Leeroy Thornhill, founding member of The Prodigy, was along for the ride with one of the most phenomenal live juggernauts in recent memory. The Prodigy’s arena-stomping breakbeats and punk energy were a potent combination, and in the years since he left the band, Thornhill has lost none of his intensity as a performer.
From RR’s initial contact with Thornhill, it was entirely apparent just how passionate, dedicated and driven he is. For the past few years, a growing sense of creative freedom has emerged, as he has gained creative control over his musical output. With a new release primed and ready to go, with a dedicated fanbase eagerly awaiting its drop, this is a hugely important, transformative point in his 30-year musical career.
Thornhill’s experiences in The Prodigy were invaluable, and the knowledge he harvested, from performance-making on a grand scale, to studio techniques, has filtered through into his new project. These shared, pivotal experiences began in the early 90s, the peak lasting a period of 10 years. The original rave titans, The Prodigy were one of the most powerful driving forces behind bringing dance music to worldwide audiences.
Starting out in the warehouse raves of the hardcore era, they became unlikeloy chart-topping superstars, before evolving into million-selling, arena-filling touring artists. As the band evolved, so did the roles of its original members, with Leeroy, Maxim and Keith Flint all delivering a different tone, style and vibe in the live performances and recordings.
Those intoxicating days roused a monumental appreciation among fans for Thornhill’s energetic front man abilities. He is and remains an astonishing physical performer, revered as one of the most talented and original shuffle dancers in the UK rave scene.
Naturally, through time Leeroy’s creative journey diverted and branched out into many different directions, as he cultivated the skills of self-production and collaboration. He still has a love of DJing, performing sets with real finesse. His latest project follows a nine-year stint as the owner of the boutique label Electric Tastebuds, and finds him living and working in the throbbing cultural marketplace of Berlin.
Evidently, Thornhill strives to continually push himself, both technically and sonically. He has moved on from his Prodigy-era influences in key ways, creating his own distinctive sound. Evolve, his new album, sees him constructing a magnificent celebration of his most elemental musical influences, genre-blended in a very exciting, fresh and unique way. Rhythm, human error, velocity, breath, touch, hooks. These are the weapons he armours himself with an uplifting album of emotion, hard energy, and adventurous sonic explorations.
Artistically, Thornhill has never been more empowered. Revel had the out-and-out honour of firing across a set of questions, looking for some key insights into his evolution and current artistic vision, his new concept album Evolve, and his thoughts on the music industry.
How long have you been living in Germany, and what aspects of Berlin life have inspired your creative thinking?
I’ve lived in Berlin for two years. I think Germany in general has a more get-up-and-go attitude than the UK. Music and art are treated like any other business. So people with talent who want to try and make a living from it get real support. I don’t know how it inspired my creative thinking. Maybe I’ll work that out once I leave!
We were big fans of Electric Tastebuds. Would you ever consider starting up another label?
No thanks! I have a lot of respect for people who do it. But it’s a lot of hard work. If you are an artist you can end up getting distracted from creating, that’s what I want to focus on.
Your creative evolution in electronic music has taken place decades. How has this longevity informed the way you approached Evolve?
I think it’s the same as most things, [you] practice, keep learning from progress and mistakes. When you DJ it can be easy to get caught in the trap of only making the style of music you play. I still write tracks to DJ with, but I have given up trying to stick to a tempo or style to keep other people happy. That’s quite a freeing feeling. A good tune is a good tune.
What was the concept behind Evolve?
I wanted to write an album that had many different vibes, blended together. Tracks that are short, keep your interest, and hopefully leave you wanting more, with different emotions and dynamics. I’ve kept the whole thing to one track although there are twenty on there. That’s how I feel people should listen to it. So, sorry people if you have to do a bit of scrolling back and forth. It’s a journey inspired by my musical influences.
Your technical creative growth shines through on the new album, is it a new direction for you?
