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White Heat, White Noise, White Out

They’re back! Back with ’Firestarter’, their first new material in two and a half years! Back with a reputation as the wildest fastest turbo-nutter punk-dance outfit in Britain! But they’re already back on holiday ….it must be great being THE PRODIGY

Halfway up a snow-covered mountain, in a picturesque, Swiss ski resort not far from Lake Geneva, The Prodigy are playing house. Keith Flint greets guests at their luxury, three-storey, wooden chalet fresh from a stint in the sauna. Dressed casually in jogging bottoms and jumper, his multi-coloured spikes of hair drooping lamely, he looks nothing like the demented dancer who fronts the band’s live show, or rolls around the stage in a transparent, plastic ball. Cuddling the chalet’s resident pet, a white, Persian cat called Figaro, Keith slumps down on a sofa and raises his legs to show off some designer slippers.

”Air Perrys, if you don’t mind,” he demurs, in a very well-mannered voice. ”Everyone on the slopes is wearing them this season.” The Prodigy have come to the tourist town of Leysin to feature in the second series of Channel 4’s snowboarding show, Boardstupid. Other artists invited to spend a similar four days here include Goldie, who arrives tomorrow, The Chemical Brothers. Jamiroquai and Gabrielle. That The Prodigy are first on is a mark of their well-publicised interest the sport. The whole band took up snowboarding two years ago, after songwriter Liam Howlett bought his first board.

”I went round Liam’s house one day.” says Keith, ”and caught him carpet-surfing. He was in the lounge, standing on what I thought was his” nan’s ironing board. I told him to sit down. Breathe deeply and I’d make him a nice cup of tea. Then he explained what it was and showed me a couple of videos. Straight away, I was hooked.”

Since then, The Prodigy have been to France, Switzerland and Colorado in search of the perfect piste. Liam, who has been practising on dry slopes in England, is probably the best, although all admit to being pretty, poor, thanks to a relentless tour schedule over the last 18 months. What The Prodigy lack in experience, however, they make up for in enthusiasm.

”On our first day,” recalls Liam, ”we were so keen that we started riding down the mountain before finding out the route. God knows where we went. It took us hours to get back. At one stage, when we were miles off- piste, I seriously considered absailing.

”I enjoy the adventure of cross-country. I like being out in the wilds, reading the terrain and the chaos of trying to avoid trees. It’s a lot like motorcross, which I used to be into, but without the noise and fumes.” Clearly, Keith is as mad on the slopes as he is on the stage. The other members’ snowboarding styles also reflect their personalities. Liam, who grew up on BMXs and skateboards, prefers the technical aspect of leaming to do tricks and jumps. Maxim Reality, the band’s MC, is into the adrenaline rush of fast, downhill speeds. Leeroy, Keith’s 6’4” dance partner, enjoys the challenge and sense of achievement. All share the same pet hates – ’fashionable’, fluorescent gear (none will wear the designer label clothes they get sent for free), show-off snowboarders and, worst of all, skiers. ”

We don’t get involved in the rivalry with skiers,” claims Keith, unconvincingly. ”At least, we don’t hit them on purpose, it’s only ’cos we’re crap. Alfhough if I am going to collide with a skier, I’ll make sure my elbows go out.

”I ran into one woman skier in Colorado and got lodged between her legs. I’m not sure how it happened, but I got stuck facing  backwards, crouching down. We must have gone a hundred yards together. When I stood up, people were holding up cards and clapping. They thought we were the next Torvill and Dean.”

The Prodigy are a band on a boys-own adventure. Tight-knit and self- sufficient, they never seem to tire of each other’s company. On tour. they travel, hang out and explore foreign cities together. On evenings off, they go out to clubs or concerts with one another. All still live in their hometown of Braintree in Essex, while Keith and Liam’s last holiday was spent snowboarding together in Colorado.

The band’s line-up has remained unchanged since the summer of 1991, when The Prodigy scored a Top Three hit with their second release, the Public Service advertisement-sampling, rave record ’Charly’. A manic, E-infested, parent-scaring single, focus for the exploitation of rave culture, and 19-year-old Liam the very scene that had inspired him.

Little over a year later, The Prodigy’s debut album, Experience, a complex mix of samples and breakbeats, was proof that the band had moved on, although still the rave tag stuck. Moreover, their music remained slightly out of step with fashion. It was too mainstream for the techno purists, too hardcore for the pop lot. Despite continued commercial success, The Prodigy stayed industry outsiders. But if the press didn’t want to write about them and the radio wouldn’t play their records, the band could keep in touch with their fans through their shows.

