Published Feb 01, 2000The rise and rise of the Prodigy, aka Liam Howlett, rode the crest of the tsunami wave of techno rushing from cult phenomenon to global language. His production of breakbeat standards built in intensity from 1990's kiddie-show sampling "Charly" and 1994's malicious "Poison" until the general public could not help but be engulfed by 1996's incendiary smash "Firestarter."
The Prodigy's subsequent album, 1997'sThe Fat Of The Land , was a worldwide number one, launching Liam and his group on an exhausting two year tour. But when he finished gigging, it wasn't a vacation he wanted, it was time to play in his new home studio, nastily dubbed the Dirtchamber. An offer from Radio One's Mary Anne Hobbs to make a DJ mix for broadcast on her "Breezeblock" show gave him the perfect opportunity to test out his new recording gear, while at the same time retracing the musical steps he took from teenage b-boy DJ to hit producer.
The resulting Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One is not only surprising for its musical range, matching beats from '70s rare grooves, '80s electro and hip-hop, with punk, rock and '90s tunes, but for the fact that Liam actually mixes. With bits and breaks from 50 cuts crammed into nine tracks, this isn't the usual neatly indexed, digitally edited "DJ mix" being marketed these days.
"To be honest, that is the reason I did this album," Howlett says from his home in the Essex countryside, "because it is a complete waste of time and it rips people off to call the producers who use digital editing to make these mixes, DJs. It is taking away from the original skill of it. I'm not claiming to be a master of any particular style, but at least I have a knowledge about it and I know from coming up through the party scene rather than clubs, that this style of DJing is what it was all about."
Last year, Howlett publicly criticised house DJs for losing the slamming style of the hip-hop cut creators, and with the Dirtchamber Sessions he backs up his argument. Back in the day, Howlett was a budding DJ, collecting breaks and white labels to build a set that caught the attention of the Cut To Kill hip-hop crew, with whom he worked from 1986 to '89. At one point, he entered two tapes in a mix contest on Mike Allen's "Capital Radio" show and won first and third. Each of the tracks on this new CD feature creative mixes - in one instance sliding easily from the hard funk grooves of Bomb The Bass's "Bug Powder Dust" to the old skool breaks of Grandmaster Flash's "Pump Me Up," while layering in the melodic voice/guitar hooks from the Charlatan's "How High." Soon the beats of Renegade Soundwave's "Cocaine Sex" trade places with Flash, but not for long because Liam's ready to drop the Prodigy's "Poison." Next in line are cuts from Jane's Addiction and KRS One.
"This project was about the physical thing of getting 100 records on the floor and playing them back to back. It wasn't about rediscovering my roots, because I don't actually listen to dance music, I listen to hip-hop records. That is where I get my inspiration from. Even though I don't write hip-hop music, I draw from the attitude and the buzz of the whole thing. It made me smile to place an original '70s break on a Barry White record, one that has often been sampled, next to the Beastie Boys' 'Time To Get Ill.'"
Liam speculates that this work with the rare grooves may pay off with a new, funkier Prodigy on the next album, which he's just beginning to work on. But the inclusion of the Sex Pistol's "New York" amongst this block rockin' sequence of his fave tunes demonstrates that he won't be losing any of his punkish attitude.
"Lydon was basically telling them 'If you aren't from England, you aren't feeling what it is about.' To me, that track represents America not having a clue about the punk scene. I sometimes laugh at the irony in the fact that America always produces good music, but it doesn't know what to do with it. For example, this big beat sound has come from the inspiration of American '80s hip-hop, but we're the people who have sold it back to them. And this whole electronic music thing that came up - what bands have come out of America to represent their side of it? Only bands that sound like they're imitations of Chemical Brothers, Prodigy and Underworld. It seems like that is the mirror image of what happened with the '70s punk thing, for me.
"Even the new ska scene, what is that about? I grew up on the Specials - I loved that band. Now I hear what Americans call ska and it is so fucking watered down that it is an insult. It actually annoys me to think that this has anything to do with that music. I could go on forever about it. I love playing in America, but some of my views are a bit strong sometimes and I could shut up."
This isn't about rediscovering my roots, because I don't listen to dance music.