In terms of legends in the dance music world, they don’t come much bigger than The Prodigy. The pioneering group’s influence has been remarkable, being responsible for crossing over dance music into the mainstream more than any other act in the 90s. On tour in support of their new album, No Tourists, their best in years, they are still going strong. ALFRED GORMAN sat down with Liam, Keith and Maxim for a chat in their hotel room on Wednesday, ahead of their show at RAC Arena tonight, Thursday, January 24.
The Prodigy just flew in from overseas, and are starting their Australian tour in Perth, and were expecting to be greeted by the blazing hot sun – however they’ve managed to catch two of the worst, wettest January days Perth’s seen in a long time. Still they’re pumped to be here and there’s no dampening their enthusiasm. “It’s still better than back home” Keith jokes.
Dressed casually, but looking very much like the rock stars that they are (Liam sporting a large pair of sunnies, Keith in a flat cap, and the seemingly ageless Maxim wearing a black, wide brimmed felt hat) we sit around in their plush hotel room, reminiscing of their first visits to Perth in the 90s, under much different circumstances, where they recall staying “at some guy’s house”. There is a general haziness around that period, but they did come to Perth twice in the early 90s – once playing the old Berlin nightclub, and the other was a proper old school rave.
The first big time of note that we all remember was the 1996 Big Day Out at Perth Oval (now nib Stadium), headlined by Porno For Pyros and Rage Against The Machine (the latter a big influence on The Prodigy, Liam says). Dance music and ‘techno’ was still underground at the time.
That was the first time I saw you and they put you guys on a small stage in a corner, not realising how popular you were, and there was a massive crowd crush. It was total mayhem, but also an incredible experience that really stayed with me…
Keith: Total mayhem. That’s just how we like it! It was a great line up that year…
Liam: We miss the Big Day Out, the eclectic-ness of it, the whole party vibe of the tour. We made a lot of friends from that festival, and we’re still friends with them now.
So since then, you guys have pretty much been steadily releasing records and touring, for over 20 years – is performing live still your favourite part of it all?
Liam: It’s the thing that glues it all together y’know? It helps the music get written. It dictates the music and informs the music. When you’re in the studio, you think about what this track’s gonna do on stage. We’re a live band. That’s what we are. We feel lucky that we have that side of it. Without it, we wouldn’t exist really.
You guys seem to exist in your own space, and have stuck to your guns, and seem to ignore passing trends…
Keith: Well exactly, they are passing and they are trends. We don’t wanna get caught up on any of that. We stand by what we are, and we’re quite confident in what that is.
Liam: I think you can suck a bit of something up if you like it, and adapt it into your own sound, but the idea is to not lose what you’re about. It always annoys me when you hear bands that switch their style. It’s like they’re not confident in what they’re doing. You’ve gotta evolve and stay fresh, but it’s more about the songs.
Maxim: I think we’ve realised we have our own style, and focus on that and not be influenced by outside forces.
When do you think you really established your sound? There was only a couple years between Experience and Music For The Jilted Generation, but it seemed like a huge leap forward with you coming out of the rave scene and really defining your own sound – creating the whole live band thing with a the heavy guitars. Was there a kind of ‘click’ moment where you realised, “I think I’ve figured out our sound, our future”?
Liam: Yeah man, again it revolves around the live thing. We were playing live since we started. The first record we did, we played at Labyrinth [a legendary rave-era London club] in I think ’91.
Keith: That was kind of the main objective. To write white labels/12 inches, to get played, and then play the parties that we used to go to. It was like, you get yourself in, you play, you got a night out!
Liam: Yeah, I mean, we were watching these Live PA sets on stage and we were thinking “We can do this better than they can. What is this shit?” I mean, the records were good, but the sets were so bad. 89-91 is when the rave scene was really good. By the time we came out, it had gone down a little bit. By ’92 I’d gotten bored of it, it was kind of the same thing and was getting really fast. So then we went to LA and we heard The Chronic [Dr. Dre] and RATM’s first album and that really affected me. I played it non-stop. I came back and just started experimenting with different sounds. The rave scene had started to really go down because The Criminal Justice Bill had killed off all the illegal stuff. But we were like “We’re carrying on!”. There was a bit of DJ snobbery too, because they only really wanted to play really underground rave stuff, so when we started to get a bit more well known, they didn’t want to play our stuff. So we were like ‘Fuck you then’. So we literally started again. We went back into universities and those types of venues. It was almost like the band had a total reset in ’93. And that was when I started to write the Jilted album.
Maxim: Also it was a different scene in universities. Totally different crowd. Was more of a drinks scene than a drug scene.
Liam: Then we started to play our first festivals, and it was with all rock bands – Suicidal Tendencies, Helmet, Biohazard, the Chili Peppers. So yeah, that was a turning point for us.
How do you go about making an album? Do you have a pretty solid formula these days?
Keith: Not really. Every album seems to have a different approach.
Liam: I never really seem to learn… You’ve got to put your head into a different place. It was really intense this album. And I didn’t want to have gaps. So I was working on it constantly, while touring, in hotel rooms… so it was quicker than usual this time. It just seemed to come together and gained momentum.
So do Keith and Maxim just come in and work out their vocals, and give you feedback?
Liam: I kind of know as I’m writing it, like, “Oh, Maxim will buzz off this track.” Or with Champions Of London I got them both to do a part.
You guys could almost pick anyone you want to work with, yet it’s rare you collaborate, so you must really like the people you do work with. You worked with US hardcore hip-hop group Ho99o9 on Fight Fire With Fire which seemed to fit perfectly. How’d you hook up with them?
Liam: Maxim went to see them live and told me about them – it’s kinda different rap stuff – as opposed to a lot of it in America at the moment, it’s all the same.
Speaking of hip hop Liam, I always loved your mix album The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol. 1. It was an underrated eclectic mashup of so many classic tracks – it really reveals the scope of your influences, something perhaps lacking in younger artists these days. Do you ever any plan to do another volume of that?
Liam: Actually I have been thinking about doing another one. That’s kind of in my downtime though. We’re busy at the moment with Prodigy – we have a lot of gigs coming up.
Maxim: Probably in another 10 years he’ll do Volume 2 (laughs).
Anyway, sadly we’ve run out of time, but we’ll be looking forward to the show tomorrow night and hearing the new songs live!
Keith: We love Australia, we love the crowds. We were so buzzed that this tour came together. We’ve been really eager to get back over here. With Big Day Out and Future Music Festivals not really happening now, we lost the ability to come back over here and that really fucked us up. Having just come off the European/UK tour, the new tracks are sounding good, we’re really on point with it, it’s really all firing. So it’s gonna be a really tight, fresh Prodigy, with some new sounds. We always make sure we have good sound, so it’s gonna be a ferocious onslaught. We’re really looking forward to it.
Liam: I think most electronic artists now rely on all these video screens and all this mad shit… We’re more traditional in our approach. We don’t really wanna go down that route. The DJ with all the big shit behind him, all that nonsense. We’re not into that.