TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Controversial British dance band The Prodigy, who came to fame with hits such as “Firestarter” and “Breathe” a decade ago, are back with a new album which draws on the group’s techno-rave roots.
Known for their incendiary lyrics and dark videos, the band’s fame peaked with the 1997 multi-platinum album “The Fat of the Land,” featuring the notorious track “Smack My Bitch Up.”
The song was banned by some radio stations while TV pulled the plug on its video, which showed strip clubs and drug use, but this has not stopped the group from becoming the biggest-selling dance band of all time with record sales nearing 20 million.
The Prodigy’s three core members -- Liam Howlett, Keith Flint and Maxim Reality -- spoke to Reuters after a one-off performance in Tokyo to launch their fifth studio album “Invaders Must Die:”
Q: The Prodigy are used to playing huge arenas. What was it like playing an intimate Tokyo venue?
Howlett: “We just came from Australia where we did the ”Big Day Out“ festival in front of about 20,000 people. We love both.”
Flint: “We played an old U-Boat factory in East Germany once and that was massive -- 35,000 people. Nowadays you can be reached in any context on the Internet -- private life, the music, imagery, anything. But exclusivity comes in being able to see a band and almost be able to touch it. It’s the last domain of reality, to bring it back down to those intimate environments. What I like about Japanese venues is that the front barrier is right up against the stage, so when you’re bending over, they’re right there in front of you. In some European festivals, they’re so paranoid, you need a taxi to go and touch the crowd!”
Q: Liam, you made the album “Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned” without Keith and Maxim in 2004. “Invaders” is proper ‘old school’ Prodigy. How did the new album come about?
Howlett: “We didn’t want any rules. We’re quite primal. We had a few different producers come in, just for a bit of inspiration because we didn’t want to go back to the old ways. But we ended up getting frustrated, going full circle and going ... we’re going to do this ourselves!’ And that’s what we did.”
Maxim: “We realized the old way was the way.”
Howlett: “We feel confident of where we’re from. The British rave culture is an important element of our history, so we feel comfortable making a record that is 100 percent what we’re about. At the same time we didn’t want to write a retro record.”
Q: You’re no strangers to controversy. You had a bust-up with the Beastie Boys after they asked you not to perform “Smack My Bitch Up” at the Reading festival in 1998. How do you feel about the storm that track triggered?
Maxim: “I was into the Beastie Boys like you wouldn’t believe. They were tough. But when they had naked woman on their stage, and... then to come to try to preach to us...”
Howlett: “I made that track out of a love of old school hip hop. If people know about hip hop, they know street slang is used. Maybe a lot of white, straight people were like ‘Oh, my God! Smack women up!’ but in hip hop street slang can mean something else and get misunderstood. To use street slang is no different to throwing the beat down, throwing the tune down.”
Q: And the X-rated video?
Howlett: “The controversy happened when the album hit, not when the single came out (later). We were like, ‘You idiots! Now we’ll show you what insulting is’ -- so we made the video to have a laugh. The initial song wasn’t made to insult people. It was made with the hip hop ethic in mind. But whenever people ask us about the video, it’s meant to be insulting. If you’re insulted, it works. But whenever people talk about Prodigy videos they always say ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ was their favorite.”
Q: You did enjoy the ‘shock factor’ though?
Flint: ”I remember once in the Guardian (newspaper) there was a picture of me dribbling and it said ‘What would you do if your daughter brought THIS home?’ (Laughing) That’s the idea!
Howlett: “Keith wouldn’t even get through the front door.”
Q: Reviews of the new album have been largely positive. Do you see yourselves reaching the top of the dance scene again?
Maxim: “I don’t know. The beauty of being in this band is that people leave me alone when I walk down the street because they think I‘m ... mad. But I‘m not. I like it. Just expect the unexpected.”
Editing by Miral Fahmy