As The Prodigy announce their return in 2015 with the single ‘Nasty’ and new LP ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ – out on March 30th (news) – Clash turns the clock back to 2009, and issue 35, when we spoke to the seminal ravers ahead of their previous studio LP, ‘Invaders Must Die’.
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On a Thursday tea-time in March 1996, living rooms across the nation were abruptly torn apart as Top Of The Pops aired the video for that week’s number one: The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’. Dads were appalled. Kids were enraptured. A social cluster-f*ck had been successfully deployed.
“We’re not the Arctic Monkeys, you know. We’re not even the f*cking Monkees,” laughs vocalist and chief jigger Keith Flint a few weeks before the release of The Prodigy’s fifth studio album ‘Invaders Must Die’. And it’s true – where The Prodigy were once agit-prop merchants at the sweaty coal-face of youth rebellion, they have now reached an age which should (superficially at least) see them cheerfully aligned with the spluttering classes who once voraciously sought to vilify not just the band, but the entire subculture from which they had been spawned. Somehow though, you just know it won’t be that simple…
Are you excited about ‘Invaders Must Die’?
Liam Howlett: Totally man. It feels like a triumph for us on this album. It was really fun to make, but hard. And I think it was because we were all back together again. You know, we’d sort of fought through the hard times and got to this point where we could make a really, really great record. And that’s where we’re at.
Keith Flint: I don’t think The Prodigy would do, or at least release, anything we weren’t excited about. Although there was one mistake in the past…
Keith: ‘Baby’s Got A Temper’.
And why was that a mistake?
Liam: It just wasn’t one of my favourite records. Well, actually it wasn’t a record I liked at all! I must have liked it at the time it went out, but I knew it wasn’t a sonic reflection of where the band were heading. It was slow, lazy and just down. It wasn’t an up record, it was just... (shrugs) But I mean, we learnt from it.
Keith: I think the reason we didn’t see through ‘Baby’s Got A Temper’ for what it is… Shit! I’ve got us onto not such a great subject, but f*ck it – all aspects should be covered as it is part of the band and happened naturally. But the track was there and we couldn’t see past the celebration of working together.
Liam: Yeah, it was the one thing that brought us back together and we weren’t able to say, ‘This isn’t any f*cking good.’ But that’s that.
Keith: This record wouldn’t be here now if we weren’t 100% happy with it. There’s no f*cking around. Whatever it took: time, sweat, whatever. It was either going to be f*cking perfect or not at all. It had to be.
Liam: I think people viewed this as our comeback when I don’t think we’re coming back at all. We haven’t been away. Some people probably see the last proper Prodigy album ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’ as confusing. It was a confusing album to people and I can understand that. I think for one I fell out with the record company completely as they basically wanted ‘Fat Of The Land Part Two’, which I absolutely didn’t want to do. As an artist I categorically believe that you should be allowed to do whatever the f*ck you want to do and not be told that you have to do another ‘Firestarter’. And so I’d already made up my mind that I wasn’t going to do that and it took a long time to write that last record.
Keith: Turning our back on writing ‘Fat Of The Land Part Two’ was detrimental to the band without a doubt – yet not as detrimental as writing ‘Fat Of The Land Part Two’. So, however difficult that period was, we’re so glad we’ve been through it. You know, it hasn’t all been good for the band. Same as when you first start out and have to travel in the Transit; it’s garage sandwiches all the way and you’re trying to do two gigs a night to get enough money to live… It’s the same. We don’t want or expect it to be all roses and we had a period that was a bit of a f*cking battle, but reflecting now, it was good. It’s been great for the band because out of it we’ve written this triumphant album that is totally natural and 100% Prodigy.
Liam: I think if you listen to the record it feels like quite an up record…
Keith: For such grumpy c*nts!
Liam: Yeah, it is! I mean, we’re a moody bunch of f*ckers but it’s not a dark record at all. It’s just a f*cking fantastic party record.
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‘Invaders Must Die’ (single released 2008, album 2009)
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I am no better than the crowd. I’m basically the stage diver who doesn’t get chucked off. They are my fuel…
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Did you find it liberating making ‘Invaders…’ without being on XL Recordings anymore?
Liam: Absolutely man. I’m still friends with everyone from XL. We never fell out, but sometimes relationships come to an end naturally. I mean, contractually it came to an end after the singles collection (of 2005), which incidentally I didn’t want to do at the time but grew to actually be very proud of. But the tour that we did around it, Their Law, was amazing and cemented the band back together. It was a no brainer for us to go out on tour and play the hits. People always want to hear them.
Keith: Yeah, I mean we thought that the Their Law tour was f*cking awesome. A real peak. But I say this with all confidence, reality and with my feet placed firmly on the ground: the December (2008) tour has seen the band on fire like never before. This band has never been that good.
Do you prefer the small shows to the bigger venues?
