Self-expression, not self-indulgence

When a band member makes a solo album, it can be simply a ego-trip. But that's not the case with The Prodigy's Maxim
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No matter how successful, how popular, there comes a time in every band's existence when individual members no longer feel fully satisfied by the day job. Somehow the very sound that has helped them to establish themselves seems to turn into a creative straight-jacket. The problem, however, lies in the fact that giving up the cash cow for an unproven artistic muse would mean the removal of that all important safety net. Which is when the side project raises its all too often ugly head.

No matter how successful, how popular, there comes a time in every band's existence when individual members no longer feel fully satisfied by the day job. Somehow the very sound that has helped them to establish themselves seems to turn into a creative straight-jacket. The problem, however, lies in the fact that giving up the cash cow for an unproven artistic muse would mean the removal of that all important safety net. Which is when the side project raises its all too often ugly head.

The side project, of course, smacks of both pure frustration and unparalleled ego. Without fail the dreaded side project finds lead singers exploring their hitherto untapped ability as a musician, guitarists revealing previously unheard vocal skills and rhythm sections exploring their long-held, but previously secret, love of techno and Afro-beat. Sadly, where each project may promise new perspectives on the band in question, more often than not the end product is simply indulgent. Put simply; the side project only manages to emphasise just how good the original band is. And if that's not enough, from the moment the first extra-curricular product hits the shelves, you can never quite ignore the fact that certain members of the band are so unfulfilled that they need to keep a mistress. The band subsequently turns into a marriage based on the lie of musical insincerity.

Its a conundrum which has faced musicians from all walks of popular music. From Pink Floyd to Blur, Yes to Belle and Sabastien, no band it would seem is big enough to contain the rampant conceit of the musician on a creative journey.

The Prodigy frontman, Maxim, however seems not to be governed by a frustration forcing him to indulge in sonic voyages into his hidden self. Maxim's forthcoming début album Hell's Kitchen is the complete opposite to the usual self-indulgent side project. The main motivational force behind his solo project is less an attempt to show off his hidden abilities, than a desire to discover his roots as a musician.

"I don't really see myself as a solo artist," says Maxim in the offices of his record company. "I'm not musically frustrated either. I never was. I just see myself as being a part of a band, but I'm writing music as well. Obviously its more of an achievement to hear something that I've written all on my own being played on the radio or whatever. One of my main achievements when I joined The Prodigy 12 years ago was to have a CD in my hand, and that was it. Now I've done something which has come from me." Face to face Maxim is the complete opposite to the demonic contact-lens wearing rabble rouser that stalks The Prodigy stage. Where his performance may be openly aggressive, Maxim's private self is laid back, humorous and surprisingly approachable. Similarly, his music may come as a shock to those who have him marked down as a bit player in The Prodigy game. The fact is, however, the Peterborough-born vocalist has a musical history which precedes the rest of the band. Long before Liam Howlett or any of the others had considered forming a band, Maxim was a renowned MC on the reggae soundsystem circuit (performing as Maxim Reality). He subsequently recorded as part of the Nottingham duo Sheik Yan Groove before joining The Prodigy on the evening of their first ever gig at The Labyrinth, in Dalston, London.

"People believe that me and Keith have no input in The Prodigy," he explains, "maybe when we started out that was true. But as we've developed there's been more and more input from me and Keith. The thing is, people don't realise that I was a musician before I joined the band. I've got tapes of my music with me dropping conscious lyrics, which was my style, that go back years."

Maxim's soundsystem influence is perhaps at its most obvious on the forthcoming single "Scheming", which draws heavily on the dancehall style of bashment, a huge inspiration behind the rhythms of both UK garage and the US r'n'b of Destiny's Child, Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes. Elsewhere, however, Maxim's main influences would appear to be drawn from exactly the same pool as Liam Howlett's.

The emphasis remains on the combination of techno and hip hop while the structures are concerned with marrying funky grooves with rock attitudes. Not that this is in any way a carbon copy, or even a wannabe Prodigy album. "Obviously there is a certain vibe that I bring to The Prodigy and that's gong to be there on my work but I'm not trying to say that this is the new Prodigy album, or trying to take away from the next Prodigy album," he says.

"This is just me doing what I wanted to do, which is writing hard music with an edge. It's my first album and I've tried to cram a lot of stuff in there because its bound to reflect where I come from. I've been influenced by soundsystem stuff. Then I've been influenced by the dance thing, the drum'n'bass sound. Of course I've been influenced by Liam, but I've also been influenced by hip hop. It's up to the people how they take it."

Perhaps the most obvious difference between Maxim and other artists who seek the side project get-out clause, is the fact that he so obviously still loves his main band. With Blur for instance, guitarist Graham Coxon seems to spend most of his time in pain at the thought of ever being associated with much of the band's back catalogue. His solo albums subsequently serve as exercises in creative catharsis. With Maxim, however, you get the feeling that he values every last second of The Prodigy experience. But then The Prodigy have experienced greater worldwide success than most of our so-called super groups could even imagine. And that includes Blur.

"Being on stage in front of 20,000 people, there's nothing that can compare with it really," he enthuses. "That's what I live for. OK so I've got a studio at home and I write tunes and get other people involved but it's not the most important thing to me." At last a side project that doesn't aim to outshine the day job, deny the past or exaggerate artistic worth. Hell's Kitchen is a début album which promises much in the future from the dreadlocked MC.

The single 'Scheming', and the album 'Hell's Kitchen' are both on XL records

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