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The Daily Telegraph

Frontman on the loose

Maxim, the Prodigy's wild master of ceremonies who is best known for his ability to whip any audience into a dancing frenzy, has just made his first solo album, writes Neil McCormick from London.

In a 10-year career that is peculiar even by the standards of the music business, the singularly named Maxim has only ever appeared on a handful of recordings yet is nevertheless one of the most distinctive and recognisable figures in contemporary pop. As master of ceremonies for the Prodigy, purveyors of dark electronica to the masses, Maxim has stalked stages all over the world like a devil - glowering through snake-eye contact lenses, snarling with gold vampire fangs, exhorting audiences to shed their inhibitions and dance, with all the hedonistic evangelism of a preacher of the black arts.

Multi-instrumentalist Liam Howlett may be the musical mastermind behind the UK's most successful techno outfit (their last album, The Fat of the Land, took them to number one in 22 countries, including the US), but it is the outrageous showmanship of Maxim and fellow frontman Keith Flint (he of the horned hairdo) that has grabbed the public's attention.

Given that Maxim has only provided vocals for a couple of hits (the confrontational body-slammers Breathe and Poison, on which his rasping recitations might more accurately be likened to rants than raps), you could say that his international fame is just another example of pop's predilection for valuing image over substance, making him the underground dance scene's equivalent of a Spice Girl. But it would take a braver man than me to say it to his face.

Even without his gold fangs and with eyes hidden behind impenetrable shades, Maxim cuts an imposing figure. Dreadlocks cascade around his head, various pieces of twisted metal adorn his ears, nose and hands. Silver glints in his mouth and the skin of his exposed, muscular right arm looks violently inflamed by a newly acquired tattoo, a cascade of strange black squiggles and spirals that run from shoulder to wrist. Any nervousness I may have been harbouring about our encounter is not much helped when the first sound to be emitted by this demonic looking individual is a low groan. "I am so hungover," he announces.

Apparently, Maxim attended a magazine award ceremony the night before, where he frankly admits to being drunk and obnoxious. So far, so bad. But then he goes and ruins his image by offering public apologies to anyone he might have offended while under the influence. "I get kind of mouthy," he says. "It's embarrassing, really. I hardly touch the stuff these days. I don't think alcohol agrees with me. It's like David Banner and the Incredible Hulk: "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry'. Even my girlfriend avoids me. "

The reference to the mild-mannered comic-book hero who periodically metamorphoses into a raging monster seems pertinent. When 23-year-old Keith Palmer (Maxim's given name) first joined Liam Howlett on stage at a rave in 1990 he cut a very different figure. Early promotional photographs portray him as a typically smiley-faced representative of the Ecstasy generation, with a kitschy, colourful dress sense that wouldn't look out of place on children's TV. Rather than viewing his current image as a dark alter ego, however, Maxim argues that it represents the emergence of his true self.

"Imagine being the boy in the bedroom, and he's got his favourite tune on the stereo, and he's jumping on the bed and enjoying himself to the extent that he's freaking out," explains Maxim. "If you put that boy in a club and his favourite tune comes on, he won't do what he's done in the bedroom, he'll just dance like everybody else, just to try and fit in. But I've been able to release the boy in the bedroom. Being in a band is an opportunity for you to be yourself. Whatever you want to do, you can do. If you want to wear those loud pink trousers, you wear them, because you're encouraged to express yourself. "

Or in Maxim's case, you find yourself drawn to the tattoo parlour. "It is sore," he admits, wincing slightly, when I inquire about the state of his arm. "It took about eight hours and it was very painful. But if you go through so much pain getting something, you treasure it and respect it for ever. It's the same with piercings. I've had my nipple pierced and the adrenalin just about knocked me out. Afterwards I felt nauseous and it hurt for two months, but I went through so much pain to get it there was no way I was taking it out. "

Perhaps Maxim's concentration on physical appearance is a consequence of his limited opportunities for creative input into the Prodigy's music, although he insists he is content with his role in the band. He frequently describes himself as "a performer" and refers to the Prodigy as "a live band".

"If you take away all that made up the Prodigy and just left Liam," he says, "it would actually be quite different. Liam is soaking up energies from watching us perform, which plays a part in the music he makes. There would be no Prodigy if there wasn't a performance, and no performance if there wasn't a Prodigy. It goes hand in hand. "

With the release of his solo album, Hell's Kitchen (out now in the UK on XL Records, the same label that releases the Prodigy), the 33-year-old star has taken the opportunity to display his own musical wares. The combination of contorted breakbeats, warped samples, blasts of rock guitars and rather sinister vocals may not exactly represent a quantum leap from the post-rave sound of the Prodigy, but (from the opening instrumental, written, performed, produced and mixed by Maxim) it does reveal that there is considerably more to the frontman's talents than might previously have been suspected.

"I'm just creating sounds and noises which I like, and putting vocals on it - simple as that," is Maxim's assessment of his solo work. Although uneven in quality, stand-out tracks such as the recent single Carmen Queasy (a collaboration with vocalist Skin from hard-rock group Skunk Anansie) display a pop sensibility to rival the Prodigy's. "I've put the work in and achieved something for myself," says Maxim. "It's taken time. It was probably five years ago that I bought my first keyboard and started building my equipment up, learning how to use music programmes, learning how to use a mixing desk. And I'm still learning, I'm not 100 per cent there. I could easily have got someone professional to mix all the tracks, but I wanted to keep an element of rawness in there, so when I do something else I'll be able to see a progression. "

Maxim insists his solo career will not impinge on the Prodigy. "I love being on the road, the whole friendship thing. We've been building something over nine or 10 years, and people say we are one of the best live acts in the world, so why would I throw that away? I don't find it frustrating at all. It's not like Liam keeps me locked in a room and says, "No, you can't come out until we go on stage.' And if people think that's how it is, well, I'm out now, aren't I?"

You have been warned.

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