Prodigy Present: The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One

The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One is a continuous in-the-mix DJ recording by Liam Howlett.

Prodigy Present: The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One

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

Liam Howlett

Before the original Breezeblock mix was aired on Radio 1, the presenter, Mary-Anne Hobbs talked to Liam on the phone. Here is the transcript of it.

Frequently asked questions

What represents the CD?

2. The front sleeve says 'Prodigy present The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One'.
3. The back sleeve has photos of Liam's studio.
4. The inside sleeve has a picture of Liam lying in floor of his studio with his mixer and records.
5. There's a big text 'IN USE' in the "mid-sleeve".
6. The booklet says 'this mix contains excerps of the following tracks' and then there are all the tracks used in the mix listed in 8 sections.
7. Then a long list of credits.
8. And 'The inspirations: Double Dee and Steinski, Coldcut, Big Apple Productions, Flash On The Wheels Of Steel, DJ Cheese, Cash Money, Cutmaster Swift, Mixmaster Mike, Scratch Piklz and The Artists On This Record.'
8. Also 'Extra thanx goes out to: John Lydon, Jimmy Cauty, Bill Drummond, Mary Anne Hobbs, Martin James, Kathy (Beggars), to the R.'
9. The running time is approx 51 mins.

The story of the Dirtchamber album

Liam Howlett of the Prodigy released his solo DJ Mix album in February 1999, titled Dirtchamber Sessions Volume 1. It contains about 50 cut, scratched, and cross-faded tracks, mixed by Liam himself.

It all started near the beginning of October 1998. It was then that UK radio station Radio 1 reported that a few days later the Prodigy’s Liam Howlett will be on Radio 1 in Mary-Anne Hobbs’ Breezeblock show. It was also implied that he would be playing some stuff, too... On the night of October 12, after a telephone chat, they played Liam's pre-recorded an hour-long mix of some of his favorite records of the past years on Radio 1.

It's not a live mix. Liam made it in his studio instead of mixing live on Radio 1 (it took him 5 days). This is probably even better, as he could realize more of his ideas, thay may not have been possible in a 100% live mix. He used a sampler, 2 decks, and an A-DAT to put the tracks together.

Shortly after the show, some pirate recordings of the mix started to circulate, but unfortunately they were stopped by XL Recordings. The situation seemed hopeless, until the groundbreaking news were published – an extended version of the Breezeblock mix will be officially released! The DJ mix album will come out under the Prodigy name, and will be called the Dirtchamber Sessions Volume 1.

After the Breezeblock show Liam worked on the mix more so it could be released as an actual "album. " Because of copyright problems, Liam could not release the entire Breezeblock set, so it had to be revised. Some of the samples and songs had to be removed.

Originally the CD was to contain many more tracks than the final version. Tracks such as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by The Beatles had to be removed before the final printing because Apple Recordings does not allow any Beatles song to be sampled by anyone except Apple. Paul McCartney, who wrote Sgt. Pepper, actually liked the idea of sampling the song and encouraged the idea. A spokesman for Liam Howlett said, ”The record sounded great in there and we were going to include it on the commercial release of the record, but Apple wouldn’t grant us permission to licence the track.” Apple said the decision was ”nothing personal” against The Prodigy. The sample has now been replaced by one from "Been Caught Stealing" by US rock band, Jane’s Addiction.

It was released on February 22, 1999 in and in the USA and Canada it came out on April 6, 1999.

The presenter of Radio 1’s Breezeblock show (where the first version of the Dirtchamber mix was played), Mary-Anne Hobbs said the following about the album (it’s on BBC’s site on the One Love Albums page): ”I’d like to nominate Liam Howlett’s mix LP ’The Dirtchamber Sessions’ (XL). This album actually began life as a mix for the Breezeblock. The Prodigy’s mighty leader spent five days with the hatches battoned down at his studio in Essex, conjouring up this astounding piece of work... using old skool hip-hop as a bedrock... and spotting in breaks and bytes from every concievable influence... from The Sex Pistols to The Mexican. Peerless, in a word.” 

What does the word Dirtchamber mean? 

