"PUNK ROCKERS! Hip-hoppers! Pill-poppers! And showstoppers!"
Pick a night, any night, and the level of noise and excitement is insane as the compere bounds on-stage with these galvanising opening words and introduces the greatest live band on the face of the planet. The Prodigy enter in a blur of madness and volume, their bass sounds a vast sonic BOOM! that shakes through the whole building and which, at Ilford Island, has even bought dust down from the ceiling. Frontmen Keith Flint and Maxim Reality, respectively a deranged clown released as part of a care in the community programme and a wild eyed satanic ringmaster, writhe and cavort, imbibing the energy and mayhem and spitting it right back out again. Their opening gambit is a live-wire fusion of hip-hop, techno, punk-rock and gloriously un-PC chaos entitled "Smack My Bitch Up". Welcome once more to the Prodigy Experience..... Having played to some 50,000 people on their recent sell-out UK tour and headlined Reading, Phoenix, T in the Park and dozens of European festivals, there can be no doubt Prodigy fever is spreading like a contagious and incurable disease. But while many of the population have been infected for five years or more, every one of the band's singles having made the UK Top 15, the fever was at least limited to the rave scene.
But on March 24, 1996, a song called 'Firestarter' entered the charts at Number One and caused an epidemic. It sold half-a-million copies in the UK alone, and stayed at the top of the charts for 3 weeks. The video provoked a record number of complaints when it was aired on TV, and the lyrics sparked outrage among tabloid newspapers who supplied headlines like the 'Mail on Sundays "Ban This Sick Fire Record". During their spring UK dates, both the Smashing Pumpkins and the Presidents of The USA played the song live and received a rapturous response. Like some glorious sci-fi monster, The Prodigy had mutated beyond recognition, added a genuine punk rock guitarist, Gizz Butt, to their line-up and turning into a terrifying awesome hybrid of everything that makes music exciting. It matters very little that The Prodigy have a dubious, some say embarrassing past. What matters is now, and right now there is no one who can touch them.
Trouble is, no one can talk to them either, since they don't like doing interviews and aren't planning to do any until the end of next year at the earliest. Unless of course, you follow them around the country, get pissed with them, and ask them to sit down in front of a large tape recorder and talk. Which is what Kerrang has done...
We join them backstage at the final show of their UK Tour, at Readings Rivermead Centre. The atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed, considering the air of fevered expectation inside the venue itself. Maxim, Gizz and dancer Leeroy Thornhill are of chillin out. Flint and Liam Howlett, the genius behind The Prodigys music, are sitting in a spartan room reflecting on their increasingly heavy direction. Like Moby, The Prodigy saw less and less energy in the dance scene, and having played with the likes of Sepultra and Biohazard, turned their attention to the rock scene.
"I guess you get influenced by what you see", says Howlett, "We just got bored with the typical sound of the dance scene and wanted to expand on that, and that just happens to be the way we went. It wasn't like a decision to get heavier. " "Now, we don't have to blend in with anything", adds Keith, "we can be as heavy as we like. " And The Prodigy like it very heavy. It's almost like the Es have worn off and they have realised they don't really love everyone after all. In the past two years, they've gone from "One Love" to the aforementioned "Smack My Bitch Up". "There were no lyrics before, so it's not as if they've changed", argues Keith, "We've just got some now that's all!" "As far as writing happy tunes goes, that's just not my buzz," says Liam. "I have to write angry music - not like Rage against the Machine, politically angry, but just a reaction to the energy of the music that comes from angry, hard sounds. " Was it annoying that it took 'Firestarter' to arouse so much attention, when previous material off your last album had been so successful?"Not for me," reasons Liam, "because it's the only song we've had in the charts apart from 'Poison' and 'Voodoo People' that I can hear again and get the samebuzz. With all the other stuff, of course I get a buzz from it, but it sounds old and dated now. Whereas 'Firestarter' still sounds fresh if I hear it on the radio. "Or, increasingly, on the TV. It has even been used on 'Eastenders' to soundtrack one of Joe Wicks many breakdowns. "Yeah, that was pretty funny - especially as they used it as if it was the song that was making him go mad. " chuckles Liam.
