‘No Tourists’ turned 5: definitive story

 
On 2nd November 2018, The Prodigy revealed No Tourists — the band’s seventh studio album and the last full-length LP featuring Keith Flint. To mark its five-year anniversary, we shared the definitive story of the album, including the details behind the tracks’ production, a few exclusive fine points about the design and some nuggets about the release promotion. We also dropped some rare stuff from the All Souvenirs as usual!
One of No Tourists’ promo banners

The first time fans heard the phrase ‘I ain’t no tourist’ was a full 3.5 years before the album’s release: on 12 January 2015, the single Nasty came out. In the bridge of the song, one of the band members ominously utters this line (some journalists attribute it to Maxim, others to Keith).

Via edmsauce.com: The lyrics to their new song “Nasty” exclaims in the lyrics, “I ain’t no tourist.” Keith adds in the interview, “People walk into our environment and we control it.”

The sixth album, The Day Is My Enemy, was still being written at the time, but Howlett’s tourism-related thoughts had already been widely discussed in his interviews during those years. Actually, the line ‘In the wild frontier, off the beaten track’ also fits the same idea. While talking to Gordy from TheProdigy.Ru, Howlett said he didn’t like walking around the sights and would be more enthusiastic about dissolving into a raw street vibe.

Liam Howlett for TheProdigy.Ru: We aren’t tourists, so we are not concerned about walking about sightseeing… We never have time off to do that, but if we see stuff along the way then that’s great. Sometimes, if we have a bit of time, it is good for inspiration to soak up the feel on the street.

The idea of getting off the beaten track and venturing into unexplored territory seems to have stuck with Howlett, and over time his thoughts on escapism have evolved into a distinct concept for the next album. In the run-up to the release of ‘No Tourists’, Liam also lamented the digitalisation and accessibility of any content, idea or answer at the click of a button, which he felt had made people forget how to think for themselves.

Liam Howlett for Mojo Magazine (#299, Oct. 2018): No Tourists, the title, is about trying to escape all the shit and step off the track. What we’re saying is we like the idea of people exploring again, they’ve forgotten how to do that, because they can just pick up a device, go online for two seconds, and go, ‘Oh, okay that’s the answer, that’s what it is, oh yeah.’

It’s interesting to note that, according to Reddit users, the line “I ain’t no tourist” is an old British urban slang.

Ok_Youth8907 from Reddit: “I ain’t no tourist” is street slang for “I’m not new here/this is my house”, […] that’s always been my understanding of “No Tourists”. Been using this term since my late teens, and I’m in my 30’s now.

The Prodigy at the BMG office, autumn 2017.

The first official news about the new album came on 19 September 2017, when the website Music Business Worldwide (MBW) exclusively announced that The Prodigy had signed a global record deal with the BMG label and would be releasing their first LP in three years in 2018.

Korda Marshall (BMG): The Prodigy are one of those bands who define an entire sound and can justifiably claim to be among the architects of contemporary music. We are delighted to have the opportunity to release what will undoubtedly be one of the most important records of 2018.

It didn’t take long for the new tracks to make their debut at gigs. On 9 December 2017 in Munich, Resonate was presented for the first time. Just a few days later, on 11 December in the Netherlands, the band played Need Some1 – at that time it was simply labeled as New Beat in the concert setlist.

Then, on 15 December in Doncaster (UK), The Prodigy introduced a demo version of the third tune, Boom Boom Tap, which was titled as Boom Tap in the setlist.

Resonate is a typical banging and booming Howlett breakbeat of the 2010s: bouncy, pitched vocals, euphoric synths and a deliberately evil vibe, spiced up with a reggae vocal hook from Brother Culture, one of the UK’s most renowned reggae MCs and Liam’s long-time friend. His Sound Killer was originally recorded in 2014, but later Brother Culture himself re-recorded his vocals for the fresh Howlett tune.

The aforementioned Boom Boom Tap exudes a playful yet punchy energy that, according to Liam, harkens back to the early jungle era. The vocal sample, provided by the talented Andy Milonakis, adds a distinctly American flavour. Known for his edgy YouTube comedy, Andy struck a chord with Howlett and a collaboration was born, with Liam even becoming friends with him. It’s one of those serendipitous moments that just fell into place effortlessly. “It’s the kinda tune you just blast in your car”, says Howlett.

