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Prodigy's Howlett Jumped Legal Hurdles To Make Mix Album

DJ collage disc includes Beasties music, but no Beatles.

Staff Writer Chris Nelson reports:

Prodigy leader Liam Howlett says he wants to create a sequel to his recently released DJ mix album, The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One.

The only question is whether he'll have any energy left after the lawyerly wrangling it took to put the first volume together. "The legal side [of the first mix album]," he said, "was such a headf---. "

Legal issues also turned the first project from a five-day adventure in cutting, pasting and mixing songs into a months-long pursuit for consent to use certain samples on the album.

I have to either rub people's faces in it or be cheeky by the use of certain lyrics.

Liam Howlett

"I'd wait for an answer for two weeks, and it'd get a 'No,' and I'd have to go back into the studio again and repair that bit," Howlett said. "And then another record would be a 'No.' It has a domino effect where one record might knock out three. "

The mix that became The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One began as a set Howlett compiled for British disc jockey Mary Anne Hobbes' "Breezeblock" show on the BBC's Radio 1. The album includes about 70 percent of what was played on the original program.

Even without the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and Jimi Hendrix's "Little Miss Lover" -- two songs for which permission was denied -- The Dirtchamber Sessions is a dizzying DJ spectacle incorporating elements of more than four dozen songs. Snippets from Barry White flow with cuts from Public Enemy. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five funk it up with Jane's Addiction. The Sex Pistols pound next to Fatboy Slim.

"I was just trying to give people an insight into what goes on in my head when I'm writing music for my band, an insight into my inspirations," Howlett, 27, explained. "It wasn't difficult to fill an album up with some of my favorite tracks. It was just a matter of getting them to fit together right and getting them in a certain style that was more related to the B-Boy culture than a seamless dance mix. "

Constructing the proper flow on turntables requires a combination of forethought and spontaneity. "At least 80 percent of it is planned ahead as far as the actual selection of the songs," said 28-year-old DJ Kut Masta Kurt (born Kurt Matlin), who appears on an upcoming album by Kool Keith, one of Howlett's all-time favorite rappers.

"But the manipulation of how you do it is an impromptu part of it -- where you choose to start your blend," Kut Masta Kurt said.

The eight untitled mixes on The Dirtchamber Sessions are more than a window into Howlett's creative mind. They're also platforms for Howlett to spout off about the various controversies surrounding Prodigy and their breakthrough album, The Fat of the Land (1997).

The first mix, for instance, includes an extended excerpt of the Ultramagnetic MC's' "Give the Drummer Some. " When Prodigy used two lines from that song -- "Change my pitch up/ Smack my bitch up" -- as the centerpiece of the track "Smack My Bitch Up" , they drew cries of misogyny from some feminists. Last fall the Beastie Boys asked the band not to play the cut during a British festival featuring the two groups. They played it anyway.

The extended excerpt on The Dirtchamber Sessions is "more of a comical use of the lyrics than maybe people thought our use was," Howlett said. "People can hear it and make up their own minds. "

Even more pointed is a cut on the fourth mix from the Beastie Boys' own "It's the New Style. " Howlett said that in the wake of his row with the group it would have been childish for him to not use songs from the Beasties' debut album, Licensed to Ill (1986), which he described as a seminal work for his own musical development.

Of course, the particular excerpts he chose -- including the line"The girlies I like are underage" -- highlight the Beasties' early, pre-PC sentiments.

"I like to f--- around and have a laugh," Howlett said. "It comes across in Prodigy music, and it comes across in this album. That's just me. I guess I have to either rub people's faces in it or be cheeky by the use of certain lyrics. "

A spokesperson for the Beastie Boys declined to comment on the cut.

With one mix album now under his belt, Howlett said he's turning his attention to the next Prodigy record, although he was hesitant to discuss details at this early stage.

"I haven't finished anything," he said. "I'm just throwing some ideas around for one track. Once I've got the first couple of tracks, it gets going. This is going to be a long album to write for me. I really want to write some good songs, and I'm very slow at writing. "

Meanwhile, he's mentally working up rough ideas for a second volume of The Dirtchamber Sessions once the Prodigy album is wrapped.

"I found it quite refreshing to do instead of being in the studio trying to write music," he said of the DJ mixes. "It was an inspiration to be in there listening to all these tracks I'd been into 10 years previous. "

"My record collection's pretty big; I've got enough to do another volume if I want to," he said. "It'd be more of a question of ... the legal side. "

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