MTV Blah Blah Blah
From the late '80s rave crew to one of the biggest live acts in the world.
It's hard rock for techno heads. Or hard techno for rock fans. Liam Howlett, the ringleader of British electronic punks the Prodigy, doesn'tcare how his band is seen, just that they are heard. And with a ferocious volume to rival any metal band, that generally isn't a problem.It wasn't always like this. The Prodigy kissed the '80s goodbye as a naive rave band, sampling a British children's show to give them their first hit Charly. After a string of similar novelty hits, Howlett saw his band quickly blossoming into everything he despised. Their fans were E'd up clubbers who just wanted faster dance beats and cute samples - like the rest of the rave scene. Howlett's reinvention saw the Prodigy release 1994's seminal Music For the Jilted Generation; the Nevermind of electronic music. An effortless mix of hard house beats, hip hop, punk attitude, DIY sampling and guitar in all the right places, the album has sold over a million copies worldwide, fuelled by subversive and influential hit singles like Poison and Voodoo People. Their flirtation with the rock world has not gone unnoticed. The Prodigy's energetic live show is regularly bookended between grunge and metal bands at festivals, and they count Bono and Noel Gallagher as very public fans. Oasis personally requested that the Prodigy support them at their Knebworth stadium show, while Howlett claims he has turned down "tonnes" of rock bands desperate for his remix touch. Just as likely to be reviewed in metal mags as DJ periodicals, the Prodigy have lately found themselves sporting the unwieldy tag of the "the best rock band in the world". Although Howlett isn't so sure.
"We had the highest rate of complaints ever recorded on British TV," says Howlett like a proud father
"We rock on stage, don't get me wrong," he says. "We have a guitarist, but does that make us a rock band? I guess some people can look at us on stage and think it's the new '90s rock' n' roll but I'm not into titles. The biggest buzz for us is standing on stage not with dance bands but with rock bands and playing our music with the likes of Rage Against The Machine and Soundgarden. If it annoys a few people that's good. People don't realise how much we stand out against those bands. It's obvious, if you're at one of those festivals and you watch the rock stage you'll see the same formula, guitar, bass, drums; we're so different from that we stick out a mile. Not because we're better, just different. "Howlett is in the midst of creating what will be the third Prodigy album, the first long player since...Jilted Generation changed their (and the musical) world. "Tough," is Howlett's key word for the album, once again enjoying a homebirth after an unfeasibly long gestation period. After a collaboration with Skin of Skunk Anasie was shelved ("She has a brillant voice, but I need to write a harder song for her") Howlett has created perhaps the first techno-mantra with Crispan Mills of new UK retro-psychedelists Kula Shaker. Other highlights include Cocaine Kitten and the live favourite Funky Shit.
Unlike most electronic-based bands, the Prodigy have already road tested the new album over a year of intense international touring. "We can tour and release records like a rock band," says Howlett. "That gives us more longevity as an act. we've manages to stay around for six years now. " Howlett, who does everything in the Prodigy except sing ("Why let other people interfere with what you do when one person can do the whole thing?"), has seen his home studio become an unlikley house of hits. In 1996, the Prodigy have scored two monster-sized number ones, Breathe and the instant classic Firestater, turning them into a techno Sex Pistols - the sort of band who provide an antidote to the rest of the chart. The soundtrack to Satan's disco, Firestarter, was a three and a half minute express ride to hell and back, with pierced in-house freak from Keith Flint evokinh the spirit of a young Johnny Rotten. His menacing vocals ("Come play my gaaaaaame" - Breathe) and larger than like image make their videos like musical horror movies. The Prodigy complete refusal to appear on any television program meant UK institution Top of the Pops was forced to screen the stark Firestarter video rather than plump for a cheesy on-set miming of the nation's number one hit. "We had the highest rate of complaints ever recorded on British TV," says Howlett like a proud father. "I think secretly Top of the Pops was happy to be part of something a bit anarchic. Instead if having Spice Girls and their nice shiny, clean video, that had to play this dirty, scary video. They had to play it again and again, it was number one for six weeks. We won't go on telly in England, it's a set-up environment, there's always someone telling you how to dress or some guy in a mixing desk, or in a lighting desk changing it no matter how much you think you're in control. "
With total control comes total pressure, but Howlett actually finds stress creative. "Without pressure this job would be so fucking easy. I'm glad there's pressure, it pushes me to improve myself. If there'd been no pressure I would of knocked out an album in three or four months and I'd be regretting it now. "While he works, his band is fast becoming the first stadium rave band in the world, albeit reluctantly. "In England we're as big as we can be without becoming something we're not. We're not going to become a pop band or a rock band. We want to write strong music with a twist. We didn't want to be pop stars, we just wanted to change techno and take that faceless thing way. The Prodigy is about punk attitude and hard dance music. That's our formula. There's lots of room for expanding on what we do, but you can't lose the beats. They must say, you just can't fuck around with them. "