At a time when most dance acts thought that playing live meant miming to an E’d-up crowd on a tiny club stage, the size of The Prodigy’s audience allowed them large capacity venues favoured by guitar bands and, instead of relying solely on a light show and on a proper performance. So Boardstupid thought they’d have no problem performing at a 500-capacity club in Leysin. However, since all of their equipment is in Australia (where the band recently took part in the Big Day Out, the Antipodean equivalent of Lollapolooza) the programme’s producers tried to come up with an alternative, suggesting that The Prodigy should record an acoustic session inside the chalet.

”Someone obviously forgot to mention that we’re not too impressive unplugged.” laughs Liam. ”Had they warned us in advance, Leeroy would have brought along his tap shoes. That’s about as good as it gets.”

Unfortunately, getting out of their TV interview, scheduled for tomorrow morning, is not quite as easy. At one end of the chalet’s spacious sitting-room, the finishing touches are being put to a makeshift studio set. False walls have been filled with insulating foam. burnt to give a ’cratered’ effect, then painted a lurid mix of scarlet, lime green, bright blue and acidpink.

”If you could turn this set into fabric,” notes Keith wryly, crossing the purple carpet and slumping down on a brightly-coloured sofa, ”you’d probably make the top ski outfit of all time.”

The Prodigy finally shed the last of their rave roots in 1993 when they began working on their second album, Music For The Jilted Generation.

”I stopped writing all that hands-in-the-air bollocks,” explains Liam. ”The spirit of the rave scene stayed in that it was stillgood-time music you could dance to, but the songs had a new attitude and energy and hardness. It wasn’t a conscious decision to change. I just wasn’t listening to much dance music anymore and most techno bored me. Rock became a bigger influence. I liked its energy. I think The Smashing Pumpkins are wicked and I was really into the Chilli Peppers.”

In addition, Maxim had turned Liam onto Wu Tang Clan, Leeroy liked ’60s soul and Keith discovered Stone Temple Pilots. Guitar samples, deep dub, jungle and hip hop were packed into a string of successful singles. ’No Good (Start The Dance)’, ’One Love’, ’Voodoo People’ and anti-Criminal Justice Bill anthem ’Their Law’, featuring Pop Will Eat Itself, all made the Top 20. Inevitably, critical plaudits followed with the band being nominated for a Mercury Award. Meanwhile, The Prodigy’s live show had absorbed all the attitude and energy of the music.

”Go to a Sepultura concert,” says Keith. ”and it might be loud and the singer may say he wants to go out and kill children,but it’s not necessarily hard. Our show kicks ass. The crowd really let off. They jump around manically for a couple of hours and they remember that night for a long time to come. You can sit around at home and listen to music for years, but it’ll never drive you to leap around the lounge like that.

”The real challenge for us is to rock people who think they don’t want to be rocked. Before The Prodigy, I used to hang out with a bunch of strict metalheads. We’d go to real rock venues and if I danced, I was dissed. I was suppressed by my mates. You could smoke a ton of draw, drink 14 Special Brews and fall over, but if you shuffled your feet, that was the end of you. Now metalheads come to our concerts and don’t notice they’re not listening to traditional music.

”They start moving around without even realising. Suddenly they’re like, ’Oh my God, what am I doing? I’m dancing!”

”The live act is what we’re all about. We’ve dedicated the last five years of our lives to it, so we don’t just want a polite round of applause at the end of a show. We want to stir people up so much that they have to be carried out, exhausted, ona stretcher. To watch thousands of Oasis fans trample down 500 tents to get into our field at Glastonbury was a dream come true.”

The Prodigy’s triumphant Glastonbury gig, easily the highlight of last year’s festival, altered the band’s status overnight. Forthe first time, they became both a mainstream act and achingly hip.

”We actually asked to play Glastonbury the previous year,” says Liam, ”but the organisers wouldn’t let us. They said we weren’t big enough and got Orbital instead. We just wanted to take part. We offered to do it for free, even pay our own expenses. but they preferred to bore the audience with some so-called ’cool bands. That really annoyed me. If people want to see a nice light show, they can go to the Planetarium. I don’t like putting other bands down. but you’d need to beon 30 mushrooms and at least a couple of Acid to have fun watching that.”

It’s hard to imagine Liam Howlett getting angry, in spite of a nose-ring and brightly-dyed hair that make him look almost asmanic as Keith. He is polite. softly-spoken and thoughtful. He’ll chat only if Keith lets him get a word in edgeways and is suprisingly content to let the others speak for him, even on the subject of his songwriting. The only business-minded member of the band, Liam insists that The Prodigy have never sought commercial success, and recently turned down a major label offer, preferring to stay on dance label XL where he has total control over the band’s output. His only aim, he says, is to write songs that the whole band are happy with and, most importantly, to keep his music credible. Nevertheless, platinum sales of Music For The Jilted Generation have made Liam more than enough money to indulge his passions for fast cars and snowboarding. He has also installed a studio in his converted coachhouse home. It is where he is supposed to be right now, finishing The Prodigy’s third album, originally due out in May, but already put back to the summer. Liam,it seems, is in no hurry.

