A little faith can
go a long way. Prodigy is now one of the worlds biggest acts, and
main man Liam Howletts faith in a few key things is one of the magic
ingredients that got them there.
Theres his faith
in his musicmusic that consistently stays two steps ahead of categorization.
In the span of three classic albums and a brace of smash hit singles over
five years, Prodigy provides the soundtrack for a generation that launched
itself with an illegal partytaking that raving sound to the rest
of the world.
Theres his faith
in the team around himdancers, MCs, vocalists, friendsthat
gives his music the visual dimension to carry it to a global audience.
Liam is striking enough at the helm of his on-stage audio workstation,
but with the stage electrified even further by the presence of Prodigy
performers like Keith Flint, audiences are universally ignited.
And then theres
his faith in a handful of professional music production tools. Modestly,
Liam does not classify himself as an expert sound engineer, even though
hes written, produced, engineered and recorded the whole of Prodigys
legacy himselfand mostly at home, in a series of textbook project
studios. From bedroom to mansion, a few technological partners have never
left his side, and one name is at the center of every decibel.
Liam first came across
Mackie mixers in a music shop in Essex. Appealing naturally to a teenage
MIDI music-maker living at home, the Mackie CR1604 mixer was procured,
practiced, and put through its paces on the first Prodigy releasesincluding
the epoch-making debut album Experience, in 1992. The equipment
we used in the studio then was the same equipment we used live, because
we didnt have enough money for both, he recalls. It
all sat in flight cases in my bedroom. The first mixer was this really
heavy, wedge-shaped thingand was a real problem on the road. I checked
out the Mackie mixers at my nearest dealer, and came across the 1604.
Later on I realized just how good it really was, but to begin with I got
it because it was a good priceand reading a lot of the magazines,
it seemed to be the mixer that a lot of people were using for dance music.
When I got to
grips with it at home, I realized that you could really push the channels
and get good distortion. And it helped push Prodigys second
single, Charly, into the UK Top 3. Charlys techno breakbeats defined
the era, and at the same time transported Prodigy from the underground
to the mainstream.
continued to expand. Soon there were two more groundbreaking singles,
One Love and No Good (Start The Dance), paving the way for the rockier
energy of second album Music For The Jilted Generation. The mixing platform
had stepped up a gear, too.
An Analog 8-Bus continued Liams relationship with Mackie. Poison
notched up as Prodigys ninth consecutive Top 15 single, the royalties
were piling up, and Liam found he could book any studio he wanted. But
he didnt. The third album, Fat Of The Land, entered both the UK
and US charts at Number One in July 1997yet Liam had held on to
his home-grown values. We spent time in a commercial studio, but
it couldnt capture the same vibe. In fact, we made all the tracks
for Fat Of The Land on the Mackie 8·Bus, and then we tried to go
into the studio to mix. But we ended up back at my place, and I did the
whole thing on the 8·Bus.
In particular, the
incendiary single Firestarter, and its platinum sequel Breathe, prove
the point better than anything. People are always coming up to me
and asking how I got so much attack into Firestarter, and it was largely
down to the way you can push those Mackie channels. The mixer was the
key to that sound.
Fat Of The Land went
on to sell 10 million copies worldwide, and Liam has upgraded from analog
to digital by acquiring Mackies Digital 8-Bus console. Ive
been experimenting a lot with the D8Bs morphing feature, he
reveals. Especially on bass sounds. Ive actually used it on
a few underground vinyl releases, which I put out under a pseudonym. I
wont tell you what they arethat would spoil the vibe
Morphing allows you
to smoothly change from one EQ setting to another. When youre ready,
you can trigger the console to transmogrify from one setting to the other,
changing each detail bit by bit in a sweep. And you can vary the time
it takes to do this from a split second to a slow, writhing morph over
8 or 16 bars. Unlike a cyclical effect, like flanging, each parameter
manipulation is unique and completely dependent on the users imagination.
As a very hands-on, vibe-driven musician, Liam executes his morphs manually,
rather than by automationalthough the feature is available via automation
Liam also experiments
with the D8Bs own impressive suite of third party plug-ins as well,
which include analog modeling effects from Acuma Labs, parametric EQ from
Massenburg, TC Electronics TCFXII reverb, and a dynamics package
from Drawmer that encompasses gating, compression, limiting and expansion.
The Acuma stuff is great to play around with and experiment as youre
For nearfield monitoring,
Liam has consistently stuck with the pair of Mackie HR824s that he picked
up when they first appeared in 1996. In fact, they were the monitors on
which Fat Of The Land was mixedmarking out a telling juxtaposition
between the compactness of the speakers and the gargantuan impact of Richter-tickling
single, Firestarter. I love the Mackie nearfields, he says.
I even had an extra pair to go with some decks I had set up, so
I could get a really accurate reference to vinyl. I can go into another
room and get that perspective immediately.
The 90s will
go down as the era in which bedroom musicians became very, very successful.
They may even go down as the First Age of Mackie. But they will certainly
be remembered for Prodigy, who became a big noise in the world with a
little help from some friends.