The Prodigy are an English electronic dance music band formed in Braintree, Essex, in 1990 by producer, keyboardist, and songwriter Liam Howlett. The original line-up also featured dancer and vocalist Keith Flint, dancer and occasional live keyboardist Leeroy Thornhill, dancer Sharky, and MC and vocalist Maxim. They are pioneers of the breakbeat-influenced genre big beat, and describe their style as electronic punk.
|Origin||Braintree, Essex, England|
|Discography||The Prodigy discography|
The band emerged during the underground rave scene and achieved early success in 1991 with their debut singles "Charly" and "Everybody in the Place", which reached the UK top five. After their debut album Experience (1992), the band moved from their rave roots and incorporated techno, breakbeat, and rock influences on their follow-up, the critically acclaimed Music for the Jilted Generation (1994). They reached their commercial and critical peak with their third studio album The Fat of the Land (1997), which went to No. 1 in 16 countries, including the UK and the US, and spawned the UK number one singles "Firestarter" and "Breathe" in 1996. The third single, "Smack My Bitch Up", was a UK top ten hit and generated considerable controversy over its suggestive lyrics and music video. Thornhill left the band in 2000 and Flint died in 2019; Howlett and Maxim are the only two original members.
The Prodigy are one of the most successful electronic groups of all time, selling an estimated 25 million records worldwide including over 4.7 million albums in the UK. They have scored seven consecutive UK number one albums. AllMusic described them as "the premiere dance act for the alternative masses" and "the Godfathers of Rave". The Prodigy have won many awards during their career, including two Brit Awards for Best British Dance Act, three MTV Video Music Awards, two Kerrang! Awards, five MTV Europe Music Awards, and two Grammy Award nominations.
Formation and early singles success (1990–1991) edit
In 1989, 18-year-old DJ, musician, and songwriter Liam Howlett returned to his hometown of Braintree, Essex after quitting his gig as DJ in the hip-hop group Cut 2 Kill. He had started to make his own music three years prior, beginning with hip-hop and house music before he focused on the rave scene that was gaining popularity at the time. He preferred the non-confrontational atmosphere that raves brought, and began to work DJ sets in the local area while working on original music at home.
It was in Braintree where Howlett met dancers Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill at one of his gigs at The Barn nightclub. Flint requested Howlett make a mix tape for him, to which Howlett obliged and returned a cassette several days later with some of his own songs on the other side. Howlett had scratched the word "Prodigy" onto the cassette, referring to the Moog Prodigy synthesizer which he used to make some of the music. The tape was well received by Flint and Thornhill, who developed new dance sequences to the music and suggested to Howlett they begin a group together. The three settled on The Prodigy as their name and enlisted a fourth live member, female dancer and vocalist Sharky, a friend of Flint's; the group officially formed on 5 October 1990. Their first gig took place in February 1991 at The Four Aces Club (then called Labrynth) in Dalston. It was organised by Ziggy, a local promoter who became their first manager. Howlett described the venue as the roughest in London at the time. Shortly before the gig, the group met rapper and MC Maxim, then known as Maxim Reality and Keeti. Flint pitched for Maxim to join the group on the strength of his connections with the reggae scene and the music contacts he had developed. Maxim failed to turn up at a scheduled meeting, but joined The Prodigy unexpectedly at their first gig, where he improvised lyrics on stage.
Shortly after their live debut, Howlett completed a 10-track demo tape on a Roland W-30 sampling keyboard and approached Tam Tam Records with the hope of securing a record deal, but was declined. He turned to XL Recordings, headed by Tim Palmer and Nick Halkes, who agreed to a meeting and subsequently signed the group to a contract that involved the release of four singles. This culminated in their first official release, the EP What Evil Lurks, in February 1991, containing four tracks that Howlett had produced on the demo. Shortly after signing to XL Records, The Prodigy were reduced to a four-piece when Sharky could no longer commit to the band and left.
In August 1991, The Prodigy released their debut single "Charly", which samples dialogue from the Charley Says series of animated films produced by the Central Office of Information. It became a hit in the rave scene, and reached No. 1 on the UK Dance Singles Chart and No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart, thus catapulting the band into the wider public attention. The success of "Charly" began a trend of mixing dance and rave tracks with cartoon samples, such as "A Trip to Trumpton" by Urban Hype and "Sesame's Treet" by Smart E's, which were a hit with clubbers but not to the critics, who dismissed it as "kiddie rave" or "toytown techno". Howlett realised that a follow-up single in the same style "would have been the downfall of us" and wanted to avoid such labels. He spent earnings from "Charly" on new instruments and studio equipment, expanding the group's sound with a Roland U-220 sound module and TR-909 drum machine. Their second single, "Everybody in the Place (Fairground Edit)", was released in December 1991. It reached No. 2 in the UK, beaten to the top spot by a re-release of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen following the death of their singer Freddie Mercury.
