ALBUM (1994)

Rewind album: Internal Empire, by Robert Hood

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 5:29pm

Internal Empire

Robert Hood


When Juan Atkins, the artist known as the godfather of techno music, was once asked how he went about infusing soul into machines, he replied: "You gotta work 'em like they've never been worked before."

During the bleak, Reagan-dominated 1980s, a group of young, mostly black men living in Detroit went to work on a new breed of machines. Gone were the greasy, dangerous hunks of metal that had sat in the former industrial heartland's vast warehouses and factories; gone were the clanking of the piston and the buzz of the saw. In their place came the bleeps, thuds, drones, and interstellar noises of the 808 and 909 drum machines made by Japanese electronic musical instrument manufacturer Roland Corp.

This was equipment made in the past, sent back from the future - but it "worked" in the present. In their own factories, free from high stress and low pay, these young men began to create hi-tech jazz out of hi-tech dreams.

Techno is essentially short for "technology music", with the essence of the machine being integral to the vision of its creators. It wasn't just about mimicking the sound of the Detroit industry and its factories, but also about fusing machinery with space-age ideas.

For many of techno's producers and followers, it was about escaping the humdrum reality of daily life in a depressed city.

It was a part of the great extra-terrestrial musical adventure that started with other great black American artists of the 20th century such as Sun Ra and Funkadelic. And it was in 1990 that the desire to escape the hard reality of an industrial city merged with "black power" politics and the struggle against a corrupt system.

While Atkins, along with Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, can be said to have created the original sound of techno, it can be argued that a collective known as Underground Resistance created its first image. Robert Hood joined "Mad" Mike Banks and Jeff Mills, and they forged a new path, replete with black, militant dress.

In 1994 Hood released Internal Empire, an album which, in terms of resonance and mood, replicates the drudgery of the factory. It has a focus on the minimal, the mundane and the repetitive; melodies barely exist in a world of levers and buttons.

Track titles such as Spirit Levels and Master Builder bring to mind key elements of manufacturing, while Minus and Multiple Silence conjure up moments of reflection. Perhaps Hood never explicitly had the factories of his home city in mind, but their presence is felt here.

And what rose out of the ashes of those broken machines is hard music from a hard city, and one of the most potent and important art forms of the 20th century.

Oliver Clasper