Today Robert Hood is regarded as the godfather of the form; having provided the backbone of a sound that now resonates strongly in cities all across the world. Whether your experiencing what Ben Klock or Marcel Dettmann are doing on the floor, or listening to UK techno players like Mark Broom or Ben Sims (artists Hood has cited as artists of note) the parallels between all of their music will quickly make themselves apparent. But what really becomes clear is the magnitude of the impact of Hood’s work has had on the form - as a genre - and the immediacy of the power that’s long at the very core of the four four sphere.
2014 is in fact the 20th birthday of M-Plant and it’s been a year of celebration for Hood who’s enjoyed a densely packed tour schedule in honour of this landmark. As well as taking his sound out internationally via the contents of his DJ bag, the originator has also been working hard behind the scenes and taking another look at the two decades worth of releases. Looking hard into it and thinking deeper about re-presenting his life’s work he announced M-Print: 20 Years of M-Plant, a three CD collection of the label's back catalogue that sets all his production monikers side by side, for the first time. With his next appearance in Farringdon scheduled for this Saturday coming and with such a momentous year for the producer nearing its end, we jumped on the line to his current home in Alabama to relive the story of the album's curation and discuss his arduous and spiritual journey so far...
How’s your year been? Obviously it's the 20th year of M-Plant so what've you been doing to celebrate so far?
Just playing non-stop, travelling in support of the 20th Anniversary of M-Plant and several remixes and re-edits of very early M-Plant releases and of course leading up to the upcoming three CD set of – I won’t call it M-Plant back catalogue - but M-Plant music, what M-Plant has done so far and just touring non-stop in support of all of that.
With compiling the compilation this must have been a huge project for you what's that process been like? You say you've been editing it, how did you go about the curation of what tracks from your huge catalogue to include?
Simply going back through my old DAT tapes of old M-Plant releases; Protein Valve, Movable Parts, 'The Pace' and early Monobox Recordings. It's just been a painstaking process of picking out which sounds would be centre of this compilation. When you think about this compilation, you think the 'greatest hits,' but I wanted to chronicle this minimal timeline from the very beginning and the early struggles of M-Plant, this very young label with this new idea - a rethinking or reinvention of minimal music. It was a tedious task, picking out which tracks would encompass this idea of what M-Plant music was all about. My early idea [for the compilation] was to put out a catalogue that read 'despite the meaning of nature one should never understand the neural potency of M-Plant music' so each track had to be neurally powerful speaking to that concept or idea.
That definitely does a good job of summing up the power that comes across in your music - and leads me onto ask then when you do find an artist you do want to release their track what do they have to do to impress you?
The artist’s ability to relate to and speak to an audience using sparse production and being able to say something musically and creatively by using just one word that they have interpreted as spoken, as having so much power and so much neural soul - if that makes sense? Just being able to speak to someone’s heart by having only sparse elements to communicate so artists like Mark Broom and Steve Rachmad have the ability to really get down with someone's spirit using really basic elements; and that's what I look for...
And does that relate to your definition of minimalism and how you realise that through M-Plant...?
Exactly, it's a minimal sculpture. Just a rectangular block but it's one that's able to say something through the way it was formed, the way it's textured and being able to relate to a human being. Even though this is technology, this is techno music, this is a sculpture, but being able to relate to a human heart, even though it might seem like a cold structure or a cold sound, it still somehow has the ability to communicate to the human heart.
I want to ask a bit more about putting the compilation together - what did you learn from that process? It must have been quite an experience to look at all of those 20 years and concentrate on listening to everything you've done. Is there anything you learnt from the process of looking back?
[There’s] Diligence and patience in dealing with this painstaking and tedious process but it reminded me of how patient and disciplined I had to become to craft this body of work and [how long I had to] wait. Each track for each release didn't catch on overnight or just explode instantly form the day it was released. Most of the tracks and releases gained momentum over time and the label gained momentum over time. It's just like pregnancy where you have intimacy, then you have pregnancy and then you have this point where you have difficulty before the birth and then there's the actual birth itself. It's just a process and like I said, it's tough to be humble, to be diligent and to be patient. It's something that has given me a lot of discipline.
