The Prodigy have been at the forefront of the electronic scene for nearly 25 years now. Going from captains of the industry in their native UK to a worldwide phenomenon of beats, bass and attitude, it’s not surprising that when speaking to Liam, the music maestro behind their evolving sound, that he is a somewhat stoic character, but humorous, when delving into the band’s long history and ever-growing status. The attitude-factor is what makes them work and it’s why we and millions of others have been throwing shapes to their tracks since the early ’90s. The trio of Liam, Keith and Maxim hasn’t been guided by the hands of others so much as they’ve extended a collective middle finger up to them.
And this couldn’t really be any other way – The Prodigy is very much built upon an intrinsic pack mentality that has afforded them the success they’ve seen. It’s all about the band, and if it wasn’t, State probably wouldn’t be speaking to them right now in the position that they’ve earned, as they gear up to deliver two massive shows at Dublin’s 3Arena and Belfast’s SSE Arena.
The first time I heard Experience I was looking backwards and listening to a lot of other early hardcore; Detroit techno and Chicago house as well – but one thing that still resonates is how different The Prodigy sounded to your other British contemporaries. Would you say that you had a more aggressive edge at the time? Was there an early decision to create grittier, euphoric music?
Yeah, we always had that edge to our music ‘coz that’s where I came from. I grew up with The Specials, Public Enemy and the East London rave scene – there was always something DIY, raw, cut and paste punk rock about it. Whether it was uplifting or a dark tune, it’s in the delivery, the production and the dynamics.
How was the Essex scene perceived at the time in terms of the output? Were comparisons to the London parties and producers something that drove you to shape your music in that uniquely different way?
London, East-London into Essex was all the same thing, this is where the breakbeat rave sound was born. It started with the Shut Up and Dance label and people like DJ Hype, who we have great respect for, then us. This was a pure East London/Essex thing, there you had the Raindance raves, Telepathy and various warehouse parties in ’89 /’90 and pirate stations. It was the centre of this sound. There was a different rave scene we saw in every different part of the UK as we travelled about, in Manchester and Scotland it was totally different.
There’s something so slick about the evolution of The Prodigy’s sound. In the ’90s there were two seemingly huge transformations in the form of Music For The Jilted Generation and then to Fat Of The Land – Was there a conscious decision to leave behind elements of the jungle sound in favour of sharper, more digital-sounding productions? Or was it to do with the equipment available, or even changing popular culture?
See, you may be focusing in too much but thats ok. I think the biggest shift was in between Experience – the first album – and Music For The Jilted Generation – the second album. I know as a band at that time the rave scene had no buzz for us anymore because it wasn’t the same thing as it was a couple of years earlier.
We were in LA and we were there when the first Rage Against The Machine album came out – also The Chronic by Dr. Dre. Hearing Rage for the first time had a big impact on me, it had the groove and the funk but it had the slight flavour of Public Enemy vocally, so when I returned home I was a changed man, eyes were open and I was able to let go of some of the restraints and let new sounds and influences in, but still keeping The Prodigy backbone – the bass and beats. Nothing in this band has ever been contrived or planned, we just have always had the creative freedom to roll with what rocks the house to us. To me, when I listen to all the albums, I think people can hear it’s The Prodigy always – there are sonic clues in the way I do things on the mix. It was nothing to do with equipment, etc. I think my production on certain tunes on Fat Of The Land, like ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, just got better, I honed my shit and that tune still terrorises soundsystems now.
Onwards into the 2000’s and beyond – a key component that seemed to shape the changing sound was the glitchy electro vibes on Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, as well as more elements of rock and hip hop moving forward to Invaders Must Die – was this a collaborative strategy? Did you all throw a little bit of everything into the mixing desk more than, say, pre FOTL? Has that continued into The Day Is My Enemy?
With the Always Outnumbered album period, this was a very fucked-up time for the band. We weren’t playing live and me and ‘Keef’ had fallen out and had completely stopped talking. That bred paranoia which happens when you have two mad party-heads clashing. So I started writing the AONO album, I was living in a big house in the middle of nowhere – we called it ‘The Castle’, just me and Neil McLellan cut off from reality. The studio was in the house and it wasn’t really happening until he gave me a laptop to write on and that is when it changed. I liked the lo-fi vibe and I was able to write in bed, in the wine cellar, etc., everywhere apart from the studio where the pressure to create felt too much. That lo-fi, minimal approach was the key to that album and that album to me was the reset the band needed. It was to be stripped back, back to the beats, samples, not Fat Of The Land 2 like the record company wanted. Either way, looking back it was the right step that lead us onto Invaders and where we are now with this new album. Forget breaking it down to genres like hip hop or rock – fuck all that, I don’t hear different genres, I only hear if it has the fire and how I can incorporate that to make a Prodigy tune. That’s it – there’s never, ever been any calculated decisions to use more of this or that type of sound for a reason and that’s why we are real. All three of us have said it before that nothing in this band has ever been contrived and that is still true, we go with what gives us the buzz to write the tunes.
