It started with 'Smack My Bitch Up' , ended with a flame-haired madman threatening to start a fire, and sent 35,000 people absolutely mental - THE PRODIGY have destroyed Australia. Morat goes access all areas with the most intense band on earth to find out why the rest of the world is next... It's 4.30 AM and Kerrang! is slumped in the hotel bar at Coogee Beach, just outside Sydney, with a couple of amiable members of The Prodigy's road crew. The barman called last orders. This is the end. Tomorrow, we 'll go our separate ways after four days of living it large Down Under. The Prodigy are in Australia seeing off all opposition at the Big Day Out festival, and cramming in as many club gigs as possible along the way. Joining them on the tour is like stepping onto a turbo-charged merry-go-round that runs 24 hours a day. After six years together, The Prodigy are far from jaded by the lifestyle. There's always something new to see and do. So where to begin ?...
Sunday evening. Blue-haired Prodigy guitarist Gizz Butt has spent all day getting tattooed with Fear Factory. We hook up at the hotel bar, where he's trying to find out how to get to tonight's Beastie Boy's gig. It turns out to have been an early show, and the rest of the band have already gone, so we cab it across town to where Supergrass are playing. The rest of The Prodge are already there, having gone straight from one gig to the next. There's an aftershow party with free beer, and Then it's time to hit the clubs.
A Prodigy 'Access All Areas' pass will, it seems, gain us free entry to just about anywhere, so a posse of 10 people heads out to sample Sydney's night-life. In the first club we're ushered to a corner table, plied with free champagne, and sit watching some sort of bizarre tribal performance. In the next, we take a lift down into the club, where aside from a bar and a dancefloor, there are pool tables and motorbike racing machins. Orange-haired Prodigy frontman Keith Flint gets a thrashing from Kerrang! on the latter. In the real world, he owns a race-tuned Honda Fireblade and was clocked by motorbike mag 'Motorcycle News' doing 167mph up a drag strip.We vaguelly recall stopping off for the Aussie equivalent of a kebab, and the bus driver taking a lump out of a car on the drive back to the hotel. A few of us head to Keith's room for a final smoke; then, as the sun starts to rise, Kerrang! shuffles off to bed. When we leave, Keith Flint is still very much awake. Sleep is not a necessity in his life.
Later the same day, the Big Day Out arrives in Sydney. Our first glimpse of The Prodigy is beneath the late afternoon sun. They emerge from their dressing room in full battle dress, looking like a cross between an explosion in a paint factory and happy hour at a body piercing studio. Frankly, they look the fucking business. For the next hour, they simply destroy the Big Day Out. Kicking off with the awesome 'Smak My Bitch Up', blasting out 'Firestarter', sending the 35,000 Aussies absolutely mental.
"Australian crowds are pretty full-on, aren't they?" observes keyboard whizz/songwriter Liam Howlett later. "Festival-goers here are more hardcore than they are in England. They're mad. "Sometimes people wanna hear the older stuff - tracks off the first album - but we got fucked off with playing that. And because we only come here once a year, we want to update people. Otherwise they'll think we're still a rave act. "
Last year, The Prodigy headlined the Big Day Out's dance stage - a vast shed aptly named The Boiler Room. No other band has been invited back to the festival two years in a row. "This year, it was either play the main stage or not come," explains Liam. "So we checked out the line-up and thought it was good. We're quite into Soundgarden's music, even though the live show's a bit boring... But we love Australia, and we had a good time last year and made a lot of friends. "It's hard to imagine The Prodigy making enemies. While they don't take any shit, they're not a band who go looking for trouble. But last time they were in Australia, frontman Maxim Reality and dancer Leeroy Thornhill got a lot of grief in a tattoo studio for the colour of their skin.
"They just made us feel uncomfortable," recalls Leeroy. "You know, when you're made to feel like you're not suppossed to be somewhere. " "They were a bunch of rednecks," sneers Liam. "I was told that Sydney and Melbourne were quite cosmopolitan," adds Maxim. It's when you go to Canberra and Adelaide - they're just little redneck towns. But I was talking to this guy from the Gold Coast yesterday and he told me he gets just as much grief for having red hair. He said, 'You don't know what it means to me, you lot coming down here and breaking so many barriers'. "
In their own strange, apolitical way, The Prodigy are doing as much to combat racism as the likes of Rage Against The Machine. Just by being there. "I like Rage Against The Machine," smiles Liam, "they're one of my favourite bands. But maybe that's for shallow reasons - I think their music really kicks and they're just so tight onstage. "But by having black and white in a band you're saying enough. We don't give a fuck about anything, and it's cool to have a mixture 'cos it shows you don't care. " "That's the way it should be," nods Maxim. "When we get onstage, there's five of us and it's just about music. You're supposed to be colour blind. " The Prodigy have also crossed over musically - on their last UK tour kids in Sepultura T-shirts rubbed shoulders with rave funs.
"It's nice now, 'cos more and more you look out and see a whole variety of people - especially since 'Firestarter' and 'Breathe'," says Leeroy. "I expect a crowd to like us," says Maxim. "They're just a bunch of people - not this scene or that scene, regardless of whether they've got dreads or mohicans or pink hair. " And even travelling first class around the world, The Prodigy are breaking down the odd barrier.
