FAT25 Ⓐ Design : The Fat Of The Land
25 years ago legendary ‘The Fat Of The Land’ by The Prodigy officially came out. The UK release was provided by XL Recordings, and the album showed up on June 30, 1997. A day later the release appeared in the US stores with the support of Maverick.
Today theprodi.gy team shares the most complete story about ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album design. It was developed by Alex Jenkins with the additional help of Konrad Wothe, JAKe Detonator, and other extremely talented creators.
Considering the spectacularly stark design of ‘The Fat Of The Land’ it’s hard to imagine that the iconic album cover with a crab photo on it was finalized just a couple of hours before it was sent to the record label and that the previous version, approved and deemed final, was a picture of a piece of meat roasting on a spit…
Liam Howlett has always stayed ‘well-involved’ with The Prodigy’s cover artworks. This time he wanted a strong image for the band’s third album, which title was a tongue-in-cheek response to jibes from fans that such a hard-edged, urban band shouldn’t be living out in the green Essex countryside. The resulting sleeve was a masterstroke of controlled savagery, which both confounded and complimented preconceived ideas of the band. The intended title of the disc could serve as a guide, but Howlett could find nothing that would serve to represent that title.
Liam’s first option was to have Alex Jenkins again, who had already designed the cover for the ‘Firestarter’ single before the album. Jenkins had graduated from the University of Bath and his dream was always to become someone in the world of graphic design related to music, like Vaughan Oliver he adored (head of design at the 4AD label) or Peter Saville (of the Factory label). At the age of 23, he applied for the position of artistic director at the XL Recordings, a job that he won, beating out 350 other candidates. His first staff project was designing the XL logo and his first official sleeve was for ‘Firestarter’, which famously went to number one, — the rest is history.
When Alex had his first meeting with Liam Howlett for ‘The Fat of the Land’ cover design, they started working on different rather quirky ideas. ‘Our early thoughts were very off-the-wall,’ — Alex Jenkins remembered. ‘We toyed with a picture of a huge American V8 tractor with gigantic wheels rampaging through the field, and also some shots of hot rod cars. I think we also talked about nature themes’.
The first project that crossed their minds was to photograph a big fat pig that would be wearing makeup, lipstick and eyeshadow. ‘Somebody else sent that pig concept in but I can’t remember who!’ — Alex grins. Next, they thought of a crocodile to give that aggressive feeling they wanted to show. Other notions included a Volkswagen Beetle wrapped around a lamppost and some other ideas, but none of them went forward.
By the way, the image with a Beetle should have ended up as the cover artwork for the ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ single, but was also rejected at the last minute — we posted the ‘Smack’ single-story last year, be sure to read it carefully!
The ideas for the album cover mentioned above were declined at an early stage, but the grisly-undercooked-meat-on-a-skewer concept progressed rather further. Jenkins recalls: ‘Liam and I would telephone each other to talk about ideas and to brainstorm for new ones. But for a last-minute change of heart by Liam Howlett the album cover could have been very different’.
Alex Jenkins: We hired a kebab shop on Holloway Road and did an 8-hour photo shoot with a real, sweaty, steaming kebab that had been branded for us by Pirate Model Makers. During the shoot, the typography started distorting as the kebab began congealing and collapsing, so we propped the kebab up with bits of stick and metal. The smelliest photo shoot in my life!
Alex Jenkins: At the end of the shoot, Stavros, the shop owner, took the bits out, wrapped the kebab in cling film and stuck it in his freezer. Some people in North London have eaten rock and roll history! Then I designed a sleeve and really liked it but as we were about to go with it, Liam changed his mind. He said he found it… unsettling.
While working on the inner album sleeve, Alex Jenkins also used some of his wall texture shots, but most of them didn’t make the cut. ‘I took 10,000+ images of textures like trains, petrol pumps, old signs and stuff like that, so it all influenced me using ‘texture’ whilst at XL Recordings back then’, — he tells. The pictures below were used in the first rejected version of the LP booklet. By the way, you can buy the original prints of some of these train images directly from Alex — just drop him a line via Instagram @alexlloydjenkins.
This eleventh-hour change of heart proved problematic. XL Recordings’ international licensees were screaming for cover visuals to begin to sell the album. Liam thought he definitely needed new artwork, and Alex suddenly found that they had nothing. History is silent as to who of them two came up with the final design concept, but luckily inspiration visited the creators soon.
Alex Jenkins: I was under pressure to come up with a concept as the licensees were requiring urgent artwork for promotional use. I remembered seeing the documentary about Christmas Island where millions of red crabs invade the island. I found some stock library shots, Liam and I picked one and I retouched the crab claw, making it huge. I slightly edited the shot, added the radial blur effect and boosted the colors. Liam approved the final design at about 1 am by black and white shit quality fax saying ‘Yeah, that’s it!’. It was literally the night before we had to make a decision, I had one night to come up with a completely new design. I had to get that design done even if it meant not sleeping, because we had to get a design off to the licensers in America the very next day. I think we liked the final crab cover as it had two fingers up to the world: looks like the crab is saying ‘This is my beach!’
