Whatever musical fashion has been taking Britain by storm during the past 25 years, The Prodigy have been there in the background.
The Essex band has never wholly belonged to any genre. Whether it was the emergent rave scene at the start of the Nineties, Britpop later in the decade through to more recent dubstep and EDM - they were lurking, all the time selling millions of records and just as many tickets for their incendiary live shows.
Now, they’re back with their sixth album, The Day Is My Enemy, perhaps they’re angriest collection yet, and certainly their best since 1997’s 10-million-selling Firestarter-spawning The Fat Of The Land.
“It’s always a nice feeling to finish a record you’re happy with and take it on the road,” says the band’s founder and main creator Liam Howlett.
When we speak, The Prodigy are getting ready to take the new album to Australia for a string of shows, before returning for a UK tour.
“This new album’s just the next onslaught, really,” he says of The Day Is My Enemy. “It’s more violent sounding, and the reason that is, is it’s a reaction to what’s going on out there,” he says, gesturing outside. “Musically, culturally, everything...”
The thing that really seems to have upset him and bandmate Maxim is electronic dance music, or EDM as it’s more commonly known. They’re particularly upset at the likes of David Guetta and deadmau5 - although they stop short of naming names - hijacking the genre they loved so much and turning it into a commercial enterprise.
The sentiment’s perhaps best summed up on new track Ibiza, which features Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods on vocals, berating the superstar DJ culture.
“It’s a sarcastic take, and it’s not an attack on the country or the island,” he says, “but unfortunately, Ibiza is where most of the lazy DJing takes place. They know who they are. They turn up and do minimal work, really taking the p*** out of the public, just playing pre-mixed sets for all that money.
“The track’s what I call a wink and a punch at the same time. It has that wit about it, but impact too - at the end of the summer, everyone will be singing it.”
“Electronic music has turned into pop music, and pop music has hijacked dance music,” adds man-of-few-words Maxim, now 48. “That’s why it’s important for us to make a record like the one we have. There are a lot of people out there waiting for some noise. They have been bombarded with safeness, plainness and dullness. And we’re fighting that wave, and the people are waiting for us to come back with new music.”
Howlett believes there’s a more worrying knock-on effect of the highly commercial nature of dance music, too.
“Every sound and genre is co-opted by the mainstream straight away,” he says. “Nothing gets enough time to live on its own, it’s pillaged by commerciality. Music fashion is so fast-moving, it’s all borrowed by someone else. As a result, artists have to have hits straight away, there’s no time to build a career, so you get safe music that everyone knows will sell.”
He doesn’t think a band like The Prodigy, the group he formed with Keith Flint and former member Leeroy Thornhill in Braintree in 1990, would be signed by a label today.
Despite the new album’s violent-sounding tracks, and the streak of rebellion that has always run through their music, 43-year-old Howlett says he’s not an angry person. In fact, to get in the right frame of mind to make the aggressive dance tracks, he had to significantly change his routine.
“For the final four months on the album, I refused to go into the studio during the day,” he says. “I was getting too mithered anyway and I can’t concentrate or get anything done, so I started going in at 6pm after I’d picked my son up from school, and working through ‘til 5am. Then I got onto the idea that an album like this has to be created at night anyway; that’s when dangerous, exciting things happen. Not at one in the afternoon.
“As for being angry, I’m not, although the environment we live in is very unstable, so there is plenty to react to,” he adds. “Society is going through a tough time, and people just want to escape, so it’s up to us to provide the soundtrack.”
Prior to announcing The Day Is My Enemy, Howlett had said the follow-up to 2009’s Invaders Must Die would be an album called How To Steal A Jetfighter. Indeed, the band’s live shows throughout 2012 and 2013 featured songs from the album, but those tracks and that title have since been binned.
“They just weren’t good enough,” Howlett explains. “We started writing songs that were better, and it was simple. We weren’t sorry to see the back of those songs, although they may get finished off properly one day. For now, they’re on the shelf.
“There are loads of tracks we’ve got that have never been released, like one called No Souvenirs with 3D from Massive Attack, and the myth of it is better than the actual track. But we got rid of those other tracks because we wanted this album to be ultra-fresh.
“And it is. It’s everything that’s good about The Prodigy - but turned up to 11. The beats are there, the noise is there, the groove, the energy. It’s much more of a band record as well. Maxim and Keith have done the best vocals they’ve done on any album.
“And now we’re just excited to be taking the ship around the world a few times with these new songs.”