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Prodigy's in India
Everything about The Prodigy screams underground. Their music is a venomous mass of breakneck breakbeats that marries rock and rave. Experienced live, Prodigy is a hedonistic, pulsating, aural immersion. Their videos are equally outrageous. This group has done everything to avoid being conventional but conventional success has followed it like a hungry dog.
The three-man British outfit - mastermind, producer and composer Liam Howlett, the much tattooed-and-pierced dancer/vocalist Keith Flint and crowd provocateur or MC, Maxim - is up there with the most successful EDM bands in the world.
Good news for fans in India, then, that The Prodigy are headlining the inaugural Eristoff Invasion Festival this week in Bangalore and Gurgaon. Born out of the rave scene in the early '90s, they are the sole survivors of that culture, although Howlett seems unsure about being slotted as a dance music act.
"Mainstream dance music, I think people have the wrong idea, " he says over the telephone from his London studio, hours before the band left for India. "You have bands like the Black Eyed Peas who ruin it for everybody else. When you talk about proper dance music it's like a culture. It actually has some kind of credibility. We are not purists, you know. We've never been purists. We can steal and rob from other forms of music to make our music. We don't see ourselves as a dance band, we are an electronic band. Otherwise people may put us in the category of other bands we aren't like. "
The Prodigy were accused of single-handedly turning dance music from an uber-cool and subversive folk devil into a laughing stock after the release of their debut album Experience in 1992, because rave dance acts didn't release albums. Prodigy were unfazed. Their second album Music For The Jilted Generation (1994), a dark and trippy compilation, saw them move away from the 'toy techno' reputation they had earned and transform into a serious, globally popular outfit. With The Fat of the Land (1997), they briefly became the biggest band in the world: it entered the charts at No. 1 in 23 countries. Suddenly they were headlining festivals usually reserved for rock's glitterati.
Singles like Firestarter and Smack my bitch up became global anthems, but fame brought controversy. The National Organisation for Women protested that Smack my... was offensive to women. They weren't the only ones complaining. At the Reading Festival in 1998, Prodigy got into a war of words with the Beastie Boys, a band they admired, because the Boys tried to dissuade Howlett from playing the song. Adding insult to injury, Maxim opened the gig with the declaration, "They didn't want us to play this fucking tune. But the way things go, I do what the fuck I want. "
Howlett, now 39, recalls the incident with a chuckle. "First of all, Americans aren't very good at getting a play on words. I find it quite ignorant that they would automatically assume that the title meant that we were advocating violence against women, which is absolute nonsense. It's a hip-hop slang and we took it as that. It's a sample from an Ultramagnetic MCs' track, Give The Drummer Some and it means laying down something aggressively. It's a play on words, " he repeats. "The thing that angered me was them ringing me up at home late at night and telling me what I can do and cannot do. The crowd was with us and not with them. The Beastie Boys had their time and now they're too old. We'll be too old next year but not right now. "
After the high of the Fat of the Land, came the rock bottom moment that every band fears. Howlett, who is ensconced behind his keyboard at every concert, content to let Flint and Maxim take charge of the crowd, is honest about why the debacle of Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (2004) was the kick they needed to sort their heads and music out.
"To be honest it was a low point for us because we had just come off a massive album, " he says. "And any band that has been lucky enough to have a big album knows how hard it is to follow up with another hit. The record company wanted us to repeat ourselves and do another album like that. Keith and Maxim are like my brothers, and sometime family members fall out. The band never split up, we just stopped communicating. I just decided to make a record I wanted to make and that really gave me breathing space. It had to be done. We had to just go out and regroup. It's an album I really like, actually. It gave me an opportunity to do something a bit different and also gave the band a bit of a break that we needed. We came back with a singles album that did really well and it gave us the young audience back in England. And then we followed up with a real, solid burst of energy in the Invaders Must Die album, which we are still on. "
Invaders Must Die (2009) is, in a sense, the perfect follow-up to the Fat of the Land. With a sound that made The Prodigy the hit they are today, their latest offering is a melodic assortment of oldschool rave with punk and a heavy rock slant. Was it a conscious decision to go back to that sound?
"We've never been hung up on trying to find a new sound, " says Howlett. "It has always happened naturally. Even when we did Firestarter, it was new. It was just about being inspired by our surroundings. With Invaders, we wanted to recement what we are good at. Some of that entailed an oldschool sound that we created really in the early '90s. We didn't want to make an old-school record but to have elements of it in a fresh setting. Once we played these tracks live, that's when they came alive. We knew that straightaway as soon as we played these new songs, specifically, Omen, Warrior's dance, Take me to the hospital, Invaders must die alongside some of the old songs. They sound fresh, edgy and exciting. It just works. "
The band will headline the Eristoff Invasion festival in Gurgaon today
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