Alex Jenkins and Liam Howlett were particularly taken by with a shot of a tiny crustacean photographed on a beach in Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park.
Some sources state that the photograph was found in the Silvestris stock images library. The picture was captured by veteran German nature photographer Konrad Wothe. Konrad had taken the photograph of the crab in the early 1990s when he had travelled to Costa Rica with the assignment of filming a documentary about monkeys. On one of his days off, Wothe went to the beach to take some pictures of the crabs: these tiny creatures lived in the forest but came down to the beach to spawn. At one point he saw a small Halloween crab about four inches away from him, alone in the middle of the beach and, as he knew they are not dangerous, he made a legendary shot.
The Halloween crab (Gecarcinus quadratus, also known as moon crab, fiddler crab or harlequin land crab) has a trapezoid-shaped body with curved tips. It has five pairs of legs, its eyes are bulging and its claws are relatively robust for its small size. Above all, it stands out for its bright and striking colours: its shell is black in the centre with a reddish-orange tone around the edge, including the legs. The pincers, on the other hand, have a purple hue.
In fact, neither Howlett nor Jenkins knew anything at all about the author of the photo or about the crab species. Jenkins somehow recalled that they ‘chose it because it had a direct relationship with the title of the album: the crab is a creature that comes out of the sea to enjoy the spoils of the land’.
The exotic creature looked fairly static in the original picture, so the designer temporarily removed it via Apple Mac manipulation, giving the image the required air of aggression and menace. Actually, it was the treatment of the image that achieved that sensation, since as threatening as it seems, this type of crab rarely exceeds 10 centimetres in size.
The most surprised to see one of his images on a record cover was Konrad Wothe. Having started out in the world of music and left for wildlife photography, he never expected to be involved in it again. However, the technical rock of The Prodigy did not convince him in the same way. ‘I really appreciate that this image has served to represent the group’s music, although the truth is that I couldn’t listen to the album more than once. I’m sorry, but I’m more into dixieland jazz’, — was his blunt conclusion.
Alex Jenkins also designed the band’s world-famous ‘Prodigy’ lozenge logo, which represented the band from 1996 (the year when ‘Firestarter’ was released) to 2001. In the new logo, the article was dropped from the name. Enclosed in a cartouche and supplemented by a stylized ant, ‘Prodigy’ was now rendered white on black, in outlined lowercase letters from Emigre’s ‘Keedy Sans’. This quintessential 1990s typeface with highly idiosyncratic forms was designed by Jeffery Keedy and released by Emigre in 1991.
According to Q Magazine (‘The 100 Best Record Covers Of All Time’ special issue), Liam insisted on keeping the band’s ‘ant’ logo next to their name, regarding it as a small and powerful creature that was symbolic of the band. It’s still a question of who did originally draw this symbol. Alex Jenkins recalls that he redrew this when he first joined XL: ‘I can’t remember where the original came from’. The ‘ant’ logo was probably inspired by Adam And The Ants. Liam sampled their ‘Ants Invasion’ tune in ‘Molotov Bitch’ — its rough demo called ‘Come Correct’ firstly appeared in ‘Electronic Punks’ VHS in 1995, where the ‘ant’ logo was already showed up in the opening credits. After that, it was firmly entrenched as the band’s talisman.
Alex Jenkins: Got to live my dream, designing record covers. If I’m honest, I only knew a little bit about The Prodigy before we met and I had to ask my mate Nathan to fill me in about XL Recordings. Was an utter blast and hugely thankful to a great boss in Richard Russell who was incredibly kind and encouraging and let me (mostly) do what I wanted. Was a big Emigre fan at the time too.
As the album included the controversial ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, it was also fitting that the artwork caused a minor uproar. The inner sleeve artwork of ‘The Fat Of The Land’ also had been controversial. Howlett approved a suggestion by XL Recordings’ chief Richard Russell for the sleeve booklet to contain a quote from Nazi propagandist Herman Goering: ‘We have no butter, but I ask you would you rather have butter or guns? Shall we import lard or steel? Let me tell you, preparedness makes us powerful. Butter merely makes us fat’. Some of the fans back in the days were mystified as to Liam Howlett thinks Herman Gehring is a B-boy… If you could never picture the Nazi propagandist’s breakdancing, Liam will dispell all the doubts.
