Interview with The Prodigy’s Liam Howlett: ‘We’ve always been pirates’

You’ve always got an idea that The Prodigy’s Liam Howlett from is always pissed off at something, but when he answers the phone he’s well chipper, bordering on content. He admits he’s got “a right bit of jetlag… I’ve clocked up some serious air miles” from playing “all the festivals” and they’re just back from Canada, but we catch him in his comfort zone, in the studio.

“I’m just preparing for this tour coming up and it’s great, I always like to be in the studio when we did the new album, so it still feels quite new and exciting,” he says.

The album he’s on about is The Day Is My Enemy, released in May to catch the full festival season and further oil the Prodigy’s turnt-up to 11 live show, that hits the SSE Arena in Belfast on Sunday and Dublin’s 3Arena on Monday – with Liam’s childhood heroes Public Enemy as special guests and Dubliner Arveene, who Liam’s asked to play between the two acts.

The Day Is My Enemy is the Prodigy’s first LP in five years, and Liam is straight-up about the motive behind the album as a live vehicle. The Prodigy have always made more sense live, whether off their nuts in in grimy warehouses in the late 80s, to playing to tens of thousands in Moscow’s Red Square at the height of their Fat of the Land infamy.

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“It’s interesting because we’ve got the best viewing platform from the stage so we can see what goes down every night,” says Liam.

“The reaction to the new stuff has been brilliant… exactly how we wanted it to be. This album was written with playing live in mind. It’s meant to be heard loud, in your face, it wasn’t written with the radio in mind. We knew it was a hard sounding album – ultimately we’re happier with this album than any other one.”

The Prodigy have always been a hive mind of contradictions; a de facto rave act who stuck two fingers up at the summer of love smiley faces with their gurning take on hardcore and tongue in cheek samples on 1992’s Experience.

They were co-opted by punk and metal fans with chugging psychodramas like Poison and Their Law – an undisguised boot in the face of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act that outlawed outdoor raves characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”. The gatefold of their 1994 breakthrough album Music For the Jilted Generation captures the Prodigy’s ethos: A lone raver at one side of a ravine cutting the ropes from a wooden bridge to foil the cops shutting down a party with 100ft speakers.

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Even now they’ve got their DM boots in both camps – headlining rock and metal festivals like Rock am Ring and Riot Fest, and commercial dance brand Cream’s showcase Creamfields.

“We’ve always stood on the outside,” says Liam. “Very early we got labelled as a ‘techno band’ when it was mostly DJs, then we were outside the whole “electronic’ thing [sneers] which some fucking journalist came up with. We never wanted to be the spokesmen for any scene.”

With no one apart from Adele selling records any more, in the last decade classic albums are being perpetually repackaged for anniversary tours and one-off festivals. You know we’ve hit tipping point when Alien Ant Farm have just announced a 15-year anniversary tour of their ‘classic’ album ANThology next year. Jilted Generation turned 20 last year but The Prodigy never marked it, saying they get restless hanging onto the past. Even their  huge 1997 single Breathe is hastily dosed out at the beginning of the current set. But while they’re often mocked for sticking to their snotty breakbeat comfort zone, they’re not shackled by nostalgia.

“Nostalgia is just not in our nature, that mindset,” says Liam. “We did all say to each other if we ever get to that stage, that’s when we’ll stop.”

Dance music in general can often get stifled by this nostalgia, with the deep house and garage revival, second summer of love tales being retold and the Ibiza folklore taking on an air of Woodstock as the years pass.

This Ibiza worship does finally get Liam worked up, especially when it’s coupled with lazy half-assed hands-in-the-air EDM DJs mocked on their track Ibiza – fronted by the brilliantly  manic Jason Wiliamson: “Eye-beef-a… what’s ’e faacking doing?”

The Prodigy dragged Jason along to play the song life at Ibiza Creamfields, and he says the place “was fucking awful, like it always is”.

He adds: “The Ibiza track, it was a good violent bit of fun, it’s like a slap in the face for fun. But as far as the island goes, woah, it’s gone upmarket now, hasn’t it? It’s gone all VIP. It’s a vastly different place to what it was even 10 years ago. You know what though, it’s a fucking beautiful place, but i’m just not into that kind of thing, you know what I mean? it breeds these DJs that are fucking lazy, the birthplace of that shit, i’m just not into it.

“People like David Guetta and the like. I’ve nothing against him personally, but he’s to blame. Then again he’ll also be responsible for the quicker death of EDM.

“It’s not a problem with everybody copying each other. I stole from other people myself, that’s what happens in music, we can all learn from each other. We like to think of ourselves as pirates, we’ll just dip in now and then and take what we want.

“We went there early on, when the rave scene started. It was a great place. now it’s kinda been…. OK I’ll say it again, it’s just not my thing, I like the grime too much – the dirt and the frame of the city, you know, that’s where good music is born, not out there.”


Printed in Irish Daily Star

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