DJ is a God

Liam Howlett lets loose from the Prodge with a populist, kid-orientated and almighty mix LP.

LIAM HOWLETT Prodigy Presents The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One (XL)

First mix album from the Prodigy's creative director. It was inspired by his session for Mary Anne Hobbs' Breezeblock show on Radio One.

In October 1995, Liam Howlett and the rest of the Prodigy saw Oasis play Earl's Court in London. At the after-show party, Liam Gallagher approached the band, announced their ferocious live show was too much for his delicate sensibilities then declared his love for their single, 'Poison'. Which he then began to sing - very badly. Moments later, Noel Gallagher took Howlett aside and whispered his belief that the Prodigy kingpin was the only credible songwriter in dance music. As Howlett later admitted, the compliment was appreciated.

Howlett has been pre-occupied with his own credibility ever since the Prodigy's breakthrough single, 1991's rave anthem 'Charly'. He's hungered for the respect bestowed on the music that inspired him - the Beastie Boys, Run OMC, Public Enemy. In interviews, he's prone to repeat a mantra about the Prodigy's presence in the pop charts not making them pop stars. 'Smack My Bitch Up' ought to have been final clarification of this point, its combination of tabloid - outraging controversy and a sample of 80s hip hop act Ultramagnetic MCs establishing Liam Howlett as an artist with tastes outside the mainstream. 'Dirtchamber', however, underlines his position one more time.

Initially compiled for Mary Anne Hobbs' "Breezeblock" show, it's been re-shaped over five days in a studio, becoming a ready reckoner of Howlett's influences. Its range is broad enough to chart his development from Grandmaster Flash fan and DJ in unknown Essex hip hop crew Cut 2 Kill, through rave years driven by the likes of The KLF's anthemic 'What Time Is Love?' on to his current status as a player who transcends scenes and fashion. Which may explain the appearance of The Charlatans' 'How High', Primal Scream's 'Kowalski' and the Sex Pistols' 'New York' on the album. Liam likes them, that's all. Sadly, another love, the fusion of 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and The Chemical Brothers' 'Chemical Beats', which he plays at friends' parties, failed to make it past George, Ringo and Yoko - although Paul apparently approved.

'Dirtchamber' may be, in part, designed to grand-stand Liam's sonic home turf, but it would be wrong to dismiss it as a vanity project. Its delivery reaches right back to those Cut 2 Kill days - the collage of beats, breaks and snatches of many tracks has more in common with old-fashioned hip hop mix records like Grandmaster Flash's 'Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel' than the seamlessly matched BPMs of the Chemicals' 'Brothers Gonna Work It Out'. Stick with David Holmes' 'Essential Mix' album if you're after a knowing exercise in eclectic archaeology.

Liam's tastes aren't as Epicurean as you might think trom previous protestations about emerging from the musical underground. Sure, there are snippets from the old breakbeat records that were wannabe DJ's prized possessions in the mid-80s - Bones Breaks 'Shafted Off', for example. But Run DMC's 'Peter Piper', Public Enemy's 'Public Enemy No 1' or Herbie Hancock's electro anthem 'Rockit' are hardly unknown. They bridged underground and mainstream, new forms that became popular without going pop. Which is precisely the trick Howlett performs with the Prodigy.

Whatever his influences, Howlett has a fine pop ear - something that was most evident when Firestarter' was built around that "Hey! Hey! Hey!" samp;e from 'Close To The Edit', a hit for mid-'80s sampling pioneers Art Of Noise. This gift is equally apparent on 'Dirtchamber', most notably during two segments. The first takes the source of that sample from 'Smack My Bitch Up' - 'Give The Drummer Some' by Ultramagnetic MCs - and winds it into Wildstyle' by ancient hip hoppers Time Zone, then rumbles on through Bomb The Bass' 'Bug Powder Dust' and a Charlatans/Grandmaster Flash hybrid. It ends its journey with Prodigy's own 'Poison'. The other section shifts rapidly through Meat Beat Manifesto's prototype breakbeat anthem 'Radio Babylon', PE's 'Rebel Without A Pause' and the Beastie Boys' 'It's The New Style' before switching abruptly down the gears into the Sex Pistols. The overall effect is of producing entirely new music, hard rhythms mixed with infectious sound effects and relentless energy - a description that fits the Prodigy themselves.

It seems certain that Howlett's sometimes comically surly, contrary being is unlikely to be compromised by his success. This trait is writ large on 'Dirtchamber' when he samples the phrase "The girlies I like are under age" from the Beasties' 'Time To Get Ill'. Presumably this reminder of their leering pre-PC era is intended as retaliation for the Beasties' criticism of 'Smack My Bitch Up'.

'Dirtchamber' may be not be cutting-edge but it's a mix full of nooks and crannies and one you'll want to play long after Norman Cook's 'Live From The Floor Of The Boutique' has given you a migraine. It's also accessible to those without PhDs in Bronx street culture. It seems Liam Howlett has made himself understood once and for all.


Q&A "I Built A Japanise Garden"

Liam Howlett on his surprisingly horticultural non-Prodigy life.

Now the Prodigy have finished touring, what are you doing for the rest of the year?
"I'm excited about going back to the studio. I've written a track already. It's good solid punk track. It doesn't sound like a single. It's not finished, it's just a demo. "

So you won't just be decorating your new country home?
"I've finished all that - building gardens and buying stupid things. When you are an artist and you write music and shit, you convince yourself you can do anything creative. So I built a Japanese garden. I spent months doing research, hunted around for specific trees and designed it, although I had people helping me. It's really Zen when I get into it. But I'm not that Zen. When I'm sitting in the kitchen having a smoke it looks fucking good outside the window. "

Why turn your radio session for Mary Anne Hobbs into an album?
"Cos it's fucking good. I didn't want to do it at first. Then I thought, why not? I used to really enjoy putting tapes together with the pause button on the cassette when I was 14 - trying to be Grandmaster Flash in my bedroom. And when I did it, I really enjoyed it. The album is just me - the music is where the inspiration for the Prodigy comes from. It won't sell many copies but it's important that the fans have something that's full of stuff that's in my head when I'm writing. "

What happened over The Beatles track you weren't allowed to use?
"After I was turned down first time I faxed Paul McCartney as a long shot. I wrote, "I hope you might be interested in, or even excited about, being part of this mix. " Which made me laugh because I thought, well, he doesn't really give a fuck, does he? He faxed me back, saying as far as he has concerned it was no problem. But that left everyone else the chance to turn it down. I don't know if he did that just to say he was cool. "

But the Sex Pistols were amenable?
"John (Lydon) turned it down initially and I couldn't understand why, so I faxed him saying, "John, give us a bell, it's Liam from the Prodigy - I want to use your record on a mix. " He phoned me up the day before New Year's Eve and said yeah. He said he was in a bad mood the day he turned it down. "

And how about The Beastie Boys?
"Well, on the album, there's some cheeky messages to people, by the use of certain lyrics and certain bands."

So that would make sampling "The girlies I like are under age" (from 'Time To Get Ill' by The Beastie Boys) a riposte to remarks about 'Smack My Bitch Up'?
"Could be. (pauses) Why not?"


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