Prodigy's Liam Howlett spent his formative years in the Essex hip hop crew Cut To Kill, and while you might be able to extract the b-boy from the scene, you can't take the 'b' out of the boy. Howlett's latest project, The Dirtchamber Sessions, Volume One, is not a Prodigy disc, but a DJ mix album over 50 cuts deep.
"It kind of gives people who are into my music an insight into where my head is at when I write," Howlett figures. "Some of the tracks are quite obvious, but I think it was important for me to display that these are the records I grew up on. "
Compiled mostly from on-air mixes during an appearance on Radio One's Breezeblock session, the album was more happenstance than a well-planned career move. "I was kind of on holiday at that stage," Howlett explains. "We had finished touring and I was into having a break, and then I thought, 'Well, this could be pretty fun to do.' It sounds to me like a rough tape I would have given to my friends ten years ago, you know? And that's the vibe I wanted. I didn't want it too polished. "
"I basically sat down with two turntables and an ADAT and recorded over a period of five days -- just had my whole floor covered in vinyl and picked out my best tunes. "
The result is an intelligently mixed audiobiography of Howlett's vast musical influences, everyone from Jimmy Castor Bunch to the Ultramagnetic MCs. But unlike your traditional continuous BPM party mix (a la recent mix discs by Juan Atkins and the Chemical Brothers), The Dirtchamber Sessions is split up into eight different sections, varying wildly in tempo and style.
"Their job is to keep the dance floors rockin'," Howlett says of the Chemicals. "I wasn't trying to make a record like that. I was basically trying to make a good party record. It's hard to mix together a Sex Pistols track with something which is slow, sort of a slow, hip hop tempo, so this is the best way I could do it. I've found that having the breaks in some of the parts kind of helped me record it, and helped to make it sound more interesting. "
The individual sections are not particularly lengthy, but they are rich in content. (The second section includes a jaw-dropping combination of "How High," "Poison," "Been Caught Stealing," and "I Get Wrecked. ") There are also a few cheeky samples inserted throughout the album. "A few little lyrics that will make people smile," quips Howlett.
Though segments of the record pay tribute to his punk roots, most of Howlett's mixes are heavy on the"boom-bap," displaying not only true, old school hip hop panache, but showcasing his turntable techniques as well.
"One of the reasons I did this album was [to send] a message to those guys who really think they know the difference between hip hop mixing and beat mixing, which my Nan could do if she had practice. I'm not saying it doesn't take talent to actually work a crowd...but it really annoys me, the pedestal these guys are put on. "
Along with being something to tide over Prodigy fans until the next full-length, The Dirtchamber Sessions served as a nice bit of inspiration for Howlett himself.
"Listening to all those records at once," he notes, "was a real refreshing thing for me to be doing before I go back into the studio and start writing my own music again. "