The Prodigy

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File:Prodigy-02.jpg
The Prodigy today. From left: Keith Flint, Liam Howlett and Maxim.

The Prodigy is a British electronica act, consisting of Liam Howlett (keyboards), Keith Flint (vocalist/dancer) and Maxim (vocals, live MC). Leeroy Thornhill (Dancer) was also a member of the band from 1990 to 2000. A female dancer/vocalist called Sharky was also briefly associated with the band during their early period. The Prodigy first emerged on the underground rave scene in the early 90s, and since then have achieved immense popularity and worldwide renown. Memorable songs include "Charly", "Out of Space", "Smack My Bitch Up", "No Good (Start the Dance)", "Breathe" and "Firestarter". The Prodigy has developed various styles over time, initially pioneering the underground rave scene, and now creating electronica tracks with punk vocal elements.

History

Beginnings

Formed in Essex, England, the Prodigy started life with an initial 10-track demo by Liam Howlett, put together on a Roland W-30 sequencer keyboard. XL Recordings picked up the demo and an initial 12" pressing of What Evil Lurks was released in early 1991.

The band's first performance was at Four Aces in Hackney, London. Charly, released 6 months later, was a huge hit in the British rave scene of the time, catapulting the band into the wider public consciousness for the first time. Some critics were later to identify the release of Charly, with its memorable sample of a government television infomercial aimed at children (Charley Says), as the tune that instigated the ultimate destruction of the underground rave scene, opening the door to a flood of low quality cheesy rave tracks, such as Urban Hype's Trip to Trumpton, and Smart E's Sesame's Treet. Charly was soon followed by the band's first full length album, The Prodigy Experience, widely regarded as one of the finest examples of the rave genre ever recorded.

After this album, and the run of singles that accompanied it, the Prodigy moved to distance themselves from the kiddie rave reputation that now dogged them. The rave scene was beginning to implode, with promises of "anti-rave" legislation on the horizon. In 1993, Liam released an anonymous white label, bearing only the title Earthbound I. Its hypnotic, hard-edged sound won near-universal underground approval. Many former critics of the band were astounded when they finally acknowledged responsibility for the record. It was officially released as One Love later that year, and went on to chart at #8 in the UK.

In 1994, the release of the Prodigy's second album, Music for the Jilted Generation, displayed a much wider spectrum of musical style. Heavyweight dancefloor tunes still abounded, complemented by more unusual tracks such as 3 Kilos, and even rock music inclinations (Their Law). The album was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize. In the liner notes, the band did not hesitate to succinctly express their feelings for the newly-passed Criminal Justice and Public Order Act:

"HOW CAN THE GOVERNMENT STOP YOUNG PEOPLE HAVING A GOOD TIME. FIGHT THIS BOLLOCKS."

The album was a call to arms for electronic music, a tour-de-force of originality providing a tantalising and impelling glimpse of what was still possible within the genre.

The international success of Music for the Jilted Generation meant that touring beyond the United Kingdom was now a viable prospect. The band augmented their line-up with guitarist Jim Davies (from the group Pitchshifter) in 1995 for tracks such as Their Law, Break And Enter 95, and various live-only interludes and versions. The 1996 release of Firestarter, featuring vocals for the first time courtesy of a new-look Keith Flint, helped the band break into the US and other overseas markets, and reached number one in the UK. In this year the Prodigy also headlined the prestigious Lollapalooza festival. The Prodigy have toured all over the world, including Beirut and Moscow's Red Square.

The third Prodigy album, The Fat of the Land, was released in 1997. Like its predecessors, the album represented a new milestone in the evolution of both the band and the wider mainstream dance scene. Featuring simplified melodies, sparser sampling, and more sneering, punk-like vocals, the album nevertheless retained the bone-jarring breaks and buzzsaw synth so idiomatic of the band. Perfectly poised between underground acceptability and mainstream acceptance, the album cemented the band's position as one of the most internationally successful and famous acts in the hard dance genre, entering the British and American charts at number one. The best selling single Breathe, released in 1996, was taken from this album.