I first had the idea 15 years ago, and wrote an hour-long version. It sat on my computer, I played it last year and wanted to repeat the idea, now my production has improved. I think this is the way forward for me in regards to albums.
The energy and drive of the Crazy EP, your first release back in April 2020, was a big achievement. How did you feel about it?
Crazy was my first release after coming off of Get Hype Records. I’m into harder energy music, and different styles and tempos so I wanted to put out something that reflects that, and only put one DJ track on there, [called] Run Da Game.
I’m so into sampling right now, and look for different influences from different cultures and genres. I think a lot of the new electronic music has no soul. [Producers] are too concerned with how good their snare sounds.
If a thousand people are in a club, not many of them are thinking, ‘I love the EQ on that snare…’ It’s just, ‘Does this track make me rock?’ Every club has a different sound, [I am] making dance music for dancers, not scientists.
Any remixes or collaborations planned in your near future?
I like remixing, but I’m really happy at the moment doing my own thing.
From observing your style, through the mediums of dance, music production and DJing over the years, we get the impression of a rhythmic, melodic, lyrically-orientated performer. You have a lot of skills to draw upon, so which characteristics and modes of expression are you particularly drawn to these days?
I’m more concerned with how my music makes you feel or react than how good it sounds. I want people to remember a tune when they hear it. Right now this is where my head is at. I need freedom to put music out when it’s ready, it’s hard to keep sitting on finished music and wait three or four months for it to be released. You then write more new music you’re buzzing with, and never know what you’re going to do with it. It can end up being a negative energy when creating.
I’m sick of trying to keep up with all the platforms. Come claim your name on our page, do all the hard work of making it look good, do all the promotion share on your other pages, pay a distributor, take a bag of peanuts for the six months of work you put into your album. We will keep the rest.
You are very interactive and open towards your fanbase, often giving them free downloads of DJ mixes and fresh beats via Bandcamp. Is your independence something you want to protect, or would you work with labels again?
There are still genuine labels and companies that help artists, but like the rest of the world it’s all about what people can take from you. It’s a really hard business, but right now I can see every response, every play I get in one place. I sell my music cheaper than it sells on the big sites, I get more money to reinvest in my business, not someone else’s. Yes, I will lose pennies from streaming, and I won’t reach as many people, but I’m happy with that. The buzz I get when I get one new follower is worth it.
People are coming to my Bandcamp page for my music, not to see what I had for dinner. Everyone has their own needs and direction they want to take, there are so many options. But I want to put my time into me, not big companies. Small and cool.
You must have an incredible record collection.
I sold a lot of my vinyl a few years ago but couldn’t part with a lot of the old school rave music. However, I have boxes of tapes and CDs in storage, I don’t even know what half of it is. Another job that needs doing!
How do you feel about the re-emergence of independent cassette-tape labels?
Who has a tape player?! I love every format, life’s about choice. If I can build my audience, and the demand is there, I will try to cover as many as I can. But again, I’ve been down that road and still have boxes of CDs and vinyl and in storage somewhere… It comes back to a young generation who have not had to buy music, just grab it online. Will they be able to justify spending the same money as three beers on a physical product?
In general, fans of this generation inject their money into experiences, buying tickets to shows. The music can sit for free to draw listeners in, but once the attachment of experience occurs, there is no doubt the listener will want to buy the music and various types of merchandise to relive the memories.
Covid 19 has meant the absence of raves and clubs and other communal experiences. How have you been coping, and do you have any advice for the rest of us, hiding in our bunkers? Any positive changes that you see happening as a result of the lockdown?
It’s been a nightmare for everyone no matter what you do. My whole philosophy is no matter what’s thrown at you, get on with it. I think the world needs a break. I hope millions of people access their life and realize what they don’t need, instead of worrying about what they want.
Once Evolve is in the wild, what’s next for you?
Expect more music soon from me, for the rest of the year, and hopefully some banging DJ gigs.