By the way, shortly before the album’s release, our friend recreated the demo version of “Boom Boom Tap” that was played in December 2017. As a joke, he passed off his mix as a real tune by the band. This news stirred up all the fans in local communities, and the track was unanimously accepted as Liam’s work.

It’s this version that you can listen to on our platforms today!

The active promotion of the album kicked off in July 2018. On 19 July, on the same day as the official release of the single “Need Some1”, Liam posted the cover of the new album on Instagram. From then until the release of “No Tourists”, fresh interviews with Howlett started popping up in the press, in which he spoke enthusiastically about the new record.

Via weownthenitenyc.com: It’s that sense of do-or-die commitment that is reflected in the album title. “To us, ‘No Tourists’ is ultimately about escapism and the want and need to be derailed. Don’t be a tourist – there is always more danger and excitement to be found if you stray from the set path”

A total of 5 digital singles were released to support the album.

  • Need Some1 | Released: 19 July 2018
  • Light Up the Sky | Released: 26 September 2018
  • Fight Fire with Fire | Released: 11 October 2018
  • We Live Forever | Released: 25 October 2018
  • Timebomb Zone | Released: 6 December 2018

We have told the story of the three singles in separate posts, with the exception of the remaining Timebomb Zone and Fight Fire With Fire – we’ll cover them in detail in our future articles!

Long story short, the third single in support of the album ‘No Tourists’ was recorded in collaboration with American hip-hop duo Ho99o9. The tune was initially released as a digital one-track single on 11 October 2018 at 17:00 UK time. Fight Fire With Fire, which began as a remix for Ho99o9 and later became a standalone track by The Prodigy, was available on iTunes, YouTube-music and other music streaming services. A simple but striking VHS-style visual was created for The Prodigy’s YouTube channel by the renowned Eugene Riecansky (Rockstar), the same artist who worked on the video for ‘Light Up The Sky’! According to Liam, it was the first finished track for the album.

The most lately released single Timebomb Zone was the very first one to be registered in the music licensing databases. According to PPL PRS, registration took place on 20 March 2018, four months before the official announcement of the album. Apparently this move was necessary to legalise the sampling. The track features a distinctive vocal hook from Alfonso Ribeiro‘s 1986 “Time Bomb (Dub Version)”.

PRS Repertoire

PRS registration in 2018

 

Another collaboration on the album was Give Me A Signal featuring Barns Courtney. The story behind this was as simple as that of Ho99o9. A friend of Howlett had produced some tunes for Courtney’s album. When Liam heard his voice, he penned down a few lines and asked Barns to record them for The Prodigy. “He literally tacked it on to the end of one of his sessions and said, ‘Okay, it’s done, here’s the lyrics, see if it works’, bang! And that’s how it happened. It worked!”, Liam summarized in an interview with NME.

July 2018. Photo: Matthias Hombauer

In numerous “No Tourists” interviews, Howlett enthusiastically shared that a significant part of the album was recorded on the road, while Master H even experimented with sleep deprivation a couple of times. In Moscow, the band set up a studio right in the hotel, booking three adjoining rooms to avoid complaints from neighbors. Liam would work at four in the morning, while Maxim and Keith were sort of floating in from time to time and went “It’s mad, right?”. Keith recorded the vocals for the invigorating Champions Of London while being in Belgium, also right in the midst of the tour, something the guys had never done before. It was undeniably a new experience for everyone, even for Howlett, who was off the beaten track himself, of course in a good way.

Liam Howlett for Billboard: We worked on the road a lot, we recorded Keith’s vocals for the track “Champions Of London” in a hotel room in Belgium. This was much freer. Not being based in one place, we could set up the studio anywhere and got it rolling.

The title track, No Tourists, also has quite a malevolent edge to it: the tune is built around a haunting horror movie-style motif which was sampled from John Du Prez‘ 1990 ‘Bullseye’ OST — it will definitely have you casting a nervous eye over your shoulder.


