"For me, being on stage...that is my release...that is my buzz...that is my drive...that is how I raise my adrenaline...how I get my blood flowing!" -Maxim
The Prodigy are on a mission. An expertly strategized and skillfully manipulated mission to resurrect the freak flag and catapult crowds into frenzy, it’s still their time, it’s Their Law.
Following the nauseating barrage of hip-shit bling-hop that finally began its demise over the past couple of years, 2006 witnesses an overdue lull in our diluted pop and mainstream music worlds. In the midst of this atrocious period of the stale and easily forgettable, it's always safe to navigate the underground. The underground is where people are not afraid to experiment. It's where 'safe' is frowned upon and innovation fields its essence. It's where labels like Definitive Jux, Quannum, Up Above, and Rhymesayers, and acts such as Danger Doom, Aesop Rock, Lyrics Born, and Ohmegga Watts helped rejuvenate much needed credibility and the re-emergence of hip-hop as a genuine reflection of culture, a true art form.
It’s 2006 ya’ll, the timing couldn't be better for an electronic renaissance. It's been years since the rave-bubble popped, people have emerged from their haze, tossed the binkies, and they're realizing that everything towards the end of that era pretty much sucked ass! By that point, it really wuz the drugs. Now we…uh… they've had a chance to refresh and remind themselves of the joys of discerning quality in sound over psychosomatic Qualudes.
People are rightfully searching for something new and fresh, and the technologies from the old school analog world and the new school digital plane are beginning to align into a comfortable duality of creative and unconstrained evolution. While both sides have struggled to understand where the other fits, others have decided to simply seize the moment and show people why and how we can all be one big happy family. Well, maybe not everybody.
With their aggressive punk rock regalia blanketed in thrashingly poetic synth-lines and gritty, dirty, rumbling low-ends, The Prodigy have taken it upon themselves to remind people what it's like to freak the fuck out and be emotionally jarred by sonic aural frequency radiation...yes...music. Fortunately for us, they've chosen this year to do it.
"It started when we all met on stage," reminisces Maxim. "That was the first show The Prodigy ever did. I met everyone like 3 hours before the show. We had a drink, we looked at each other and said, 'OK, so how are we going to do this?' I just got on stage and freestyled and the crowd loved it." With Keith’s screeching prowess, Maxim spittin’ verse, and Liam droppin’ bunker-bustin’ break-beats, they left a far-reaching impression. The promoter wanted them back right away, and soon after, huge parties such as Raindance and Perception were asking them to play. "It was a buzz just to play on stage at these events, and we really haven't looked back since."
Ever since that fateful day over 15 years ago, The Prodigy have released 4 full-length records, on top of too many singles to count, 12 of which consecutively broke the top 20. They had the #1 album in 27 different countries at the same time with 1997's Fat of the Land, and they've toured the world more times than the space shuttle. "When you're in it, you don't really think about it, you're just really enjoying it and doing it. Every year is a bonus,” reminisces Liam. “That's the mentality right when we first started."
The single most important factor contributing to their success was their rowdy and rambunctious live show. "The trouble is a lot of electronic bands wanted to hide behind the equipment," expresses Liam. "A lot of it revolves around a couple of guys around keyboards.” “We wanted to represent our music and we wanted people to know who The Prodigy were," adds Maxim. "You can actually see and feel the experience of The Prodigy rather than just listen. Without that energy and that focus of being a live band, there wouldn't really be a Prodigy."
"It's also what the music stirs up in us," Maxim continues. "It's not only representing the music, but the music stirs something up in us and we perform that and people in the crowd watching us appreciate that. We're doing what the music tells us to do and we express ourselves and we're not afraid to do that...we thrive on that. That's what we love. Creating that energy and that vibe."
It's an energy defined by intricately placed live instrumental riffs lined over psychotic break-beats and bass bombs tipping the Richter. You can feel the very vibrations of the marrow in your bones rhythmically pulsating deep in your cerebral membrane like a jackhammer on speed. Samples and vocal spits so cunningly placed into frequencies that coat your eardrums they send the nervous system into a state of temporary euphoric dementia.
If you’ve ever seen The Prodigy live, you know I speak of self-evident truths.
And their punk rock theatrics aren’t just a show. They extend well into their uniquely genuine off-stage personas as well. I mean really, how else can you turn down not one, not two, but three of music’s biggest legends for remix work and somehow make it sound so reasonably justifiable? Madonna who? "I had a lot of respect for her, but I didn't think she should just be able to use me to help her own music when she didn't really mean anything to me," Liam says of The Material Girl. "And the same with David Bowie and U2, I made the decision not to do that stuff because I'm not really work for hire. I'm really into my band, my thing, and I don't want to give other people our sounds."