The more attentive Prodigy fans must have noticed that at the beginning of the Smack My Bitch Up video, the girl puts in a CD into the player labeled ”Dirt Chamber”. Also, one of the few works Liam did in 1998 was the Dirtchamber Remix of Diesel Power. Not to mention that One Man Army was partly made in ”The Dirt Chamber, England” (see the Spawn booklet). So the question emerges: what exactly does Dirtchamber mean after all? The answer is simple: it simply means Liam’s home studio – and thus the expression Dirtchamber Sessions makes sense, especially knowing that this is a studio mix album. 

Why did Liam make the album? 

He was fed up with the crappy 80s revival that was going on in 1998, and when he got the opportunity to make a mix, he felt this was the time he could show the world what old skool really is. ”Then there were all of these shit compilations around that had all of the shit tracks on that we would never have listened to. When I put this mix together it was as a way of saying ’this is what old skool is about’. [...] I just thought I’d give the mix a real flavour of the old skool. Not simply in the tracks but in the way I put it together. What I did was take tracks, in some cases only a few seconds of the track, and rework them into something new. It’s not like dance DJs who just beat mix: my mix is all about using DJ tricks to create something different.” (Source: Music365) 

Which styles and bands? 

To quote Chris Sharp of XL Recordings: ”It will be really chopped up and have loads of different records in there. [...] It will be a proper beat-mix record, with some really obscure hip-hop from 1984, funky breaks, rare grooves, bits of rock music and break-beat records.” It will contain tracks by artists like the Chemical Brothers, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Propellerheads, Sex Pistols, Ultramagnetic MCs, Run DMC, LL Cool J and a lot more! See the (almost) complete tracklisting! (Source: SonicNet) 

But the Beasties? 

Yes, the question is right – if you have followed the story of the Reading Incident (at the 1998 Reading Festival), you might wonder why on earth Liam wants to put two Beastie Boys tracks on his mix album. Well, here’s what he had to say about this: ”Whatever happened between me and Ad Rock, there’s no respect lost as far as the music goes. I don’t think anything less of them as musicians over what they’ve done. And basically, if I’m making an old-skool record, it would be stupid of me to not have them on there.” What’s more, the Beasties have already approved of the inclusion of their tracks! 

Rights Clearance 

XL’s Chris Sharp has said: ”We’re going through the process of getting the rights tracked down. And, in the case of some of these break-beat records, they’re always of slightly uncertain provenance. You try to find where they got the break in the first place, and it could be [from] some ’60s easy-listening album, so you have to track down that person first.” What’s interesting is that even Liam himself wrote letters to some of the artists, asking for permission to use their tracks, including Paul McCartney and John Lydon (Sex Pistols). In addition to the Beastie Boys and Barry White, other many artists have given consent to have their music sampled on the collection. They include rap-legends Public Enemy; industrial-rock pioneers Meat Beat Manifesto; the Prodigy’s fellow British electronica stars, the Chemical Brothers; and New York hip-hop trailblazers the Ultramagnetic MCs, whose 1988 song, Give the Drummer Some, was the source for the vocal sample in the Prodigy’s controversial hit recording, Smack My Bitch Up. (Source: SonicNet)  

Why Not On Vinyl? 

You may ask why DSV1 has not been released on vinyl, just like all the other mix albums. Well, here is the answer of an XL spokesman: ”They thought most mix albums on vinyl were crap and they thought about releasing all 50 odd tracks in a big boxset, because they had the rights to do so, but decided not to, because they thought nobody would buy it.” 

Liam’s Comments

A quote from Select magazine: 

Q: Why turn your radio session for Mary Anne Hobbs into an album? 
A: 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. 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. 

Bands Challenged Over 60s Samples (BBC, 21 January 1999)

The Prodigy’s mastermind Liam Howlett has been banned from using a Beatles sample from his new album – even though Sir Paul McCartney was happy for the track to be used. Howlett, who fronts the multi-million selling dance band, had planned to use two verses and a chorus from Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on his new album, Prodigy Present Dirtchamber Sessions Volume 1. But despite the approval of songwriter Sir Paul, the Fab Four’s record label Apple refused to give clearance for the track to be used. A spokesman for Howlett said: ”The record sounded great in there and we were going to include it on the commercial release of the record, but Apple wouldn’t grant us permission to licence the track.” 