Tracks already and two of them are single. Anyway, it amuses me that we became so successful last year without releasing any new music at all. I may wait until 1997 to put out another record. If I can old out ’til then, we should be massive.”

Liam describes his new songs as similar to ’Poison’, the fifth and final single from Jilted and The Prodigy’s only output last year.

”There’s definitely more attitude coming through in the music,” he says. ”It’s still hard, but there’s not that many big breakdowns. I’m constantly coming across tunes that give me inspiration. That’s why I’m always out and about watching bands at festival. At the moment. I’m really into the Chemical Brothers. I think that whole breakbeat with acid and hip hop scene is pretty cool. It’s the little things I usually pick up on though. For example, someone put on a DJ Shadow record this afternoon and the beats were wicked. So I stole them. Shit! Can I take that back? Now DJ Shadow will be scouring our record for his beats. He’ll be ringing up, demanding royalties.”

Despite delaying the release of the album, Liam insists that he doesn’t feel under pressure to better his own success. The only pressure,” he says. ”is to progress the music. I want to surprise people every time a Prodigy record comes out. That’swhat I’m thinking while I write.”

The band’s new single. ’Firestarter’. Out this month, contains the first surprise for Prodigy fans. It features Keith Flint on vocals. ”To most people, Keith is just that mad bloke who has been wiggling his legs about on stage for the last five years,” says Liam. ”Now he’s having a go at some lyrics. That came about by accident. ’Firestarter’ was a good instrumental track but I knew it was missing the usual Prodigy hook that sticks in your head. Keith came into the studio, said he’d like to try singing on it and went away and wrote some words. What’s a firestarter? Isn’t that obvious? It’s Keith– it’s his personality .” ’Firestarter’ loops a distant ’hey, hey, hey’ sample from Art Of Noise’s ’80s pop hit Close To TheEdit’, and is slightly slower paced than the bulk of Jilted. Keith’s twisted lyrics and punky, staccato style recall Flowered Up’s more animated moments.

”Who on earth are Flowered Up?” asks Keith.

”We’ve never heard of them. Are they still around?”

You remember Flowered Up. Third wave of baggy. One great single (’Weekender’) and a Bez-like attraction called Barry Mooncult who liked dressing up as a giant daisy. They self- destructed after too many drugs and the singer ended up flogging dodgy tapes down Camden Market.

”Wow, cool.” exclaims Keith. ”Not that we’re into drugs ourselves. Honestly. We’ve been a drug-free zone for a number of years now. That’s why we’re strong on stage, not all mashed up. I mean, we might be stoned every now and again – alright. most of the time – but weed’s not a drug. It s a plant. We’re on a natural trip, man.”

Tonight, the only stimulant available is alcohol. After a meal in the chalet, The Prodigy head out to a club in Leysin. They are clearly unimpressed by the resort’s social facilities. Yesterday evening, they spent three hours in a ”shit restaurant”, before going on to a hip hop club that turned out to be empty. Tonight’s funkclub is scarcely more exciting. The music isbarely audible and no-one dances all night. While the rest of the band drink beer, Liam, who has decided to rename the town Bored Stupid, sinks a succession of straight tequilas.

The next day, the TV production crew wait patiently for the band to appear. They play Prodigy CDs on the chalet’s stereo system and dance about their paudy set in Arnet shades. It is 10am. An hour or so later, Keith, Leeroy and Maxim stumble downstairs. Liam, who has been throwing up for hours, locks himself in the toilet and refuses to come out. At noon, the interview takes place without him.

”So what’s happened to Liam?” asks one of the programme’s two presenters.

”We could tell you,” begins Keith, ”that he’s up in the mountains. getting in some early morning snowboarding. But we won’t.”

”We’ll just say,” continues Leeroy, ”that he’s upstairs, praying to the bowl.”

Both presenters look bemused.

”Oh, okay,” stammers one. ”Can someone tell us a Prodigy story then?”

Immediately. Keith is off.

”We were at this festival in Scotland last summer, he says. when these two kids got arrested. It was awful. One was caught drinking acid from a car battery and the other was found breaking up fireworks and snorting the powder.” The presenters look appalled.

Conveniently, as soon as the interview is over, Liam appears, insisting that an hour up on the slopes will make him feel better before the flight back to England. As The Prodigy get out of a cable car at the top of the mountain, a Japanese rider recognises Leeroy and points him out to a friend. Trying to exptain who he is. the boy starts singing ’Poison’ in an Oriental accent.

”I don’t betieve it,” cries Keith. ”he really does know who Leeroy is. Yesterday someone mistook Maxim for Coolio, and Liam got told he looks like that bloke from East 17. It’s not nearly as bad as what someone said to me though.”

Keith lowers his voice and checks to see who is around.

”You don’t think I look like Leo sayer do you?

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