Liam: For me Brixton [Academy] still intimidates the f*ck out of me. You feel so exposed on that stage. You can’t escape. With a little gig you have the small ceiling and you know there’s a divide, but in Brixton people seem to be everywhere. You look out and they’re just there, up to the ceiling. It’s like being under a microscope. Playing Brixton for me is far scarier than playing Knebworth supporting Oasis. It’s really f*cking full on.
I’ve always thought that The Prodigy treat the crowd as equals, as if they’re part of the band. So if the crowd is psyched, it reflects back.
Keith: That’s absolutely right and I’m glad you say that. I am no different to them people. I am no better than the crowd. I’m basically the stage diver who doesn’t get chucked off. They are my fuel. That’s not trying to be right-on or in touch with the kids: it’s just how it works.
If you were to come off stage and hadn’t enjoyed it, would you know that was the point to call time on The Prodigy?
Liam: Without a doubt.
Keith: It’s almost the benchmark. I think that Liam will forever write music because he can’t help himself…
Liam: But The Prodigy can only survive if we play live. Simple. The moment we stop doing gigs is when the band ceases to exist.
‘Warrior’s Dance’ is a real standout on ‘Invaders…’ – it harks back to the old Prodigy days without being revisionist. Have you been revisiting older records in your own collection?
Liam: Absolutely. We had the Gatecrasher gig looming and Keith suggested f*cking the album off for a minute to focus on a new tune that doesn’t even have to go on the album. We knew it had to be a banging tune that’s easy to digest on first listen. So we went into the studio and had the 20th anniversary of acid house in our heads and started listening to all that great music: Renegade Soundwave, Shut Up And Dance, all that early shit. I really loved it again.
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‘Warrior’s Dance’ (2009)
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We want to rule every festival. We think we are the most important band in the world…
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When ‘Firestarter’ got to number one it had such an impact. As a teenager living in a little market town, it felt like being vindicated and part of something bigger. When it was on Top Of The Pops it was this massive cultural thing.
Liam: Yeah, I don’t actually remember that happening again since on that level.
I think it was the last number one that caused that generational divide. People talked about it at school and work…
Liam: Yeah, and I’m glad to have been part of that if it is the case, because I can’t actually remember another record that has come out of nowhere to get like that. Not even Radio 1 would play it – they were like, ‘No way, no f*cking way’. It actually got there on the buzz of the band and street level, which doesn’t happen now.
During that time you became the certified ‘biggest band in the world’ – how did you cope with that? Is it something you’d go back to?
Liam: We never bothered about mass appeal, but with this new record we do want lots of people to hear it. It’s not like, ‘We’re f*cking back, like us’, because we don’t give a f*ck. We just want people to hear the music.
Keith: We want to rule every festival. We think we are the most important band in the world.
Liam: But what we mean by that is that everyone should think like that. If you’re in a band you should be the best and f*ck everyone else.
Keith: We really don’t like looking at the long game. I’m not sat here working out the next haircut to make me the ‘Firestarter’ again. I don’t know what that was then, but whatever it is I don’t need it now.
On a personal level, Keith, it must have been really odd being this cultural figure. I remember fancy dress parties with people attending as you and parodies on the TV.
Keith: I was really reluctant for that to be everything that it was about. The Prodigy was so much more and I felt like it was detracting from the reality of the band. The most important thing was that we were so significant in the rave scene, and I rebelled against it with that period. Reflecting on it now, it was probably harder work being the ‘Firestarter’ than I realised. But at the same time it was ridiculous and stupid and it became a parody of itself.
Stuff like the Lucozade advert at the time where the elderly chap turned into a stereotyped version of you?
Keith: Exactly. Someone said to me that that is the ultimate compliment, but I was f*cking angry about that. Not because they’re taking the piss out of me, but people think you get paid for that stuff and own the image. And somehow I’d sold that to someone… It cheapened it all. The thing is, that madness and eccentricity is 100% me. It’s not an act. It’s what the music and being in the band makes me. It’s my energy. From listening to The Jam in my bedroom as a kid to now, when I get stirred it incites something inside of me. I want to bash my head on the wall… I don’t know what else to do. If I could rip my f*cking chest open on that stage I would. It’s like, ‘F*cking hell!’ Expose my ribcage and show that this is what it does to me.
Liam: But it went really quick, too. There was no time for reflection. We were just so in it. It was a great time but we didn’t have chance to reflect on it until we started putting together the singles collection and began looking through pictures and stuff. That’s when we began to talk about it and remember all these mad stories.
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Original interview: Adam Park
Live image from Facebook
The Prodigy online. ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ is released on March 30th. See the band live as follows:
4th O2 Academy, Newcastle
5th Spa Centre, Bridlington
7th Academy, Birmingham
8th Arena, Cardiff
9th Empress Ballroom, Blackpool
11th Rivermead, Reading
12th Brighton Centre, Brighton
14th BIC, Bournemouth
15th + 16th Alexandra Palace, London
Read more Classic Clash Cover Features, with Foo Fighters, Daft Punk and Kanye West, here.