Their quick rise during the glory days of the early electronic scene in Europe was infectious. It wasn't long before they were being pushed around the globe, and the States finally decided to pick up on them. It was right around 1997's Fat of the Land record, which included such classics as "Firestarter," "Breathe," and "Smack My Bitch Up." "I think it hit at the right time," explains Liam. "It was kind of a new thing, they were pushing the electronic movement and MTV jumped on it." With a perfect cocktail blend of electronica and hip-hop, they did a remarkable job in uniquely complementing the era's often unfounded infatuation with the rock/hip-hop hybrid.
Then, the inevitable began to rear its ugly head. After Fat of the Land, the band began to feel the pressure of the fame and the sales from the label end. They felt that their creativity and the band's soul were at stake. "We were having to go into the studio because the record company wanted us to make a record," Liam tells us, "and I wasn't really into the stuff I was doing. Nothing really gelled."
"It was a tough time for the band," adds Maxim. "We were playing a lot of shows and needed new material. We were on the verge of being burnt out. If I go onstage and I'm not performing 110%, I'm not happy, and the others are the same way. We weren't really firing 100%, and if tracks aren't really firing, and the direction's not right, we're not going to do it. I think it was summer of 2002 that we decided to take a break...take a step back and look at where we can go in the future."
"I wanted some time off," admits Liam. "Maybe my time off was a bit too long for other people and maybe other people started to develop solo projects. Then when I was ready and wanted to get going, there was a big communication breakdown between me and Keith. That can breed paranoia, and after months, that gets bigger and bigger and sometimes you see a problem that wasn't even there. That was definitely the case with a few things." After a ridiculously solid 12 year run, it seemed the world was on the verge of losing them.
Liam tried to fill the voids with 1999's mostly uninspired The Dirtchamber Sessions, Volume 1 mix record, and 2004's lukewarmly received Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, in which, despite even this tumultuous period in The Prodigy’s career, Madonna still couldn’t stay away and signed them to her Maverick records. Vocal duties were handled by various guests including Kool Keith, Liam Gallagher, and Juliette Lewis. "I think a lot of people were confused by that record. Even though it had a couple songs that were classic Prodigy, without Maxim and Keith's vocals, I think it felt like less of a band.
This period of uninspired dissatisfaction spurred them to refocus on what they were in this thing for in the first place. "As soon as I got back into the swing of things and we started communicating again, everything was alright,” remembers Liam. “There was a lot of talking in hotel rooms at 3 in the morning over the last year to discuss with each other different issues and talk about all the things that went on. That was healthy. It worked. And we came out of it mates again. That's what matters."
That’s also what led Prodigy to reflect upon what they have accomplished. It’s also what led them to regroup with a renewed vigor they haven’t felt since Fat of the Land. "We still feel like we have a lot more to give. We're not finished. The band's not over," an enthused Maxim reiterates. "This band is going for the rebirth and I tell you man, we're just fired up! We all ignite at the same time and that’s what its all about."
After being inundated with regressive musical tangents, innumerable production advancements, and the soul sucking world of barcodes, The Prodigy has finally had a chance to sort things out and bring it back to basics - making music that moves themselves as well as the masses.
“When I did Fat of the Land, I had a studio full of gear and could get my hands on anything. It just got too much. I think I've come full circle by not getting swallowed up in technology. I just set up a new studio in London and tried to keep it really simple - a couple of keyboards, a guitar amp, and a computer. The approach now is that these are the 3 members of the band. These are the people we’re going to work with. The record will be basically written by these three members.”
Consequently, 2006 sees The Prodigy’s most actively inspired year in over half a decade. While the new record is currently being recorded, before its release early next year, they will have scoured America from West to East Coast and all the go-betweens, including the cementing of their legendary status with a rare live appearance headlining the Ultra Music Festival at this years Winter Music Conference in Florida.
Additionally, they tease us with Their Law: The Singles 1990-2005 (XL Recordings). "When we did this album, it was the first time we really sat down and looked at what we've done,” expresses Liam, “and we're proud.” In addition to a full color 50 page booklet, the double CD set includes 31 tracks of their biggest singles, live tracks, remixes, and 3 new songs.
“Their Law, for us…is how we conduct ourselves, how we go about doing things…we stick by those rules and regulations and ethics. One thing we found was that there’s a newfound energy being on the road. Energy is created and vibes and ideas are born. There’re all these ideas starting to breed and flow and we realized what we missed.”
“It’s what’s good about all of us,” Maxim continues. “We’re quite diverse in the styles of music we like, but the common ground is the energy it creates. That’s what brings us together. There’s a good feeling just being back.”
(This was originally published in Kotori Magazine, a print magazine I founded and ran in the mid-2000s)