Staying with that idea of collaboration, you’re not shy of having guests. Do you think that that’s a key component of remaining relevant for bands in an increasingly eclectic musical landscape? For instance, with so many choices in terms of genres and styles, is it important for The Prodigy to work with ambassadors of different genres – like Sleaford Mods, Dave Grohl, to name a few?
“Not shy of guests”! Haha – one guest on each album, practically. First of all, understand The Prodigy is a band, a group. That is what separates us from most other electronic artists / producers where every track is featuring this vocalist or that vocalist – fuck that.
The collaboration with Jason (Sleaford Mods) on ‘Ibiza’ happened like this – I was half way through the album, I needed a breather to take my head out of ‘The Prodigy Zone’ for a minute. I’d written the ‘Ibiza’ beat and been into the Sleafords for a while; Jason talked my language so I connected with what his references were, so I asked him if he fancied doing something. At that point I didn’t know if the tune would be for us, him or something new, so we just did it, but it became very obvious when it was finished that it totally fitted the vibe of the album. Once Keef’s vocal was added it was an important tune on our record – we were all proud to have J on it. Then because we hung out and became friends it was easy to play it live with J coming on to join us. It’s the only time it has worked bringing someone outside the band onstage.
There are only a few times doing a collab has worked. The latest one I did was to rock a new hip hop remix of ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ and so I got a band I’m into from Holland called Dope DOD to rhyme on it. This remix bangs, so put down your pens and shit and check it right now…
Not to dwell on past laurels, but there’s a distinctive element of that good old-fashioned hardcore sound that has jumped into modern music over the past few years. Noticeably so with your Invaders Must Die record, but amplified by the likes of Sigma, Chase & Status or Pendulum – is there a competitive nature involved with your process now? Or do you draw from your contemporaries?
Dwell away, but remember we are from the old skool. It may be a nice little addition or nod back for those bands you talk of to put a bit of old skool flavour into their tunes but it is ingrained in us and if we do it it’s because it’s part of our makeup and deeply locked in our sound. Bands / producers should do what they feel to make the best music they can.
All I know is that as a producer I like the fact I can still learn of new production techniques off of some new random kid in his bedroom writing beats because it moves so quickly now with technology, etc. but I don’t ever get caught up in the latest sound. It’s about retaining our sound we have built, keeping the foundation but keeping my ears open to what is going down – a bit of competition is always good I think in anything.
What do you think about the revivalists spinning house and techno now, pushing it further into the mainstream? Is there anyone you’re digging (or not, for that matter)? Does it really matter that it’s becoming less of an underground phenomena?
I don’t think anything of them in general, but a good tune is a good tune, whatever it is. When a tune is good I don’t ever hear or question what it is, that is just me. You can’t fool the people though – people know when something is just music by numbers, same old shit being done for the wrong reasons. I think it’s the music creator’s job to create a sound that can set the young people’s ears on fire – that’s the reason I write music. Why mess about playing safe? Fuck off and choose another job is my advice.
In terms of a legacy, was The Prodigy something you had envisioned as a lasting entity? Fan-bases come and go, but there has always been a massive following for The Prodigy in one form or another since the beginning – could you have predicted twenty five years ago you’d be sharing huge stages world-wide with the likes of Public Enemy or creating new experiences and making new fans?
No, of course not, we just roll with the shit as long as it feels good. It’s important to know who you are and what you are trying to do – not lose contact with reality. That’s why playing live is the key. It’s the only place that gives you all the information you need – these bands we share stages with are like ‘shit, we playing with The Prodigy’ haha.
All I know is that time moves in a different way in this band. It goes from album to album so it seems slower. That’s our focus with each album release so we don’t even take notice of what year it is. I don’t know if that makes sense but it does to us – being in this band has kept our minds young , that I know.
Have there been other projects that you would like to pursue but haven’t been able to due to the sheer influence that The Prodigy continues to have? For example, The Dirt Chamber sessions – was this ever envisioned as a continuing series?
It’s not about anything apart from having the time to do other things. The band is 24/7 for me so when I’m in album mode I can’t do fuck all else apart from commit to that. I’ll be at home trying to chill, but I’m not really there – my mind is thinking about how I can make that tune rock more. It’s the only way I can operate, all or nothing. But anyway.. Yeah, I will do a follow up Dirt Chamber 2 mix album at some point – I’m starting to make a list of the tunes.
Why do you think The Prodigy has had the impact it has for a couple of generations of music lovers? What does the future hold?
I don’t know the reason and I don’t want to know, I’m just on a mission I don’t question. I will leave that up to you to answer..