Check out the full No Tourists samples list: theprodi.gy/samples/notourists/

‘No tourists, No sights to see!’ is the band’s mantra amongst heavy beats and siren-like synths with quiet dips and quickly building explosions back into the action. The tune is the longest on the album, even though it only lasts 4 minutes and 18 seconds. Fans heard it for the first time on 17 July 2018: Liam posted a three-second video teaser of the track on his Instagram, and two days later the title and cover of the new release were revealed.

It’s worth noting that after the release of “The Day Is My Enemy”, Liam had no plans to release a full-length album. He was considering moving on to 3-track EPs because, as he put it, working on “The Day” was a real pain in the ass. He burned out halfway through and had to take a break before returning to the studio with fresh energy. With “No Tourists”, it was just the opposite: the tracks seemed to come together effortlessly, one leading to the next. Liam didn’t even realize it until he had written 10 tunes.

Surprisingly, Howlett’s productivity on ‘No Tourists’ increased greatly with his decision to abstain from booze. It’s hard to imagine this being a challenge for Liam, who for years humorously referred to himself as LH Chandon.

Liam Howlett for The Sun: The party is always lurking in the background. It’s always there to be had but I couldn’t afford to be in bed hungover with this record, as everything comes to a grinding halt if I’m not there. I stopped drinking after the last album [The Day Is My Enemy], as I worried I would have a problem if I didn’t stop. There was a lot of going out and getting pissed with the last record [The Day Is My Enemy].

Liam Howlett & Neil Mclellan back in 2012

For the first time since the mid-nineties, Liam mixed this album entirely on his own, while his faithful collaborator and close friend, music producer Neil McLellan, from 1993 to 2015 played a crucial role in the mixing. Without Neil contribution, Howlett’s music would certainly not be what we’ve all become accustomed to hearing.

Neil McLellan for Gordy: Liam wanted to do that record himself, I spoke to Liam about that and I totally understand him. He built his new studio, he got everything running, and he wanted to do that on his own. I completely get that. And I was not in the country, I was here in Bali and was just having a baby and doing that stuff… Which is a lot more important! Not that I wouldn’t have left the baby to go in this record, but he wanted to put it out all himself. I respect that, you know. I would have loved to have been involved with it, but it just didn’t happen in that one, the things didn’t line up.

LH via Insta: yo G your ‘spies’ need to get their facts right , I’m producing and mixing this new album myself in my own studio , nothing has passed through any other other studio or producer ,, FIRE!!!!

Liam Howlett & Olly Burden

Despite Liam’s assurances, he was never alone during production. Either Keith and Maxim were by his side when the boys were on tour, or Olly Burden, The Prodigy guitarist, was out there when Howlett was at the mixing desk. The studio work on the album was extremely intense, and in fact Olly could be considered a full-fledged co-producer of the album – the conclusions are yours to draw.

Liam Howlett for Steve Lamacq: It was quite a different writing zone. It wasn’t it wasn’t really lonely, actually. I mean, I’ve got my guy Olly, who plays guitar for us and he’s my studio assistant, you know, if you like. I don’t know if he would be happy with that term, but basically, he’s in there with me.

Liam emphasises that he still tries to work primarily with analogue equipment, using the computer only as a tape machine. During production, Howlett tries not to look at the monitor, noting that he doesn’t understand those who make music just by moving blocks back and forth in a DAW. If he catches himself doing this, he simply stops working – it’s a sign that his productivity is at zero.

Basically, “No Tourists” was meant as a reference to going back to their rave roots, more old-school sound. There are no tourists wandering in, no newbies — this album is dedicated to the locals, who have been with the band for decades. While being interviewed by NME, Liam literally says that this album is about “not being afraid to go back to that kind of first era of The Prodigy”.

While the album cover features a London bus bearing The Four Aces as its final destination (the East London club was where the Essex rave revolutionaries made their live debut in 1991), is one of British music’s most forward-thinking bands finally looking back more than three decades later? According to Liam, The Prodigy are not into retro, they’re just proud of where they came from. Howlett notices, it is always important to make a record that’s always fresh to them. So the brief was kind of trying to find a way of using a look back at the old school and melt that with the new sort of violent beats.

