Keith Flint of The Prodigy: ‘We’d rather be like explorers and go off the beaten path’
The Prodigy’s seventh studio album, No Tourists, is so titled with good reason. Filled with ominous synthesiser riffs and pounding programmed drumbeats, it’s as uncompromising a record as the techno-rock trio have released in the past 28 years.
“I think that it’s a really natural process,” says Keith Flint, the band’s co-vocalist and dancer, in considerably mellower Essex tones than the hell-raising figure he once portrayed in the video for The Prodigy’s 1997 Number One, Firestarter. “You get a couple of trigger songs to start with that tend to lead the way. But everything is written for stage and the venom and the fire that you feel and hear in the music is because essentially it’s always going to end up on stage.
“I think that we try to be uncompromising anyway because we’re not a formulaic band. Our end result isn’t the radio, it’s the stage, so that gives us the freedom to be who we are, really.
“It is pretty full-on,” he concedes, “but I think that’s what we love. Essentially that is The Prodigy, really.”
As for the album’s title, he says: “No Tourists is very much about not being on the pre-written route, like a package tour where you know when you’re going to eat, you know where you’re going to go and it’s a complete safety net, really. We’d rather be like explorers and adventurers and go off the beaten path and find out more about what’s going on. Eating with the locals and going to clubs where the locals go rather than going to the tourist destinations. In a messed-up kind of summary that’s what that’s about.”
Flint admits there are echoes of the band’s roots in the rave scene in the early 1990s. “There’s definitely flavours of albums past [but] I don’t think it’s a throwback; we’re always looking forward and always trying to move forward in the production and the way it sounds, not making a repeat of what we’ve done before.
“But Liam [Howlett, the band’s keyboard player and producer] owns those sounds, he produced them and he was a massive part of making that sound and what was happening at the time.
“I think you should never be frightened to use what you’re about in your music. I think it’s for pop stars to do that reinvention thing.
“Our fans and people that come to the shows come for a reason, they know what to expect, that sonic onslaught, but I’ve often said to Liam, ‘You own that sound and never be frightened of using it’. That doesn’t mean he should necessarily regurgitate it, it just means you can’t be frightened of who you are.
“You can only listen to [your own] music as you listen as a fan of other bands. Just because you’re in the music industry doesn’t mean you’re not a fan of other bands. Rage Against The Machine, OK they’re not together any more, but when I was expecting new albums from them if they’d turned up with a folk album I would’ve been devastated. You can only expect that the people that are into your band would feel the same. You can only treat your own music as you’d look upon bands and people that you’re into.”
Now aged 49, Flint looks back on those illegal raves with nostalgia. “It was an amazing time, there was a lot about it that was special. It had a lawless aspect, nobody really knew what it was or where it came from. You did feel you were out there doing something very special at weekends, the unity that it brought, the music and the DJs. It was like a proper youth culture.
“I think the beauty of that time then was the lack of mobile phones. You couldn’t just go on YouTube and see what perception or energy or biology or telepathy there was, you couldn’t just YouTube it and see what it was about; you could only find it by knowing where to go and discovering it for yourself. As much as the internet gives you a different was of finding stuff, that [secrecy] gave it a unique quality and it couldn’t be replicated. I feel very fortunate that I was a part of that genuine thing. Hey, maybe it’s not for everyone but for me it was a very special time.”
The Redbridge-born performer firmly rejects the idea that this album was in any way influenced by the tumultuous political climate of the last couple of years. “For me personally I know nothing about politics,” he says frankly. “If you fired some political terminology at me I wouldn’t understand it, that’s for sure. There’s no room for us as a band to bring any politics into our music because it’s a release for people.
“We want people to come to the shows because ultimately that’s where the music becomes 3D, live, and not have them thinking about if there’s a political statement or the stance of this track, what it’s trying to say, other than the unity of the crowd. Everyone wants to unite and ignite and have a bit of a riot and for it to be euphoric.
“I don’t personally get on with people that become a politician because they have a few hits records. I’m sure there’s loads of people that have done good through people having awareness and then being able to use their platform to get a message across but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that myself. I think focusing in on playing to people and knowing that you’ve been around the world [is enough].
“We’ve always prided ourselves in the fact that if a country asks us to go we go. Back in the day we went to Bosnia just as the war was finishing, being the first [band] from outside the country performing there in seven years there’s something good about that. Going and igniting a field full of people is a really good thing. That’s as far as that goes with us.”
Howlett has described No Tourists as “very much a band album”. Flint says the way he, Howlett and Maxim – real name Keith Palmer – has changed over every album. “The process in its carcass is always the same,” he says. “It is hard work to write an album and it sort of starts clipping your wings a bit as far as touring is concerned. Because we love playing and we got at it pretty hard, it means the old album has had a lot of miles on the road so you’re getting excited for the new material to go on stage but you know the writing process and creating an album is not an easy thing and it puts you in this intense environment. It’s hell but it’s exciting. It always changes. We haven’t found a way that has ever made it easy.
“But this particular time was very breezy, to be fair. Liam would say, ‘Right, I’m off to do something with this track’. He set up a little studio in Russia when we were touring there so we could just hop into his room where he had this [set up] and we could do a few bits there. We recorded some vocals on tour in Belgium and that switched it up and made it really easy. But then to be quite honest doing some of those bits on tour in the mode of playing live helped bleach across into some of the recording and that was exciting.
“Liam was going back after the gigs and getting straight on some of the tracks because he’d come off stage and had more of a sense of how he wanted it to be and wanted it needed to sound like, so I think we really sucked more off the live thing in a direct way this time round.”
After nearly three decades of The Prodigy Flint feels proud of their unique place in British music. “It’s funny,” he says, “when you’re actually in it you don’t look back. Sometimes somebody will mention a tour and ‘do you remember when this happened?’ and that’s a little trigger point for some other little stories that were happening around that time then you start to reflect back, but I think we’ve always looked forward.
“It’s really hard to look back but I think we’re proud of keeping our integrity and keeping who we are and not losing our way within any part of the process. We’re just very lucky. I think that the touring and the fact that we’re always on the road does keep you in the right mindset and keeps the energy up. Loving it and being so dedicated to it just keeps us rocking on, really.”
No Tourists is out now. The Prodigy play at First Direct Arena, Leeds on November 13. theprodigy.com