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10 moments that defined The Prodigy

Straight outta Braintree, Essex, we chart a few highlights from the awe-inspiring history of a true UK rave phenomenon...

The Prodigy— AKA Keith Flint, Liam Howlett and Maxim— need no introduction.

From courting controversy through music videos and associations with the anti-establishment origins of British dance music, to platinum selling albums and festival headlining shows, you only get acts like this every so often. 

Arriving kicking and screaming into the formative UK rave scene circa 1990, a meeting of minds at an outdoor party a year earlier led to Howlett recording a mix tape for Flint. The pair soon joined forces with the aforementioned Maxim, keyboardist Leeroy Thornhill and dancer-vocalist Sharky for the band's initial line-up.

During the decades between then and now the outfit switched from underground electronic heroes to stadium-filling crossover dons, bringing in elements of metal and big beat, and losing Thornhill and Sharky along the way.

In December 2017 they embark on their first major UK tour in two years, so we thought it wise to pay some respect to these bonafide dons with ten defining moments...  

1. 'What Evil Lurks' and XL (1991)

After securing their first fixed line-up, The Prodigy layed down a ten-track demo and approached A&Rs at Tam Tam Records. No contract was offered, though, much to the advantage of a then-fledgling London imprint which would go on to be one of the UK's most renowned, XL Recordings. The outfit secured their inaugural record deal there, and 'What Evil Lurks' soon followed, a 12" EP featuring four tunes from the initial demo, with the titular number sounding like this. 

2. 'Charly' (1991)

12 months, give or take, before The Shamen unleashed 'Ebeneezer Goode', The Prodigy offered their own ode to stuff you probably don't want to get caught with by way of 'Charly'. The track was their first official single, hitting No. 3 in the UK charts, making it Howlett and Co's first major success. Although it was not without criticism from the music press, who claimed it inspired a slew of other troupes to utilise samples from children's TV shows, thanks to its use of lines from the 1970s public information videos, Charley Says.  

3. Dance Energy (1992)

In years to come, The Prodigy would make a name for themselves by refusing a host of live TV performances in a bid to avoid over-exposure, including Top of the Pops. To date, their only musical appearance on a television show was the BBC2 series Dance Energy, circa '92, hosted by Normski, the rapper and presenter who would go on to be one of 15 stars involved in 2005's short-lived reality effort, Extreme Celebrity Detox.

4. 'Earthbound' (1993)

The Prodigy's debut album, 'Experience', may have been a watershed— certified platinum in the UK with over 300,000 copies sold in 1992— but their next release, a white label entitled 'Earthbound', re-affirmed their status as kings of the underground. When it first landed in record shops there was no artist credit, and by showcasing a tougher, druggier sound you could have been forgiven for assuming it wasn't one of theirs. That is until they gave the package a more formal release later in the year, and called it 'One Love'. 

5. 'Music For the Jilted Generation' (1994)

'Music For the Jilted Generation', The Prodigy's second album, offered a glimpse of what was to come. Incorporating wider influences, elements of industrial and rock were clearly audible, sounds that would go on to define the band's later work. The record stormed straight to No. 1 in the UK album charts, and received a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize (which had already embraced the emergent dance scene with previous winners Primal Scream, and nods to Stereo MCs and Apache Indian). 'Their Law', featuring alt-guitar outfit Pop Will Eat Itself, may be the most significant track, a protest against the Criminal Justice Act that outlawed raves in 1993. 

6. 'Firestarter' (1996)

While The Spice Girls were exploding into the common conscious with 'Wannabee', and Peter Andre was desperately trying to get close to his 'Mysterious Girl', The Prodigy returned with another of the year's top 20 best-selling tunes, 'Firestarter'.

Introducing a new look Keith Flint, somewhere between punk rocker, angry clown and actual demon, it was their first international hit, staying at No. 1 in the UK singles charts for three weeks. It also hit the top spot in Finland and Norway, and made it into the US Billboard Top 30. Those old enough to remember will never forget the first time the video, filmed in an abandoned London tube tunnel, played on ITV's usually-not-traumatic Saturday morning Chart Show...

7. Prodigy, 'Smack My Bitch Up', Glastonbury, and 'The Fat of the Land' (1997)

If 1996 was a landmark year, 1997 was career-defining. Follow up single to 'Firestarter', 'Smack My Bitch Up' appalled censors thanks to the confrontational lyrics and a largely misunderstood video— only those who watched to the very end realised how subversive it was. 'The Fat of the Land' then arrived, earning them another Mercury nomination and entering the Guinness Book of Records in 1999 as the fastest selling British album of all time. The band also shortened their name to Prodigy, and headlined Glastonbury.

Random fact- the real name of the lap dancer picked up by the protagonist in the video to 'Smack My Bitch Up' is Teresa May. You'll need to sign into YouTube to watch the full version below. 

8. 'Memphis Bells' (2004)

After three years in the wilderness, 2002 saw comeback single 'Baby's Got A Temper' arrive to widespread nothingness. And it was another two years before a now-three piece Prodigy (Liam Howlett, Keith Flint and Maxim) delivered their fourth studio album, 'Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned'.

Again they topped the UK charts, but it's the experimental single 'Memphis Bells' that really stands out. 5,000 digital copies were made available, and each had more than 39,000 possible arrangements, which listeners could choose from themselves, thus making this potentially the most personalised release in the history of music. 

9. 'World's On Fire' (2011)

'World's On Fire' was the film and album of the Prodigy's biggest live performance to date. 65,000 were in attendance at Milton Keynes Bowl in 2010, and the resulting movie was shown in cinemas across Europe for one night only, an idea that has since become somewhat commonplace. Subsequently sold on DVD and CD, it put to rest the idea that you'd never be able to capture the ferocity of the band on stage in a box, exhausting viewers almost as much as the crowd clearly were by the end of the set, which notably didn't include anything from 'Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned'. 

10. 'The Day Is My Enemy' (2015)

2018 will confirm whether we will ever see another bonafide classic LP from Prodigy, but after the lukewarm reception that greeted both 'Invaders Must Die' , and 'Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned', 'The Day Is My Enemy' was a welcome triumph, garnering widespread critical and public acclaim.

Perhaps more significantly, it was also the band's sixth consecutive No. 1 album in the UK, and the first on which Maxim and Keith Flint had a part in songwriting duties. Here's 'Ibiza', taken from the record, featuring British punks Sleaford Mods, one of the few contemporary guitar acts that could hope to match the kind of boozy aggression we've come to expect from Braintree's finest. 

 

Want more? Check out 10 moments that defined Carl Cox.