Each CD does feel like an album though they're not chronologically curated are they? You set out to arrange them into different ideas…?
Exactly. I wanted it to be as cohesive as any of my other albums such as Eternal Empire or Nighttime World 1, 2 and 3 or Omega. It was important for me to get this aesthetic in mind before I started this process so, practically, it took the latter part of 2013 and most of 2014.
Which is a lot of work, especially considering your DJ schedule... I was also wondering, from what you've said before, you didn't get the return from the label to begin with... there must've been a lot of work being done without immediately getting reward from the outside world, but what have been your favourite moments from the last 20 years?
When I was making Internal Empire and I was working on 'Minus' in particular, I remember setting up my equipment in my living room. I didn't have any living room furniture and I just had a mattress in my bedroom and I thought 'hey, why don't I bring my equipment into the living room; then I can look out my window!' That summer I was able to see the children playing outside on a normal summer's day in Detroit and working on 'Minus' it took me to the mind state of the Terminator, like looking into the future and just wondering what is live going to be like in 30 or 20 years for these children. Just looking out of the window, prophetically. I remember letting a lot of the tracks just run for several hours. Playing 'Minus' and creating sounds for Internal Empire; that really sticks out in my mind.
I also remember working on Stereotype; that was a particularly difficult time in my life and I certainly felt the pain... no, not the pain, the struggle of just trying to maintain in this art form, in this industry. I remember I just tried to redirect and reinvent my focus and my vision and my direction - this was after I had split from Axis records and I was trying to redefine my voice. Projects like that and the early Floorplan release, 'Funkysouls,' they really stick out in my mind because that was a time in my life when I wasn't with Underground Resistance and I wasn't with Axis; it was me alone by myself and I was having to decide for myself what direction I was going to take. I can recall around the time I was doing Wire to Wire for Peacefrog and that was a really rough time because that was a time when I didn't have any sense of direction, I really had to dig deep to find myself.
"It's a minimal sculpture. Just a rectangular block but it's one that's able to say something through the way it was formed, the way it's textured and being able to relate to a human being."
It’s interesting that it's quite a personal moments and not such tangible things, like a particular event, it's more of you realising an artistic goal or you've had a moment where you've really connected with your music in the studio...
It was a time where I just felt kind of lost and it was after that point when I started to work on Omega. It's funny because it was like a re-boot; it ended up being a new genesis. At the time I was working on Omega, prior to that I was going to school at Ministry and I was reading this book by Dr Miles Munro which was called The Power of Vision, so I was rediscovering my vision. It was a brand new beginning for me. But, prior to that again, working on Talk to Mass and Stereotype, I was spiritually at a rough point in my life where I didn't feel like I had any sense of direction. I really had to find it and it was hard to locate, but now I've found it and I’m rooted and grounded in spirituality and I have a definite clear sense of direction.
On the subject of spirituality and it's influences, I know from what you’ve said of your music in the past that the industrial nature and 'grey haze' of Detroit informed a lot in you and also what you referred to before about the vision of the future for these children in the park also inspired you. What is inspiring you now?
God is the source of my strength and the strength of my life and when I look at the world now... I look at Detroit, I look at Alabama, I look at west Africa, I look at Spain, I'm not just looking from one perspective. I have a wider, more panoramic view of the world as opposed to just a snapshot. So I’m looking at the world through the eyes of God. Through the eyes of the Holy Spirit if you will.
I have a much broader view now. Instead of being on the defensive, I'm on the attack. Before I was just trying to survive which became very hard, but now I've gained a power - a power that I already had but I just didn't know it, a power that we all have - it's just a matter of reaching out and taking a hold of it and receiving it and using it to grow instead of being on the defensive. Whatever it is I see that needs to be dealt with, I don't have to struggle anymore. I can live life in abundance and have peace and joy.
