“I felt like electronic music needs to have the other end, and it’s our responsibility to write the rebel soundtrack. It’s what we do.”
Recently seen here at the Future Music Festival, The Prodigy have released a new album, The Day Is My Enemy, which debuted at #1 n the UK charts last week. AUGUSTUS WELBY speaks with songwriter, Liam Howlett.
Without even listening to The Prodigy’s new album, its vicious intentions are made clear.
First there’s the resentful title The Day Is My Enemy; then there’s the cover image, featuring a poised red fox. Yet, even these foreboding signifiers can’t prepare you for the anger that erupts upon pressing play.
“I wouldn’t say it’s dark,” says lead songwriter and producer, Liam Howlett. “But it feels really pushy and violent. It felt necessary for it to be like this. I don’t really know why it came out so much like that, but it steered itself, really.”
The UK electronic genre-hoppers have long been a lock-up-your-daughters kind of act. The band’s third album, 1997’s The Fat Of The Land, brought Keith Flint’s vocals to the fore, which injected spikes of fiery rage. This time around, however, anger dominates like never before.
“I don’t consider myself an angry person. I don’t sit there getting angry about things I want to put into songs,” Howlett says. “But electronic music at the moment seems to have been hijacked by pop music all around the world. It’s got more and more commercial, more and more shit as time’s gone on. I felt like electronic music needs to have the other end, and it’s our responsibility to write the rebel soundtrack. It’s what we do.”
The Day Is My Enemy comes five years after The Prodigy’s last LP, Invaders Must Die. Although Flint and co-vocalist MC Maxim have been present since The Prodigy started, initially it was just Howlett on the recordings. These days, there’s no questioning The Prodigy’s a band – anyone who caught them headlining this year’s Future Music Festival can testify to this. Nevertheless, Howlett still assumes creative responsibility. As you might predict, this can provoke imbalance within the group.
“Because I write the tunes, I sometimes forget how frustrating it is for the guys to be waiting for it to happen,” Howlett says. “Throughout 2012, we thought we had an album called How To Steal A Jetfighter. Those tracks, I listened to them and thought, ‘These aren’t that good. I can do better than this.’ So I threw them all in the bin, told the guys and they were like, ‘OK, what have you got instead?’ I’m like, ‘Nothing.’ So that was a bad time.”
Within any band, conflicts are bound to crop up here and there. Of course, internal tension is never pleasant to deal with, but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided at all costs. To illustrate: as far as Howlett’s concerned, The Day Is My Enemy wouldn’t possess such power if it weren’t for certain niggles between himself and Flint.
“It was all written at the end of 2013 and last year,” he says. “The tensions between me and Keith – we’re fine now because the music has reunited us – but that whole fucking time was quite intense. So there’s a bit of that in there. You can’t expect friends and business things to always be smooth. Me and Keith are intense people. Maxim’s very laid back. Keith’s a real motherfucker; he does not do anything he doesn’t want to do. But ultimately he really supports me and our band.”
After eclipsing the confines of the UK rave scene, The Fat Of The Land turned The Prodigy into international chart-toppers. As mentioned earlier, this record saw Flint promoted to frontman. Curiously, The Prodigy’s following release, 2004’s Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, featured zero input from Flint or Maxim. However, when Invaders Must Die came around, Flint was back in the spotlight, backed by Maxim, which earmarked it as the long-awaited Fat follow-up. This configuration persists on The Day Is My Enemy.
“We’ve almost been working towards this album for the last 10 years,” Howlett says. “Invaders Must Die felt like it was a quite celebratory sort of album. The tracks from it that we liked playing live, like Take Me To The Hospital and the more vocal tracks, that was the starting point for making this record and making it the most ‘band’ record we could.”
The Day Is My Enemy isn’t entirely devoid of guests. On the title track, trip hop alumnus Martina Topley Bird interpolates Ella Fitzgerald’s All Through The Night. The record’s standout track is Ibiza – a scathing criticism of lazy EDM DJs, which features vocals from Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson.
“The Ibiza thing is an observation that I needed to put into a song because someone has to say something about it,” says Howlett. “It just so happens that Jason felt the same. DJs run the electronic music scene, we’re an electronic band and it’s our right to talk about it. And for us, it’s a good, venomous, fun subject to write lyrics about.”
Sleaford Mods are skilled at utilising bitterness and disgust to form amusing social commentaries. The Prodigy, similarly, excel at harnessing anger to stir up uninhibited primal energy. Yes, The Day Is My Enemy does have an angry heart, but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.
“That’s so important,” Howlett says. “That’s one of the reasons I’m not really into metal, because it doesn’t seem to have a certain comfortable-ness with itself. It’s not that it’s taking the piss out of itself, but it’s got a knowing wink, with a punch at the same time – that’s how I like my music to come across.”