"Smack My Bitch Up" controversy

Prodigy was getting a lot of airplay on rock stations with their track, "Smack My Bitch Up," and were getting even more negative backlash for the song. Time-Warner, Prodigy's parent company, was feeling the heat from the National Organization for Women (NOW) over the track. Although the tune's lyrics are few but repetitive ("Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up"), NOW has stated that the lyrics are a "...dangerous and offensive message advocating violence against women." Prodigy member Liam Howlett responded to the attacks by claiming that the song's lyrics are being misinterpreted: (the song means) "...doing anything intensely, like being on stage - going for extreme manic energy." The lyrics are also not a product of Prodigy's songwriting abilities, but are sampled from an Ultramagnetic MCs' track. Several radio stations defended the song's message, yet only played the track at night. The video for the song (directed by Jonas Akerlund) featured a first-person POV of someone going clubbing, doing a lot of drugs, getting into fist fights with men, abusing women and picking up a prostitute. At the end of the video the camera sees a reflection in the mirror and is revealed to be a woman, not a man as the misogynistic content might imply. MTV only aired the video between 1 and 5 a.m. in order for mature viewers to see the "groundbreaking" images. Wal-mart and Kmart later announced they would pull Prodigy's The Fat of the Land off their shelves because of the recent controversy of "Smack My Bitch Up." Even though the LP had resided on their store shelves for over 20 weeks, the two stores found the marketing campaign for the new single release offensive.

In mid-2002, the full-on unedited version of this video was aired on MTV2 as part of a special countdown showing the most controversial videos ever to air on MTV. This countdown was only shown late at night because of the graphic imagery of "Smack My Bitch Up" and several other videos on the countdown. This video in particular was deemed the "Most Controversial Video" by MTV and showed at the #1 spot on the countdown.

Later Works

1999 saw the release of Dirtchamber Sessions Volume 1. This album was not strictly speaking a Prodigy album (although it did carry the band's name and logo), being a DJ mix album by Howlett, produced as an official record of a successful guest appearance on the British Radio 1.

In 2002, after a break from touring and recording, the single Baby's Got a Temper was released to critical disappointment. The song was written by Keith Flint's sideband, Flint, and also featured Jim Davies. The single was produced by Liam Howlett. In the same year, however, Q magazine named The Prodigy as one of the "50 Bands To See Before You Die".

The Prodigy's fourth studio album, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned was released on 23 August 2004 (14 September 2004 in the USA). A precursory and experimental single Memphis Bells was released in very limited numbers, followed by the traditional release of the single Girls.

5,000 digital copies of Memphis Bells were sold over the internet. Each copy was a combination of customer-chosen instrumental, rhythmic, and melodic options, of which 39,600 (of 660,000 total) choices were available. Five mixes were sold in three file formats, WAV, two audio mixes in MP3, and a 5.1 DTS Multichannel audio mix and all were free of Digital rights management. The experiment was a success, with the 5,000 copies being sold in just over 36 hours in spite of server problems from the demand.

In 2005, they released a compilation, Their Law: The Singles 1990-2005.

Evolution

The Prodigy are a difficult band to classify, because they have evolved significantly with time. Each of their albums represents a distinct stage in the band's musical evolution. From their initial inception as a tripped out hardcore techno band with scene classics such as Your Love and Out of Space, to the much more mainstream dance of No Good, to the rockish Their Law to punk tracks such as the L7 cover Fuel my Fire in more recent years, the Prodigy continue to innovate and surprise.

Members

Current members

Ex-members

Live members

Former live members

Discography

Studio albums

Compilation albums

Hit singles

from Experience

  • 1991 "Charly" #3 UK (#73 Re-release in 2004 along with Pandemonium / Your Love)
  • 1992 "Everybody in the Place" #2 UK
  • 1992 "Fire/Jericho" #11 UK
  • 1992 "Out of Space/Ruff in the Jungle Bizness" #5 UK
  • 1993 "Wind It Up (Rewound)" #11 UK

from Music for the Jilted Generation

  • 1993 "One Love" #8 UK
  • 1994 "No Good (Start the Dance)" #4 UK
  • 1994 "Voodoo People" #13 UK
  • 1995 "Poison" #15 UK

from The Fat of the Land

  • 1996 "Firestarter" #1 UK, #30 US
  • 1996 "Breathe" #1 UK
  • 1997 "Smack My Bitch Up" #8 UK

non-album single

  • 2002 "Baby Got a Temper" #5 UK

from Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned

  • 2004 "Girls" / "Memphis Bells"
  • 2004 "Girls" #19 UK
  • 2004 "Hotride" #60 UK (Non-chart qualifying)
  • 2005 "Spitfire" (entered BBC chart at #1)

from Their Law The Singles 1990-2005

  • 2005 "Voodoo People (Pendulum Remix)" / "Out Of Space (Audio Bullys Remix)" #20 UK

See also

External links

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