The Prodigy are back - we talk to Liam Howlett ahead of Birmingham gig
He’s a rocker. And he’s a roller. He’s a punk and he’s a mod. The Prodigy’s Liam Howlett has already secured his legacy as one of the most important figures in electronic music. But he burns like one of Jack Kerouac’s fabulous Roman candles as he continues to push at the boundaries.
The songwriter, record producer, musician and occasional DJ is 47-years-old but with the energy and drive of a man half that age. And having changed the game for electronic music in Britain, the creator of Firestarter and Smack My Bitch Up who propelled dance music into stadiums is back for more.
Not content with selling 30 million albums and being an icon to the rave generation, Liam is back with the band’s first new album since 2015’s brilliant The Day Is My Enemy. The new album, No Tourists, was released last week.
No Tourists was prefaced by the explosive single Light Up The Sky, which illuminated the urgency and danger that has continually defined The Prodigy throughout their career. An attack of acid rock in which guitars combine with 303 mayhem, Maxim’s spitting vocal and an uplifting chorus from long-time contributor Brother Culture, characterised an album that takes listeners on a journey through the twisted, party-hard psych of a band that has resolutely followed their own route through the underbelly of popular culture since day one. It’s every inch a Prodigy record and it’s their most direct, concise and pure statement yet.
The Prodigy, after all, have never taken the lazy tourist route. They dominated the illegal rave scene, challenged anti-rave legislation and redefined the whole idea of what a band should be like. They brought UK electronic music to the US heartland, turning metal kids onto raving and ravers into metalheads . . . effectively reaching global audiences without compromise: see six number one albums, 30 million record sales, and multiple honours (two Brits, two Kerrang! awards, five MTV awards, two Grammy nominations).
“No Tourists is ultimately about escapism and the want and need to be derailed and not to follow that easy set path,” explains Liam from his North London studio. “In these times we live in people have become lazier and forgotten how to explore. Too many people are allowing themselves to be force fed, with whatever that may be. It’s about reaching out further to find another alternative route where the danger and excitement may be to feel more alive . . . not accepting that you can just be a tourist. That’s what the title is about for us.”
Liam planned to take a break following the band’s last album to allow himself to recharge – inevitably, it didn’t last long and soon he’d written six or seven tracks.
“I’d stay awake for a couple of days and mess with sleep to put my mind in a different zone to see what would happen. To find the ultimate time for ideas and work, I ended up getting a good zone going and carrying on. Even at the gigs, I was joining the dots and coming off stage and going to the closest hotels and just carrying on. That moment when you come off stage is a moment of pure clarity, I could tell what needed to be done.
“The Day Is My Enemy was just working at night. This was working in the day and in the night, with no sleep sometime.”
Time has become a blur in recent years as The Prodigy have enjoyed a remarkable renaissance. Their 2009 album Invaders Must Die was a double platinum, number one hit while The Day Is My Enemy also went to number one.
“When you’re in it, you don’t really know what’s going on. Time doesn’t mean anything. You’re working and your head’s in the right space. Time doesn’t exist. Some days I came in here, I turned the computer on – I hate sitting at a computer, that’s what an accountant does – I just like to turn the volume up and play. One day, I got up at 9am in the morning but it was actually 8pm at night, I was in a different zone. That’s where you can’t stop. At the end of the record, I just sat down and had a sleep. I went to Italy and laid by the pool for a while.”
Liam is looking forward to being back on the road and presenting a set that combines the best of the old with a bunch of new songs.