire is still the album which best encapsulates this ethos. On a personal level, Internal Empire also remains one of my three favourite techno albums of all time, along side Carl Craig’s Land Cruising, and Model 500’s Deep Space. Something within each of them contains not only the DNA of techno in its original, Detroit form, but a blueprint for the future.
Internal Empire sits as the middle child between those other great markers of Hood’s approach, Minimal Nation, and the run of records which began with Protein Valve, and led into the various Moveable Parts sessions. What is apparent, with the aid of hindsight, is the way in which Internal Empire now stands as perhaps the greatest expression of minimalist techno. With Minimal Nation (and, to an extent, with Protein Valve) there are traces of something else in the sound which harks back to Hood’s earlier incarnation as Underground Resistance’s ‘Minister of Information’, with tracks like Acrylic snarling along with a very Mad Mike feel, or the original The Pace, with its vaguely discoid honk acting as a precursor for the Floorplan genotype. By the time the Moveable Parts material arrived, the music had begun to reach a logical end-point, its tones and moods stripped down almost to nothingness, with what was left set to exploring an increasingly experimental realm of endless motion.
Internal Empire, then, was the point at which the idea of minimal techno found the perfect balance between movement and emotion, and its connection to the music which later took on the mantle of ‘minimal’ remains tangential. While there are obvious similarities between this and the sound as interpreted by a younger, Berlin based, generation, the differences keep them from every becoming too cosy. It’s like comparing a leopard seal to the ones bobbing along in the surf off your nearest beach.
Hood’s take is sharpened by his need to lay down not only a sound, but a belief in what it represented. Such philosophies are achingly difficult to transmit from one producer to another, and most, sensibly, don’t even try. It’s possible that this is the reason Internal Empire, and Hood’s minimalism generally, sounds so thrillingly individualistic – it was built by one person for a particular reason, and that has imparted the music with a soulfullness that is difficult (if not, in fact, dishonest) to try to copy. As a result, very little sounds like Robert Hood at full tilt, and it has helped to keep the music distinct and pure even in an age of endless conceptual recycling.
And the music itself? Well, where can you begin? With Minus, perhaps, still astounding in the way a repeated, three note motif can provide such gorgeously, mournful depths. Or Internal Empire, where skeletal fingers of sound reach out to guide a frosty, clattering, stomp. My favourite was always Home, with its washes of languid synth over a tight symphony of beats and snaps, forever carrying the seed of classical Detroit techno into a new era.
In fact, this is the thing which is always the last to be remembered. It wasn’t just the way the music had been stripped down that made it so powerful, but the way the emotional content was suddenly able to fill the space, and rely on tiny little touches, and the simple repetition of a handful of key elements, to convey meaning and ideas. When we talk about minimalism we rarely mention the way in which the music is dense with the intangible, and the way in which those invisible tones colour the sound and provide depth. This is especially true of Internal Empire. It defines the music, it drives it, and provides such a total re-imagining of what techno can be, and what it can do, that twenty-five years on it continues to open our ears to new ideas and toy with our expectations.