Synergy Live: The Prodigy’s Liam Howlett on SA, Skrillex and *that* remix album

Uncompromisingly underground electronic dance warlocks The Prodigy return to South Africa to headline the hundred acts performing at the fourth annual Synergy Live festival, now at Theewaterskloof.

This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 11/18.

Prodigy plays at South African music festival Synergy Live 2012

Serbia in September, at Kalemegdanska Fortress, Belgrade. It’s the Warriors Dance Festival, with Skrillex warming up a maniacally happy crowd for the band that helped invent his genre, and dreamed up the whole damned party. So, you either read that sentence marveling at the idea of Skrillex as a warm up, or you’re wondering why modern musicians don’t have nice names. Blame Liam Howlett, at least in part. Co-founder and producer of The Prodigy, the band that force-fed punk-rock to the fluffy cloud of ’90s rave. Also the husband of Natalie Appleton, British media darling ever since All Saints. Her sister is Nicole Appleton, making Howlett and Oasis main-man Liam Gallagher brothers-in-law. But there’s nothing about that in this interview. This is about hard music and hard dancing. Or, as Howlett would add in his Essex-born lilt, “Y’knowhat I mean?”
“Did I think we’d get this far when I started it all in 1990? ‘course I did,” Howlett says, then laughs. “Nah, ‘course I didn’t. But, to be honest, I didn’t really care. I was more about, ‘Wow, this is happening now’. You don’t think about a career when you’re doing your job; you just do it. I’m not a planner, y’knowhat I mean? I just get on with it. If you look at the future too much, you take your eye off the ball of what you’re supposed to be doing. As time went; when we first got a record deal when we started doing the shows; when we did the first album, then I started thinking, ‘Okay, this is going to work’.”
In a twenty-two year career with many highlights – amongst them Brit Awards, Grammy nominations, being twice crowned ‘Best British Dance Act’, and five MTV Europe Awards – it is the Warrior Festival that The Prodigy hold as their personal pinnacle. The first was in 2009 at Makuhari Messe, Tokyo, and then, before Belgrade, at Milton Keynes in 2010 – a show recorded for their impressive “Worlds On Fire” album and film. “It’s the only time I’ve felt nervous at a gig,” says Howlett. “We’ve been at bigger shows; festivals with 200 000 people and stuff like that, and I never get nervous on stage. But I walked out there and I thought, ‘Fuck, all these people are here for us!’ It really meant so much. I thought we’d already had the pinnacle back in the ’90s, and it didn’t feel like we were a band on some awful ‘comeback tour’ because we never went away. But standing there in the Milton Keynes Bowl, that was amazing.”
Beyond the genre-bending change the merciless sound the band wrought on the ’90s dance scene and, thence, on to wider radio and television audience, The Prodigy, have remained resolutely committed to the roots of their audience appeal. Witness comments on an internet forum, with fans signing a petition to remove an album of modern remixes – notably, dubstep ones – of the band’s commercial hits. “I don’t want those remixes either,” Howlett growls. “I wouldn’t have put that out in the first place. It had nothing to do with me, and we didn’t do any interviews or anything for it. I’m still friends with the people at XL Recordings, our old record label, but I didn’t like it. Put out an album ‘cos it was some 15 year anniversary or something? That’s a record company statement, not the type of thing we do. I don’t get too involved in reading forums – I used to read all the press about us years ago, but not anymore. But the fans don’t need to worry. I’m with them on stuff like that, really. We know where we’re going…”
Which takes us back to Kalemegdanska. Skrillex has 20 000 bodies jerking and 40 000 fists in the air. What does Howlett think about the new sounds and trends in electronic dance music, and does it affect what he creates for The Prodigy? “I never worry about it,” says Howlett. “Remember, it’s happened all the way along through our career. It’s not like I’m an alien who’s landed on the moon, trying to understand things. Skrillex became friends with us when he first came out. He basically looked up to us. He likes the old school, and we like what he does.”
“Whenever I go into writing a new album, like “Invaders Must Die” (2008), and like the new tunes now; with The Prodigy, people know what they’re going to get. If there’s a… what’s a good example..? If there’s a new Rage Against The Machine album, you don’t want them to go off all jazzy, or lost in some soft trip. I expect good songs from what they’re about. Me, I’ll rape anything to get our music going – it might be something from the ’70s or the ’80s or dubstep or funk; whatever it is to make a good sound. I don’t get hung up on whatever is happening now. We’ll never lose the old school roots and beats, and everybody will be happy to know that. I write electronic music the way I was in a punk band. It’s got to happen quick, not take six or seven minutes to build up. It’s got to hit hard, and that’s what we’re bringing to South Africa. We’re really stoked to be coming back and we can’t believe we haven’t been back in so long. Hopefully, we’ve still got fans, and you can believe we’ll be coming with the fire.”
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The Prodigy play at Synergy Live, which runs from Friday 30 November (11am) to Sunday 2 December (3pm) alongside 100 South African and global bands, DJs and comedians across four stages. The bill includes Beast, The Narrow, The Plastics, Jack Parow, Prime Circle, Shadowclub, Van Coke Kartel, Thibo Tazz, Haezer, Killer Robot, Audiophile021 and two days of up and coming bands curated by YourLMG, including Trenton and Free Radical, Yes Sir Mr Machine, Bone Collectors, Wild Eastern Arches and the winner of the YourLMG band search. The Comedy stage features Martin Evans. Rob van Vuuren, Siv Ngesi and Anne Hirsch, amongst others and other attractions include watersports on the dam, a cinema tent, an expanded funfair, traders market and an improved food market (Theewaterskloof Dam; weekend pass R520 from WebTickets.com; see SynergyLive.co.za; hotline  021-7947087). More on TheProdigy.com.

This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 11/18.
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