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Robert Hood
Omega Daniel A Nixon , July 9th, 2010 08:49

For an artist as creative, important, influential, seminal, original (continue list ad infinitum) as Robert Hood, it is perhaps surprising how little known he is, especially when taking into account the relative fame of his Detroit contemporaries. Artists such as long time collaborator Jeff Mills, Kevin Saunderson, Octave One and, in particular, Carl Craig and Richie Hawtin are now huge names in dance music. It is puzzling, then, that Robert Hood is still the DJ techno fans mention with a hushed voice and a raised eyebrow; the artist whose name is most frequently prefixed with 'have you heard of...'. His post as 'Minister of Information' in the mysterious and shady Underground Resistance label (set up with Jeff Mills) only adds to the man's enigma.

Perhaps this relative anonymity is because he is not a prolific remixer like Mills or Craig. Or perhaps it is because he doesn't charge £30 for his live sets on the promise of being able to interact with a mysterious, futuristic white cube, as is Hawtin's wont. In fact, his live shows, much like his music, are raw, stripped back affairs: he recently played at Numbers in Glasgow with ear popping, leg stomping results. This was not the minimal happening you would usually expect from Hood; instead it sounded as if he entered the fray at around 120 bpm and steadily increased the tempo for an hour and a half. His volume control seemed to be connected to the club's thermometer, obliterating the audience in the process.

Omega represents Hood's best chance at a crossover, and move towards the dance mainstream. Ostensibly a concept album, this draws its inspiration from The Omega Man, a 1971 sci-fi film starring Charlton Heston. This in itself was based on Richard Matheson's cult novel I Am Legend, and the narrative cohesion an imagined film score affords Hood is one of the main reasons the album ought win him new admirers. It works exclusively from a palate of brooding, mechanical noises to produce a dystopian soundscape that's certainly more evocative than the last 'artwork' to draw inspiration from this source: the appalling Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. Hood's vision of the future is urgent and brimming with anxious imagery.

After 'Alpha (The Beginning)' - a hypnotic, looped monologue - the album proper opens with 'The Plague (Cleansing Maneuvers)', a slow-building, multilayered track full of ambient resonance, long silent pauses, echoing drum beats and high pitched computer noises. It sounds like the start up sequence of a giant, dangerously powerful techno mainframe; the awakening of a heavy-duty pneumatic robot. After fully booting, 'Towns That Disappeared Completely' thumps in with a steady drumbeat and a rhythmic monotone riff. A fast paced high-hat starts building the tension before the different parts are slowly bought in to produce pulsating beats that transfix: Hood is still master of the restrained build. 'Alpha', the b-side to Hood's current 12”, has a synthesizer line that rises like a futuristic gatling gun powering up; and once whirling at full tilt, Hood's subtle timing and manipulation extracts the full enjoyment out of every minor change in rhythm and pitch. The a-side, 'Omega (End Times)', is perhaps unsurprisingly the most club-orientated track on the album. Its chugging, ominous start sucks you in to an apocalyptic mixture of distressing synths and steady kick drum. By the time it reaches its crescendo the track is frog-marching the dancefloor with paranoid dread. Other highlights include the womp womp of 'Think Fast', the static and feedback samples used on 'The Workers of Iniquity', and the cocoon of agitation weaved by 'War in the Streets'' high pitched tremolo.

But if we are talking about Hood's (lack of) potential as a more mainstream dance act, then 'Are You God?' is a case in point - and probably the album's stand out track. Using a playful house synth sound and handclap samples, it begins with the promise of becoming a four to the floor dance track. Before long, though, the synth line slowly starts to circle wider and wider, becoming out of kilter with the carefully laid rhythm below. But all Hood has done is push it to the off-beat: as he reigns it back in he drops a sample that sounds half way between a post-punk guitar and an 80s synth-pop keyboard. Hood is playing with your expectations, and perhaps even commenting on the very nature of formulaic build/drop/build/drop techno that populates the majority of contemporary clubs. By using the aural palate of more mainstream dance and manipulating it in this way he is both making himself accessible to the less proselytized techno fans, while also showing them the full, alarming potential of what has arguably become a staid genre. This is an album that will penetrate deep into the conscious, and not just to stimulate your motor neurons.