I guess there's feeling in the world there's a daily struggle. People have to eat and get a job the world's going to get you down but you can rise above it…
Absolutely. You know people say we're living in this 'world economy,' well that's a choice. You can choose to live in this recession and own that or you can break free of it and say no, I'm not participating in recession. I'm not participating in depression. I will not be depressed. There were times in my life where I was depressed and I was almost suicidal. I don't have time for that. It's about being free and living life in abundance with peace and joy; and not Sch1amaterial wealth, but a sense of well-being.
I totally agree on the point of material wealth. I think the wanting of material wealth can make you feel you're missing something...
People are looking at the rich and the wealthy, those people going on vacation in Switzerland and going skiing in Colorado and they're saying: 'hey, why can't that be me?' Well, God has intended for all of us to live in abundance and have the desires of our heart but the Bible says ‘seek you first the Kingdom of Heaven and his righteous and all these things shall be added onto you’ but [you need to] seek him first and that's what we're not doing. We're not seeking a relationship with God. Creativity and being able to have this wealth of wisdom and peace and well-being flowing through you is like rivers of living water and we can have that flowing through us. Life is what you make it. It's our choice.
A very empowering message. It interests me because I know you are actually a minister as well as a techno producer, but you still feel the imperative and connection with music you've not just taken a life of religion but music still of what the forefront of what drives you...
The thing about it is the music and ministry are now combined; my music is a ministry. I'm using it not just to make records, I'm using it to say something and to speak to people. I'm a servant of that which God has intended me to be, [I'm here] to serve music. Not just to play records but actually to put a message of God in the music somehow and say something that means something... something spiritual. People are grabbing a hold of it saying ‘OK, this is different, but this is real.’ I’m giving people a choice and saying now you've had the blue pill, you can have the red pill. We have been living in the matrix but here's another choice in techno music. Here's life.
Do you mean that in a sense that they feel life in the music you’re giving them?
In the sense that we've been given life. See, The Bible says, and I'm not trying to preach or anything, but there's the scripture: 'my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.’ So I try to deliver the gospel message and say OK, so here's the knowledge and life is in knowing this knowledge and knowing who God is and who you are in God. The Bible says Jesus is the way, the truth and the light and so now we've known the world's way of what wisdom is in this world system, but now here's this alternative, real life. The everlasting life in Christ Jesus, everlasting creativity and everlasting peace; peace that surpasses all understanding. This is everything you need but this matrix we're living in is basically a lie but this spirituality is actually the real thing and this is actually abundant in life.
To bring up your track, 'Never Grow Old,' obviously that’s been on heavy rotation since its release but one time I heard it that sticks out is when Ben Klock played it in Room One at fabric, around 6 or 7 in the morning where, in the midst of an already vibrant party, the energy just changed and it brought about this overwhelming feeling of joy. Does that relate to what you've been saying here?
That's exactly it. I'm trying to explain this the best, God literally woke me up in the middle of the night and said: 'I want you to actually put the words of God in the music' and instantly my eyes opened up wide and I said: 'well, God, how're they going to receive it?' He said: 'don't worry about that just do what I'm telling you to do. I want you to reach out with this music and really say something about Jesus through the music.' This message of never growing old, living life in paradise and having everlasting life is the message that conveys that we're going to a place where we never have to grow old.
Heaven 17, the British electronic band from the early 80s, did a song called ‘We’re Going To Live For A Very Long Time’ and I didn't realise that was a Christian song until I actually read the lyrics. That really resonated with me over the years, so I had to do something with a message like that. I heard Aretha Franklin live in 1973, this gospel recording she did at a church in Los Angeles, and I thought, this is the message that God wants me to deliver to the people.
We've spoken about the past and the present but what, at this point, do you see for the future of M-Plant?
That's a good question because I've gotten so many new ideas that I've had to write them down. I have a whole list of ideas of albums and experimentation, more Floorplan music, Monobox I've been working on for the last year or so and just getting my mind ready for the direction that M-Plant needs to go. And trying not to let Floorplan overshadow Robert Hood because Floorplan has taken on a life of its own. I'm finding Robert Hood is competing with the Floorplan concept. I have to just let God direct me and guide me because if I think I'm going to do this Monobox record, God may say 'hey' and throw a monkey wrench [in the works]. I'm going to turn it upside down so I really don't know to be honest with you...