Dazed speaks to Stewart Haygarth and Les Edwards, the men behind the The Prodigy's most iconic album sleeve
Liam Howlett’s unique mixture of German techno and raw punk attitude isn’t the only thing that’s iconic about The Prodigy’s Music for the Jilted Generation; there’s the artwork too. The cover, designed by artist Stewart Haygartth, is a shrieking metallic face that’s often compared to ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch, but also looks like Han Solo frozen in carbonite from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and is one the most striking from the period.
Inside is no less impressive, the gatefold conceived to foldout into a landscape portrait of some ravers cutting a rope bridge back to a city full of riot police and industrial decay. Painted by famous British horror and fantasy illustrator, Les Edwards, it was a farewell to rave, the scene in which Liam had forged his and one had been killed off the year of Music’s release by the government’s Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Speaking to Stewart from his studio in east London, and Les from his home in Sussex, they explained their part in this unique document.
So, Stewart, how did you get this gig?
Stewart Haygarth: Well, I'd been making covers for XL, and already done an album and three singles for The Dylans. The label liked them so they asked me if I'd like to do one for a band called the Prodigy. I was like, “Yeah, of course.” They said they had a very specific idea of what they wanted. I was more like technician, really.
Had you heard of them?
Stewart Haygarth: Yeah, but I hadn’t really listened to them. I was into other stuff, not really dance.
And what did they want?
Stewart Haygarth: Liam had purchased this sculpted head from a market and wanted to use it on the cover, as if it was breaking through. So I went away with some props and tried to model and photograph their ideas. They didn't pass on any specific notesor guidelines, and it was an unusually straightforward experience. I just handed over the film and everyone seemed happy.
"While it's a great album and I'm very proud of it, the artwork kind of makes me cringe because I never liked it." - Stewart Haygarth
How do you feel about the cover and the record?
Stewart Haygarth: I haven't listened to the record for a while, but they were a very unique band. They didn't really fit into one specific scene. And while it's a great album and I'm very proud of it, the artwork kind of makes me cringe because I never liked it. It's not an idea I'd come up with or can relate to - it's all a bit heavy metal. At the time XL shared offices with 4AD, who made covers for bands like Cocteau Twins, Pixies and Dead Can Dance, and these were the type of covers I wanted to do. Then there were the Blur covers that feature found imagery, like the swimming woman wearing a rubber cap. I just found that sort of stuff more original.
Did you get paid much?
Stewart Haygarth: I got £400 I think, and that was that. No royalties either!
You're a successful artist in your own right, now. Has any of this work informed it?
Stewart Haygarth: When I shot the Prodigy cover I was a photographer, then later I moved into illustration and then 10-years I started doing art and design, working in light mixed media. It's all helped. You have to try different things out. Doing commercial work helps your artistic work with structure.
So Les, how did you go from doing fantasy illustrations to the inside sleeve for a band like the Prodigy?
Les Edwards: Well, I'd done some covers before, one for Uriah Heep and another for Monty Python. There was a cover for Metallica for their single 'Jump in the Fire', but most of those were 'second rights' IE they'd be used somewhere else first like on a book jacket and then reused as a cover.
How did they approach you?
Les Edwards: They got in touch with my agent, and told them they wanted me to do it. I didn't really know about The Prodigy at the time because I was having one of my periods of not being into music. I'd heard of them but hadn't listened to them, and I didn't really know any thing about them until I went and met them at their recording studio, where they explained what they wanted.
How were they when you met them?
Les Edwards: They were a very polite bunch of young men. The only problem was that they kept describing what they wanted in street slang, so sometimes I had no idea what they were saying.
"I don't remember the 1990s as being a particularly repressive time, but if you were Liam and Keith's age, perhaps you felt differently." - Les Edwards
What do you think the artwork is about?
Les Edwards: I'm something of an old hippy, but it seems to me to be the same message you'd heard in the 1960s, people criticising governments for being tyrannical. I don't remember the 1990s as being a particularly repressive time, but if you were Liam and Keith's age, perhaps you felt differently. Rave culture was going on, and people just disapproved. There was a bit of concern about the drug culture, but in a lot of instances, the police were so heavy handed. Things haven't changed there.
Did they play you the record?
Les Edwards: No, they just sent me a copy when it came out. I had a rough idea of what it might sound like, but no concrete ideas. I had no idea it was going to be so successful!
How do you feel about image now? There's a heavy contrast between that and the cover.
Les Edwards: I think it's very striking when you open up the sleeve, but I've always found it slightly jarring, because it's so different from the cover. I suppose they're both quite dark in a way, but I always found the decision to put those together quite strange. Then again, people seemed to like it, so good.
And what do you think about the album now?
Les Edwards: I haven't heard it for a couple of years, so I'll have to dig it out and have a listen. I've still got in on the shelf. I go through cycles of listening to music, so I dare say it'll find its way onto my MP3 player.
And did they invite you to a rave afterwards?
Les Edwards: Haha, no! But that would have been good.