“I don’t see any rebels here”: The Prodigy rip into sell-outs and formula music

Back in the ‘90s, The Prodigy were the first act to bridge the gap between dance music fans and their alternative-rock brethren: Liam Howlett’s intense, head-slamming production; the onstage punk rock menace of vocalists Keith Flint and Maxim; the whole band’s paranoid, industrial aesthetic; and the fact that the tracks were just so insanely catchy…it all worked to make the Essex three-piece one of the biggest electronic acts of all time.

It’s been 24 years since The Prodigy played their first gigs and they’re up to their sixth studio album (out on 30 March), but the trio has lost none of their intensity, either onstage or off. Playing the Futuredome stage’s closing set at Future Music Festival Sydney, they dominated the stage with intensity unrivalled by any other act (save, maybe, Die Antwoord), with Keith and Maxim spitting water into the crowd and thrashing around the stage like a two man Wall of Death. Off stage, the heavily tattooed trio were (slightly) less menacing but no less intense, and very happy to wax lyrical about what’s pissing them off about today’s electronic music: namely sell-outs, pop music and the lack of real rebels…

It’s been six years since the last album – at what point did you decide it was time to start writing this new one?

Liam: Last month. Yeah, I’m really quick these days.

Keith: I suppose the set needed a few new tracks, so we went through a point where we were just writing tracks to freshen up the set for ourselves and for the fans. The tracks are always firstly written for the stage, and then when it comes to the stage of looking at an album, you put a little more focus on those tracks and whether they’re keepers or not. We’d spent so much time living with them that to us they felt like quite old tracks. That probably made them…uh…not make the album.

Liam: Basically, there were maybe six tracks we just binned, because when we started writing new stuff, those tracks felt like they were part of the first wave of the album. The album just wasn’t ready to be written at that stage. This album’s a reaction to what’s going on around us in the last year and a half. It can’t get written unless it’s real – we’re not a record company band who says, ‘it’s time for the album, do it now’. It just wasn’t ever going to happen like that, it had to happen when it was ready, to react. It’s a reaction to the music that’s around us, to what’s happening in the band, and it just got written last year really.

You’ve spoken before about how this album is a reaction to electronic music entering the mainstream, and there being a lack of rebels…

Liam: Yeah, it’s the ying and the yang, man. Electronic music’s been hijacked by pop music, and if you’ve got that end you’ve got to have the other end, which is us.

Do you think there are any other rebels out there in dance music right now?

Liam: I don’t there’s any here today, I haven’t seen any. But I’ll keep my eye out for some. Hopefully in the crowd there’ll be some, I reckon.

Do you feel like the fact that electronic music has entered the mainstream has changed what fans want from you guys?

Maxim: It’s like Liam says, there’s the ying and the yang. But there’s always going to be an alternative side to electronic music, a certain amount of people who want to hear hard-edged music, which is where we come in. As popular as dance music gets, not everybody’s going to be into that pop side, there’ll always be people who want something with a bit more energy, more dirty, more real.

Keith: Being a band in the electronic scene, that’s allowed us to not ever rely upon DJs or radio station, our crowd out there will be made up of a percentage of all the other crowds, including our hardcore fans, and that’s always been the case for us. There’s probably not enough hard edged music out there right now – everyone’s writing to a demographic, to get played on radio and music channels, whereas we’ve never had to do that, our fan base is so strong and the way the music comes alive on the stage, that’s allowed us to be who we are more than ever.

Maxim: I think a lot of musicians try to take the easy way out when it comes to writing music, the way the state of music is, a lot of people write formula-music. It’s almost like selling themselves out, selling themselves short. If you look at certain artists in the past who wrote hard-edged music, they’ve softened their style just to get into the mainstream and sell their music. Some people stay true to what they believe in, some people sell out.

Future Music Festival 2015 dates

Sat 7 Mar – Doomben Racecourse, Brisbane (18+)

Sun 8 Mar – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne (18+)

Mon 9 Mar – Adelaide Showground, Adelaide (15+)