Shot by edmlife.com

As the album’s release date approached, the aforementioned one-track digital singles “Light Up The Sky”, “Fight Fire With Fire” and “We Live Forever” were released, and the promotion of the album became more extensive with each passing day. A special black bus, decorated in the style of the album artwork, was hired for the private album playback: on Wednesday, 24 October 2018, it took fans on a short tour of the city, ending with a listening session in one of London’s venues. The lucky ones who got on the bus had the opportunity to hear the new tunes a week and a half before the international premiere.

Liam Howlett for TheProdigy.Ru: The playback event was my idea with the bus picking people up and taking them to a secret location… Put them in a dark room, play it loud, then asked to leave when it finished… It was a great assault on the sense! People didn’t know what was going on…

Incidentally, just a few days after the album artwork was revealed in July 2018, fans discovered the real-life prototype of the bus used on the cover. It was The Ghost Bus Tours, a sightseeing bus service in London. Anyone interested can still take a ride on it through the streets of London at night. The tour takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes (depending on traffic).

Indeed, The Ghost Bus Tours’ KGJ 341A bus was used for the private album playback in October: the company proudly mentions this on their website. Surely, you can still spot this very bus on the streets of London to this day.

Just for those attending the No Tourists listening party, The Prodigy crew have prepared a limited edition of “No Tourists” lager, featuring the album cover on an aluminium can, produced by British brewery Signature Brew. Old-school fans might see this as a nod to the days of The Fat Of The Land: back in May 1997, the band also released a limited number of bottles of their own lager, bearing the same title as the album, as part of a closed-door album preview.

Via Signature Brew Instagram: Boom! Here’s an exciting project we’re working on with @theprodigyofficial for their album launch. These are super-limited edition and NOT publicly available. If they were though, would you drink them?

As a pass to the party, attendees were given a commemorative stylized bus ticket, which will also be used in the album’s booklet design. No audio or video recording was allowed at the event, as clearly stated on the ticket.

Overall, the promotion of the album was truly surprising in its thoroughness and attention to detail. The design of the release and merchandise of that era turned out to be really interesting as well. The artwork was created by Liam’s old friend Luke Insect, with whom the band had worked since the days of Invaders Must Die. Rahul Singh, a long-time friend and tour photographer for 15 years, also made a significant contribution. He took loads of photographs used in the album’s booklet design and was directly involved in the creative process as well. As far as we can see, all photography for the album artwork was done by Rahul and Luke used the raw materials to turn it into the finished product. While digging through the album artwork on streamings, we found out the date “3 May 2018” in one of the “Light Up The Sky” file properties, so apparently, all the photos for the album were probably taken in May 2018 too.

Photo by John Howe

The cover was created using photographs of a toy bus depot, the London Transport Wandsworth (which has a real prototype), manufactured by Kingsway Models. First a photo was taken of the customised black ‘No Tourists’ model bus and then the radiator grille from a real AEC Routemaster (also known as the Leyland Routemaster) was added in Photoshop.

In 2021, on the release date, Liam shared three working versions of the album’s artwork on his Instagram, showing the transformation process of the original shot. Interestingly, Howlett had never shared such posts before — usually, the rejected versions are more commonly posted by the designers themselves. We assume that Master H. posted them with a nod to our Instagram account, which specializes in stories behind rough and rejected artwork for The Prodigy. We’re certainly pleased with such attention. By the way, the exact same toys went on sale immediately after the album’s release!

The small black bus captured on the cover and used as No Tourists merch is based on a toy produced by Welly Die Casting Ltd. It’s usually released in red colour under catalogue number 9930 with different decals and wheel colours. This toy is a collective image of the legendary English double-decker bus, the AEC Routemaster. The toy is equipped with an inertia motor. This Welly bus is not uncommon and can be found in many children’s toy shops.

Shot by @theprodigyarchives

The font used for the album title on the cover, as well as on all promotional materials and other releases of this era, is a standard Gill Sans. It appears either in its pure form or after a series of modifications.