"We were on a British Airays plane the other day," grins Leeroy, "and the stewardess was like, 'Can I see your seat ticket ?'. I went, 'Oh no, I forgot to put my suit and tie on !'. After that it was cool. She said, 'Oh God, you lot are going to give me grief the whole flight', and we had a laugh. "In a way, it's nice to be able to just turn round and laugh at them. Maybe they 'll think differently in future, know what I mean ?"
The day after the Big Day Out, The Prodigy are headlining a sell-out show at the Metro club. Kerrang! takes Fear Factory down to the show, and naturally it's a cracker, with Keith and Maxim risking life and limb by leaping into the venue's photo pit, getting right in people's faces. "It's all part of it," says Maxim. "You get a little bit of that off the girls," he adds, rubbing his crotch. "Actually, I can remember when we were in San Francisco and him and Keith got a little stroke off the blokes !" hoots Leeroy. "After that, both of them backed off. It turned out it was this gay bikers' bar. " "But it's cool to go out into the crowd," says Maxim, "'cos we're not untouchable, and I don't wanna create the vibe that we're 20 feet away and nobody touches us.
"Yeah, there's a danger that they're gonna try and pull you apart. But when you're in someone's face shouting at them and they're backing off, they ain't forgetting it, you know what I mean ?" Indeed we do. The following night they're at it again, selling out the Metro once more. After the usual lack of sleep, they spend the day of the gig doing press and radio interviews and the like, heading to the venue a mere half-hour before they're due onstage. "Tonight might be pretty similar to last night," admits Liam, "cos there's a lot of the same people coming to the show. I'm going for one. " He needn't have worried. Despite the fact that The Prodigy play the same set, the show itself is totally different. This time, Keith disappears into the crowd like the bastard son of Iggy Pop.
"What's mad about Keith is people expect him to be how he is onstage when they meet him and he's actually pretty laid-back," ponders Liam. "That's what freaks people out, the way he's so polite when he looks like such a nutter... Well, he is a nutter, but it throws people. "But he's so spontaneous, he 'll just go off the fucking handle. You 'll meet him and he's really mellow, then you hang around with him a bit longer and he 'll just do something that makes you think, 'Yeah, he is completely mad !'.
"The amount of times Keith's just gone off at people... Like, there was this dude in Braintree, where we live, and he's sitting in town with a couple of birds and he saw Keith and starts shouting, 'Oi! Firestarter!'. There's a load of people around Keith going like, 'Yeah, okay'. Then, 10 minutes later he's at it again - 'Oi! Firestarter!'. So Keith just went up to him and started shouting, 'Don't you fucking speak to me, you twat!'. Completely embarrassing him in front of his birds, Keith's going, 'You wanna see what it's like when people keep fucking shouting at you ?!'. "
"The rest of us are laughing now we've got Keith with the orange hair," grins Leeroy. "The other day at the airport, there's all these little kids going, 'Oi! Firestarter!'. Keith's just woken up and he's trying not to turn his head, cos once you've clocked 'em you 've gotta stop. But he ended up turning his head - and that's it, they swarmed around him. And the rest of us just kept going through customs. ""Yeah, Keith always gets collared and we just walk off," cackles Liam.
Last year, Keith Flint came second to Marilyn Manson in the 'Nutter Of The Year' category in the Kerrang! Readers' Poll. Do The Prodigy think he should have won?
"I don't know, I haven't met Marilyn Manson," shrugs Liam. "There's a lot of hype around the whole thing and I 'm not really convinced yet. "We've proved quite a lot and Marilyn Manson haven't proved anything in England yet - they haven't had hard records in the charts. Nothing we've done has beenhype, cos we've proved ourselves for five or six years and we're always building on that. We haven't come out of nowhere... "But then, Marilyn Manson might 've been around for a while in America, so it might be the same vibe between them and us. "
In America, MTV has discovered the 'Firestarter' video and is playing it on heavy rotation. And with an alleged two million pound deal with Madonna's Maverick label in the bag, The Prodigy are set to become the next big thing in the US.
"I 'm not into the whole American thing, to be honest," says Liam bluntly. "It's shit and it costs too much money to do things in a big way, so we're just gonna go over there and try to do it ourselves in the same way we did it in England. We 'll just see how it goes, and try to keep it on a small level and have a good time. "
You don't think with a rock and dance audience you could be bigger than Metallica, then?
"No, we're not in the same league," Liam reasons. "We're good at what we do in our own way, but there's no point in trying to compare us to those bands because it's something completely different. "In America, there's a lot of people saying everyone's waiting for something new. That makes me a bit wary. They're saying, 'This could be it' - and I don't want to be 'it'. The minute I see that happening, we're not going to bother over there. We don't want to be the most fashionable band or the most popular. "It's good to have people who really don't like what we do, but if they come to a show they get into it," he notes. "I 'm pretty sure that anyone who's into hard music and a rock 'n' roll performance would be into what we do. "
So, how do you stop yourselves from getting complacent when the whole world seems to be gagging for your band?
"We've always gotta try and prove something," says Liam. "And when we're onstage, we've always gotta prove that we're a hard band. As soon as you start saying, 'Yeah, we're doing it', you start losing it. You've always gotta be hungry. "