Q&A: DJ Maxim explores life beyond the Prodigy
by Jesse Ship
December 19, 2013
The Prodigy have had massive influences on the field of dance music, but what set them apart from the handful of emerging groups in the mid-‘90s was not just their use of a hypnotic female vocalist, but a proper MC with a larger-than-life style and personality. That man would be Maxim, formerly known as Maxim Reality, the dreadlocked nutter with gold cat-eye contact lenses, witch doctor makeup, and ankle-length skirts. His disregard of trends and eternal forward-thinking are part of what have kept his career and solo ambitions alive, with albums like Experience (1996), Hell’s Kitchen (2000) and Fallen Angel (2005).
While a new Prodigy album is slated for 2014, Maxim has been busy working on his DJ and production skills, collaborating with old-school reggae heads, and touring with MC Cianna Blaze, ready to take North America by storm with his rough and ready mix of trap, hip-hop, and pretty much anything in-between.
How did you start as a musician before joining The Prodigy?
I’ve always been into music since I was 14 where I would MC on reggae sound systems. When I was 17 I entered into MC and freestyling competitions. I didn’t win any, but it was a start. Years later, I was performing in a club in London and this American rapper was performing and invited anyone to battle on stage, so I went up and everyone cheered for me and not for him, so I pretty much won. A friend of mine, The Prodigy’s first manager, remembered that. They were looking for an MC to be the voice and he referred me, and that’s how the band started. It’s ironic because it’s come full circle for me. I’m getting MCs from today, and from yesteryear, bringing them into now to perform tracks written today. In some respects, I’m digging into an archive, going back in time. It’s an experimental time for me but I kind of enjoy it.
Who are some the older artists you’ve been in touch with?
I’m working on a bunch of them, but there are a lot of old-school singers that I kind of grew up on, like Echo Minott, who I’m trying to get a hold of. A lot of U.S. producers, like Diplo, are looking back to the old school reggae artists; it’s coming to the forefront a bit there. It’s a good thing. People don’t realize that Reggae has a big influence on what they listen to today.
How do you feel about Diplo’s recent statement claiming to be a savior to Jamaica?
Haha, he’s not really the savior, reggae’s always been there, but respect to him. I’d like to see more people doing it.
How do you feel about Snoop Lion’s go at it?
It’s good, he’s doing his own thing. I wish that more hip-hop artists would be more adventurous and do other music styles. I saw the Eddie Murphy “Red Light” track, it’s actually really good, but I don’t think I can take him seriously since he’s a comedian, but he’s got a good voice.
True, but he did have a string of R&B albums in the ‘80s! What drew you to MCing rather than DJing?
I’m still a vocalist, but I got into DJing by playing backstage after Prodigy shows in the dressing rooms. We’d have after parties, gatherings of friends playing backstage. The extension of that was taking it to the stage and DJing. The first proper show I actually did for real was a year and a half ago. I really enjoyed it because I’d prepared, obviously, and it made me look at it in a totally different way.
You’ve got some solid mixes with other rappers and reggae artists like Stylo G on your Soundcloud. How did you go about putting them together?
The Soundcloud is like an outlet of what I like to do. I predominantly play hip-hop, so when the trap scene started to take off, I liked the 808 drums vibe and beats. I grew up with a reggae background, the fusion of trap and reggae MCing is what got me liking it. I know a lot of MCs so that’s my forte, blending MCs and lyrics.
That’s great you’ve got “Listen Up” by Toronto’s Thugli on your last U.S. mix.
Yeah! I like his style, I really like his style. My friend just showed me that one. I don’t know if he’d be up for collaboration but I’d be up for it, so somebody should tell him!
You used to rock gold cat eye lenses and skeleton makeup; can you talk about your style influences?
I have my own style and I’m not scared to try new things, or do things which people see as not the norm. I don’t mind challenging myself as far as style goes. That goes for me musically too. I don’t like to stay in the confines of a certain style, or, you have to use these sounds or sound like this to be in a certain group. One of the things I found quite entertaining is that I’ve seen a few MCs wearing skirts these days on stage and if you look at the archive, I was doing that in ‘95-‘96, but now it’s a new trend!
I just found your tune “Scheming” on YouTube from 2000 that has a lo-fi R&B sort of sound that everyone’s playing out these days, so I get what you’re saying, it’s just so way ahead of its time.
Yeah, it’s funny. Certain things that I was doing 10 years ago are appearing now. Not to say I was at the forefront, but I do music my own way and certain things come around. I think people today are a bit more freethinking and they express themselves like that. People just write music now and I kind of like that.
Yeah, boundaries are definitely being broken down. You’ve been working with MC Cianna Blaze. How did you discover her?
She was an MC before I met her and we’ve collaborated a bit. Being an MC myself, I realized I needed a voice on stage and didn’t want to do the obvious drum and bass thing which is to get a male London-style voice. It’s more of a show. She’s a real performer. We’ve written an arsenal of tracks that will be coming out quite soon actually. I think she’s actually taking over the show to be quite honest, because she’s such a good performer. I didn’t want a hype MC, that’s a bit boring to be honest.
How do you feel about the EDM scene in the United States?
The EDM scene is quite healthy in the U.S. now, innit? The U.S. to me is sort of like the UK scene was 20 years ago when we had the party scene. Parties going off left, right, and center, music coming out constantly. I remember when we [the Prodigy] came to the U.S. in ‘96 and ‘97 and we were bringing dance music to America, there were little pockets of music going off in different states but it didn’t take off as it has now. I feel proud that I kind of planted a seed there, I was part of a movement. Not that the UK did it all, but we injected something.
I feel the UK is starting to embrace the EDM term a bit more.
Yeah, it wasn’t a term that was accepted at first. From the early ‘90s even with house in the UK, via Detroit, there’s always been just ‘dance music.’ To be manipulated and changing it into a different title, hard heads don’t like it. They just call it dance music, because you just dance to it.
Is it a better term than “electronica”?
Haha, I remember big corporate companies trying to sell us electronica in the ‘90s, and we were like, “No it isn’t, it’s dance music.” But call it what you want, there’s a scene there and it’s thriving. I like a good party; I like to hear adventurous and creative music being played in clubs. I want to be turned on by creative and dangerous music. That’s what gets me excited and goes home to the studio. When I hear a DJ from the States dropping tracks, like the Thugli one, I’m like, wow, that’s a tune. I play that tune in my car. That’s what excited me.
Can you share any backstage party stories?
Haha, no, I can’t let you in on those because they’re confidential, but I remember the first time I was asked to DJ and put on the spot, I went to Liam for advice on how to play, having never played before, I was like, “Give me some tips!” The only thing he told me was “don’t forget your headphones!”
Haha, so were you beat-matching on your first time out?
Yeah, literally with a night’s practice, but I’m up for anything. The one thing I like about DJing is that when you play live, sometimes there are mistakes. That’s the whole point of it being live, like when you freestyle, it’s spontaneous. I’m no DJ, I’m no Grandmaster Flash or DMC world Champ, so there are a few mistakes in my set, but that’s the beauty of it.
What’s in your DJ set up?
A CDJ 2000 and mixer. There’s no live syncing in here, it’s all live mixing and scratching.
Can you say anything about the new Prodigy album?
I can’t say a great deal, but the new album is coming soon. Next year. It’s going to be the bomb!
This article originally appeared in the December 2013 Issue of AUX Magazine.
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