But what of the controversy that surrounded 'Firestarter' - at one point questions were asked in Parliament as to whether you were advocating arson? "It didn't get as far as the Houses of Parliament did it ?" frowns Keith.Apparently. "That's cool !" grins the loon with the multi-coloured hair. "It's a joke though ,innit? I mean, if you did write a song which said something as blatant as that, and it did happen, then you'd write songs that said 'Give me money, give me fucking money, give me really nice clothes, give me really cool drugs, give me money' You know, if it was that easy to get everyone to go along with something................. "
The sentence remains unfinished. Point made! One of the main reasons The Prodigy work so well as a rock band is the simple fact they didn't start off as one. They're operating without any of the influences or boundaries which limit their contemporaries. "Yeah I think so. " Nods Liam. "We're not trying to say we are better cause we're not copying anyone, because of course I get influences from Rage against the Machine and stuff like that. But I might also take influences that no one else has looked at. I mean I've always been into Hip-hop, so I'll never leave those beats, and if I'd just been into rock I wouldn't have that knowledge. To me, by adding guitar onto stuff in Jilted like 'Voodoo People', we weren't trying to say 'Right, were now a rock band', it was just natural progression. Rock music is an attitude - it's not about the fact that you have to have guitars. I mean there are so many good electronic bands who are as heavy as rock bands. " "I think one of our blessing in disguise is that no one could ever really put a name on what we do," ponders Keith. "Maybe we had that techno thing at first, but now no ones able to place us, cos we've got one track like this and one that that's like that, and it's all just what we do. "
Trouble is, The Prodigy do it so well that venues just aren't big enough for them anymore. They have just done two nights at Brixton Academy and they could have easily sold it out twice again. So where the hell do they go next? Arenas? Stadiums?
"I'd rather keep it at the size we are now," says Liam. "The festivals are a buzz, but we definitely don't want to get too big. Stadiums are shit. The problem is when you leave Brixton and go on to do stadiums, you suddenly get all this authority coming in and moaning about noise levels. And you know how important that is to us. "
The Prodigy are a terrifyingly load band, but some people still aren't convinced that they belong in Kerrang. Their appearance has provoked more controversy than any band since Nirvana were first featured. I've even received death threats fro writing about them. Tell this Liam and he'll respond with a look that tells you he doesn't give a fuck what anyone thinks. "We don't want to appeal to everyone," he shrugs, "It's good for Kerrang to write about us cause it opens up a lot of minds. But I think people like to have their own scene, and they don't like bands to come along who haven't got that rock history. We can appreciate that and we don't want to come along and say 'Yeah, we are the new rock gods!'. people can either accept us or not. I mean when the Sex Pistols came out a lot of people in rock music said 'What the fuck is this shit.' Didn't they?"
"Now they all swear they were at their first concert," hoots Keith. "At the end of the day, we are not a trendy band and I think that's cool, because we wont come and go with the trends. We haven't relied upon being arty and hanging out with all the celebs. We're out there doing it because we love it!"Talking of the Sex Pistols, there seems to be a hint of Johnny Rottens infamous sneer in Keith's vocals on the Prodigys brilliant new single 'Breathe'. "I don't think Keith's got it in him to copy anyone. " insists Liam. "I am not clever enough to pull it off. " cackles Keith. "Well I didn't want to say that, but that's what I meant," says Liam "I don't think there is anything wrong in taking your inspiration from certain things, but I still think we have released something that's original with 'Breathe' . " Whether you love them or despise them, there's no denying that The Prodigy have moved on from their dance roots. The stunning, menacing promo video for Breathe is more Marilyn Manson than Orbital.
"Hopefully, our fans can grow with us ," considers Liam. "I've grown up, and the fans don't stay 16 forever. I mean all the friends I was hanging out with at raves and parties have all grown out of that sort of music and now got into more rocky stuff. Now, they're coming up and saying 'fucking hell', I like the new stuff. " "More to the point, if we're not buzzing on-stage then the people who follow us will think we've lost something," says Keith "But when we do 'Fuel my Fire' (the demented L7 cover version) you just feel like 'Here we fucking go'. That's why we do it - not because someone's said it'll be the next single if we put it in the set, but because its suck a fucking buzz. Before we went on-stage at Brixton, you couldn't have injected me with any drug that would've made me feel better than that. Any more than that and I would've felt ill - my head wouldn't have been able to handle it. It was like tripping to the max!"
" I can't explain it any better than that, but that's why you do it. I mean, I'm seriously frightened of becoming Gary Glitter, cos I reckon I'll be firestarting until I'm 60, with this beer belly, thinking I've still got it. I won't have to shave my head down the middle cause it will be bald. " "Fuel my Fire is more of a punk rock sound, and ending on that note is just like , fucking have this!," interjects Liam. "That says it all. There will probably be tunes on the new album (which is due early next year) which some may not particularly like, but you have to remember that on an album I like to build a whole picture up. 'Jilted' had its mellower moments. But to get the maximum high, you have to have the lows too... " An hour later, The Prodigy explode onto the stage. As ever, tonight's show is immense, beyond description. You should kill to see them. Afterwards, soaked in sweat, Keith Flint is already gagging for the next show, the next assault. "To walk offstage one day and think that's your last show seems more frightening than death........... " he says. "Fucking prolonged death. "