Liam Howlett certainly has not mellowed with age. The 43-year old composer and keyboard visionary behind British electro- dance rock pioneers The Prodigy does not suffer fools, gladly or otherwise – such a reporter asking a seemingly innocent question about the band’s signature tune, “Smack My Bitch Up,” from their 1997 landmark album The Fat of the Land. The song aroused a tsunami of protest over its lyrics seemingly promoting violence against women, but didn’t prevent it from becoming a huge hit or a staple in the band’s shows.
Any regrets about that now, Liam? “Don’t ask stupid questions, why would I regret it?” wrote Howlett in a recent email exchange with The Jerusalem Post. “It’s one of the best videos ever made, many have tried to copy it.
‘Smack My Bitch Up’ is our live anthem.”
Israeli audiences will be able to judge whether Howlett’s boast is accurate as the band returns to Tel Aviv on May 29 for the first time since three shows in their 1997 heyday. The Pepsi Max Music project dance party under the sky at the Tel Aviv is will be part of a 40-date tour this summer which will see the band perform at some of Europe’s top outdoor festivals.
Combining punk roots and rave with breakbeat techno smarts, samples and rock showmanship, Howlett and his fellow music makers Keith Flint (dancer and vocalist) and MC Maxim have stood at the forefront of electronic dance music for two decades.
“The first music I listened to was The Specials and a lot of that two-tone ska punk,” said Howlett of his musical upbringing in Essex and its evolution into The Prodigy. “Then I really got into hip hop culture and bands Public Enemy and the Ultramagnetic MCs.
Around that time, I bought some turntables and was DJ in a hip hop band.
Then when the UK rave scene kicked off in 1989, that blew my mind and I started writing music that was inspired by hip hop and UK rave music with a punk rock spirit behind it.”
Despite a multi-year lull a decade ago, the band roared back in 2009 with Invaders Must Die, which hearkened back to their volatile early albums in the 1990s. Howlett attributed the fiveyear hiatus to too much togetherness.
“We needed a break, we had been on tour for many years nonstop,” he said. “I think we fell out for a while, we are like brothers so it’s normal. Then in the end, it was the music that brought us back together. Whatever happened was meant to happen because we are still here writing big tunes and playing big gigs.”
Maintaining his bravado, Howlett scoffed at a question about whether there was any apprehension of The Prodigy being left behind by younger, more innovative artists building the band’s original vision into something even fresher.
“Of course not. The Prodigy are a band that always does its own thing,” said Howlett. “With Invaders Must Die, we had no catchup to play. If anything, we woke people up again because since we took off, there wasn’t anyone to replace us. But you see, you can’t come back unless you have the tunes and we came out of nowhere straight back to number one.”
With the band now recording a follow- up, Howlett said that there’s no reason to think that The Prodigy will be going south anytime soon. And in fact, he’s enjoying holding “elder statesman” title in the electronic punk/hip hop school of rock.
“It feels great. We will f*** off when the people don’t want us anymore.”