Release date delayed.

”Apparently Paul McCartney didn’t have any problem with it – it’s simply that Apple never do let Beatles tracks appear on anything other than Beatles albums.” The album features samples from around 50 tracks – and the time-consuming task of getting clearance for each one of the tracks has forced the release date to be delayed. ”There are about 52 tracks used on this album and we’ve had to try to get clearance for them all. A lot of them are on small and hard-to-find hip-hop labels that could easily have gone out of business,” the spokesman added. Apple said the decision was ”nothing personal” against the Prodigy. The offending sample has now been replaced by one from Been Caught Stealing by US rock band Jane’s Addiction. 

XL Recordings press release:

"It started life as a session recorded for Mary Anne Hobb's Breezeblock segment on Radio One, and had since evolved into a densely-packed fifty-minute trip through the sounds that have influenced Liam's music, taking in raw hip-hop, edgy rock and a fine selection of prime old-school beats. He delves deep into his record box, packing more than 50 tracks into the 50 minute mix, cutting, scratching and crossfading in a rough style that owes as much to legendary turntable maestros Double D and Steinski as it does to current DJ demons like Invizibl Skratch Piklz and Rob Swift. It's an exhilarating journey, and one of the finest mix albums to hit the racks to date. "

Quotes from reviews

"It is a collection of Liam Howlett's favorite hip hop and funk tracks cut, pasted and mixed into the most thrilling shape since God mixed the DNA for Christy Turlington. 5/5" - Muzik

"The best compilation/mix album of the year" - Flipside magazine

"'The Dirtchamber Sessions' is the most purely enjoyable, rambunctious 50 minutes of music I've heard in years. A piledriving, relentless, spine-tingling meld of classic hip hop, Frankie Bones' early breakbeats, indie, rock'n'roll and thrill-packed fusions like Bomb the Bass's 'Bug Powder Dust' and the Prod's own 'Poison'. " - Time Out

"Not a Prodigy album at all but, rather, a solo project by leader Liam Howlett. Apparently nostalgic for his days as a DJ in hip hop band Cut To Kill, he's assembled a mix CD of snippets of his favourite tunes. He's gone as far back as the Sex Pistols' New York, and calls on most major dance acts, including his nemeses the Beastie Boys (to irk them, perhaps, he's also included the "Smack my bitch up" sample over which they fell out). There are unexpected choices, too, like The Charlatans and Jane's Addiction. Scratching and cross-fading feverishly, Howlett shoehorns 50 tracks into 50 minutes, and therein lies the problem: what's the point, other than to show off his mixing skills?" - Caroline Sullivan / Guardian

Related articles

| Decoded Magazine
Sampling the Sex Pistols, dissing koalas and never taking your foot off the gas: we crank the froth-o-meter up to full with The Prodigy’s Liam Howlett

| X-Press Magazine
THE PRODIGY The X-Press (in person) Interview

Prodigy Unauthorized

| Alternative Press

| Toronto Sun
Decline of the Jedi Knights

| Toronto Sun
Prodigy tries sex in space

| Spin Magazine
Smack My Mix Up

| Alternative Press
Tables Turning

| Rockin' On
Prodigy presents: DJ = Liam Howlett

| Select
Q&A "I Built A Japanise Garden"

| Loaded
Don't Sing It, Howlett

| Mix Mag
Liam's Dirtchamber

| Select
'Dirt Chamber Sessions Part 1'

Bands Challenged Over 60s Samples

| Melody Maker
Dirtchamber Interview

| Spike Magazine
Down In The Dirt

| SonicNet
Prodigy's Howlett Jumped Legal Hurdles To Make Mix Album

| Raygun Magazine
Chamber Music

Liam talks about the Dirty Chamber

Soil Of The Century

The Prodigy Breezeblock the pre-mix interview

Reviews in the press

| D!zko 2000
Dirtchamber Sessions Volume 1 - German review

| Select
Prodigy Present The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume 1

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