If you’d like to get your hands on our exclusive No-Tourists-style PSD font template, let us know in the comments!

Incidentally, a couple of years after the album’s release, Howlett not only revealed the working materials for the cover on his own Instagram, but also on his own artwork. In September 2021, a charity auction was held by the Heart Research UK called The Anonymous HeART Project. So, in good company with over 100 artists (including Chvrches, Robert Smith from The Cure, Jamie Hewlett from Gorillaz, and many more), Liam donated 2 of his own collages and 1 painting for the auction – including a piece called “1991”. Can you relate?

Shot by essex-tv.co.uk (on the left) and Framed By Framie (on the right)

Incidentally, Liam has continued to use the “legacy” and ideas from the previous album, The Day Is My Enemy, in the No Tourists era, which is evident in the band’s fresh merchandise. As you may know, British designer Nick McFarlane created 165 unique artworks for the 2015 album cover, from which Howlett did chose the famous fox. The rest of the designs stayed in Nick’s working folder and ended their history as NFTs or on Behance. However, some have found their way into the new era!

Artwork by Nick McFarlane. Restored by All Souvenirs, 2018

Nick’s artwork, entitled Champions Of London, was inspired by the legendary Ramones, whose original logo was created by graphic designer Arturo Vega. As well as the American punk rockers’ old-school emblem, Macfarlane’s illustration references a 1-penny coin, the logo of the British Parliament, and an eye-patched gorilla. This is one of those 165 rejected designs for the previous album! Black and red t-shirts featuring this design were available for purchase in The Prodigy’s official store and at No Tourists support shows. Nice to see it get some daylight!

It’s also quite amusing that ten days after we posted the illustration above on our Instagram (which we painstakingly recreated from scratch on the day the new t-shirt series dropped), Liam posted our image as a separate entry on The Prodigy page.

To coincide with the album release, the band unveiled a collaborative art project with British artist Chris Hopewell and his print studio, Jacknife Prints. The Prodigy embarked on a new UK tour in support of No Tourists on the day it came out, while Chris and his team created 10 unique hand-printed posters for each of the UK shows.

The posters had a distinctly apocalyptic feel and featured recognisable references to the city, its landmarks or the venue where the gig took place. In addition, each of the 10 posters was titled after one of the 10 tracks on the No Tourists album. The works were released in a limited edition of 200 copies, with each poster numbered and signed by hand. Some of the artwork featured details in fluorescent paint that glowed in the dark. Jacknife Prints later released an 11th bonus print featuring ten dates from the subsequent European tour. The amount of work involved is truly impressive!

The video promotion for the album was directed by the same Eugene Riecansky of Rockstar, “Light Up The Sky” video director with over 20 years experience working with The Prodigy.

As always with the dawn of a new era, the stage design has also changed. The aforementioned “Champions Of London” illustration adorned the Leo Crabtree drums, two pedestals with the letters “N” and “O” stood to the right of Liam, and behind the band hung two life-size black buses from the “No Tourists” artwork.

The new concert intro featured Liam playing with the brass sample from the track “No Tourists”, while Maxim and Keith, in their new stage costumes, energetically messed around and engaged in their usual warrior flow. The era had just begun!

In the next series of the No Tourists anniversary posts, we will reveal some of the rare stories behind the single ‘Timebomb Zone’, as well as the bizarre rejected official music video, which attracted considerable attention from The Prodigy fans but was hidden from the public eye…

Headmaster: SPLIT
Additional thanks to: SIXHOT


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OPEN COMMENTS | 1 thought on • ‘No Tourists’ turned 5: definitive story
  1. A F says:

    That was a good read. Ive not realized Liam did this album all by himself. Also interesting details about them recording stuff on the road and setting up recording studios in the hotels. I thought Liam working on the road only came down to writing stuff on his laptop with some headphones before sleep and they saying ok guys here’s a new track.
    As much as a fan I am I’ve also had no idea behind the meaning of the whole No tourists concept. At this point I’ve just assumed theyre coming up with random stuff.

    “Talented Andy Milonakis” LOL

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