Liam Howlett: Do you know where that came from? This is actually like a Nazi quote. It’s like Hermann Goering, Hitler’s right hand man. This is the quote he made during the war. Now a lot of people have picked up on this in England. You can imagine what the press have been like, ‘Oh, The Prodigy are Nazis…’ All this crap, you know. To simply answer that question: yes, the quote is a Nazi quote and no, we’re not Nazis. Obviously we’ve got two black guys in the band. So to even suggest that is totally brainless anyway. To be honest, that quote is like me using a sample. I look upon that quote as like a sample. I take it out of its original context, put it in my own context and it means something completely different. I look at that quote and that’s like a b-boy quote. That’s like someone out of a hip-hop scene could have said that. And that’s the reason I used it ’cause it’s a totally different context. It’s like a completely different thing. And it just works well. It has power and it has the right message for what we want. It has nothing to do with what it’s originally about.
The tracklist and the Goering quotes typography was originally created with the old broken Xerox machine in the XL Recordings’ office. Check out the original pieces kindly provided to us by Alex himself. The design of the album probably began to develop in the second half of 1996, that’s why such tracks as ‘Serial Thrilla’, ‘Narayan’, ‘Climbatize’ and ‘Fuel My Fire’ were not mentioned in the setlist on the photo, — these tunes were finished a bit later, towards the beginning of 1997. ‘Pretty horrified to see the state of the typography in the booklet after all these years!’ — Alex laughs.
Alex Jenkins: Dug out the original A4 photocopied type that I scanned in to create all the typography on the album. Smells a bit damp from the attic to be honest. XL had an old photocopier that spewed out wonderful textural effects.
He also explained where did these magnificent rusty textures on the inside sleeve background came from.
Alex Jenkins: Someday I just took my camera to a scrap yard in Rhydyfelin to take the shots of the trucks and various textured backgrounds in the booklet. Also shot the dog on the ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ CD at the same time.
Alex Jenkins left XL more than 20 years ago, and now works as a freelance photographer with numerous world-famous brands, companies and artists. Nonetheless, he looks back fondly on working with The Prodigy. ‘We were always after something that stood out on the shelves,’ he concludes. ‘We always enjoyed it’.
The inner sleeve also contains a no less legendary illustration drawn by JAKe Detonator, a freelance graphic artist based in London. This picturesque image was seen all over the world and it is without exaggeration to say that this work has been familiar to absolutely every fan of The Prodigy. And there was still no story behind its creation on the net before today! Our theprodi.gy team had the honour of taking a comment from JAKe himself about his work.
JAKe Detonator: It’s one of those stories I tell a lot in person but it’s not really turned up in print. I’d not long been out of art college and it was so exciting waiting for the album to come out. Basically, I drew The Prodigy in Vox Magazine and Liam Howlett commissioned me to do artwork of the band. But there was a phase where it the characters were going to be the cover. Plus I actually designed a cover too, before they settled on the crab! So if I can find all the prep drawings and unused stuff, you could probably get a week of posts out of it, ha-ha. There’s a ton of roughs stashed away somewhere that I used to fax to Liam. Hard to believe that was two decades ago! Respect to Liam for getting me involved back then.
When asked what medium were JAKe using at the time, he answered in detail: ‘It was pencil and pen for the drawings, rammed through a photocopier a few times for extra grit, then faxed (!) into a Mac. The rest was done in Adobe Illustrator. The paper originals are stashed somewhere in my archive, and there’s the earlier version where Keith’s more static. At some point I want to document it all… there were the illustrations in Vox that led Liam to ring me, some comics, and lots of sketchbook process. It’d be good to make a little film!’.
One touching detail can be noticed in the 15th-anniversary version of the album. While in 1997 Alex scratched the letters A+K (the initials of himself and his wife Karen) over the JAKe’s illustration, in the 2012 release the word Will (the name of their son) appeared under those letters. Get your CDs off the dusty shelf and check this out by yourself!
Another nice point about the 2012 re-release is that Alex revised his old ‘crab rave’ idea from 1997 for the 15th-anniversary cover! For example, some of the posters below were used for the band’s promo campaign back in 1997-1998. History has come full circle.
On the back cover, the band members were photographed among industrial waste and car wrecks. This grungy shot was taken by legendary Pat Pope, a British photographer, who specialises in taking pictures of musicians. He also shot some footage that made it into the inside sleeve of the album. Pat has been a big part of The Prodigy’s journey during the 90s and 00s period.
That is the fourth (but not last) article dedicated to ‘The Fat Of The Land’ 25th anniversary! Check out the previous ones if you missed it and stay tuned for more…
- FAT25 · Antecedent #1: ‘Rock’n’Roll’, ‘Take Me On’, ‘Bounce’, and more demos from 1996!
- FAT25 · Antecedent #2: ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Payback Time’ and more rare demos and live stuff from 1997!
- FAT25 · Samples: The most complete samples list of ‘The Fat Of The Land’ era tunes!
Special thanks to: Alex Jenkins, JAKe Detonator, Kab, Ingrid Minerva