Experience and Music for the Jilted Generation (1992–1995) edit
In 1991 and 1992, Howlett recorded the band's debut full-length studio album Experience at his home facility, Earthbound Studios. The project began after XL Recordings suggested the group make one, and initially Howlett wanted to produce a "rave concept album" inspired by Pink Floyd, but abandoned the idea due to the risk of limiting his musical ideas. Released in September 1992, the album peaked at No. 12 on the UK Albums Chart and was certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for selling over 300,000 copies. The album contains many samples of other artists, and closes with a live track featuring Maxim on vocals. It is considered a landmark release in British rave music, and was an influential record for American DJ and musician Moby for his early studio releases. Its third single, "Fire/Jericho", was on track to become the band's third consecutive UK top ten single, but XL Recordings deleted it from its catalogue and therefore stalled at its peak of No. 11.
By early 1993, The Prodigy had completed their first major nationwide tour. Howlett said that The Prodigy had now become an established act and would continue to produce original dance music as there was still an audience for it. After Experience and the run of singles that accompanied it, the band moved to distance themselves from the "kiddie rave" reputation that had dogged them. The rave scene moved on from its hardcore phase, following the Criminal Justice Act's anti-rave legislation on the horizon. Later in 1993, Howlett released an anonymous white label vinyl, bearing only the titles "Earthbound I" and "Earthbound 2". Its hypnotic, hard-edged sound won wide underground approval. The songs were officially released as "One Love" and "Full Throttle" in September 1993, and reached No. 8 in the UK. By this time the band performed live at least once a week, and had started performing overseas including Germany, the US, and Japan.
In 1993, Howlett started work on the band's second album, Music for the Jilted Generation. Much of the new material was written in response to the Criminal Justice Act as exemplified by "Their Law", co-written and performed with alternative rock band Pop Will Eat Itself. The album opens with a spoken introduction: "So I've decided to take my work back underground to stop it falling into the wrong hands". Howlett explained that "the wrong hands" represented people who considered The Prodigy as a commercial band, and no longer wanted the group to be seen as purely a rave act. It displays a wider range of musical styles and structures as a result, including big beat and heavy breakbeat-based tracks and the conceptual three-part song "The Narcotic Suite". The Guardian called it a "complex, powerful record that propelled dance music into stadiums with rock'n'roll swagger".
Released in September 1994, the album entered the UK chart at No. 1 and received positive reactions from critics. It was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, although Howlett had reaffirmed his dedication to making The Prodigy a "hard dance band" commercially successful but without compromise. The band avoided mainstream exposure, declining offers to appear on Top of the Pops and other national television shows in the UK. Their performance of "Everybody in the Place" on the BBC2 television series Dance Energy in 1991 remains their only one on British television. In the ensuing years, their music videos received airplay on MTV Europe which boosted their popularity across the continent.
Following the international success of Music for the Jilted Generation, the band augmented their line-up with guitarist Jim Davies (a live band member who later joined the group Pitchshifter) in 1995 for tracks such as "Their Law", "Break and Enter 95", and various live-only interludes and versions. He was soon to be replaced by Gizz Butt of the band Janus Stark, who remained with the band for the next three years.
The Fat of the Land and Thornhill's departure (1996–2000) edit
The release of "Firestarter" in 1996, featuring vocals for the first time courtesy of a new-look Keith Flint, helped the band break into the United States and other overseas markets, and reached number one on the UK Singles Chart. In this year the Prodigy also headlined the prestigious Lollapalooza festival.
The long-awaited third Prodigy album, The Fat of the Land, was released in 1997, just as the band headlined the Glastonbury Festival on its opening night. Featuring simplified melodies, sparser sampling, less rave music influences, and punk-like vocals supplied by a made-over Flint, the album nevertheless retained the breaks and synths idiomatic of the band. The album cemented the band's position as one of the most internationally successful acts in the dance genre, entering the UK and US charts at number one.
The Prodigy were getting considerable airplay on rock stations with their controversial track "Smack My Bitch Up"—and also a negative backlash for the song. The National Organization for Women (NOW) criticized the song and its music video. The song's lyrics consist entirely of the repeated phrase "Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up", which NOW stated are a "dangerous and offensive message advocating violence against women". Howlett responded to the criticism by stating that the meaning of the song and its lyrics were being misinterpreted, and the phrase meant "doing anything intensely, like being on stage—going for extreme manic energy". The band did not actually write the lyric, but rather, sampled it from the hip hop Ultramagnetic MCs' track "Give the Drummer Some" which also appears on the Dirtchamber Sessions; they had also sampled another Ultramagnetic MCs song "Critical Beatdown" on their earlier "Out of Space" single. The National Organization for Women also believed that the lyrics are in reference to administering heroin (smack) to another person. Several radio stations limited the song's airplay to nighttime hours. In September 1997, the Prodigy performed "Breathe" at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, and won the Viewer's Choice Award.
During a performance at the Reading Festival on 29 August 1998, the Prodigy and the Beastie Boys had an onstage disagreement over the track, with the Beastie Boys requesting the song should be pulled from their set as it could be considered offensive to those who had suffered domestic abuse. Choosing to ignore the Beastie Boys' plea, Maxim introduced "Smack My Bitch Up" with the declaration "They didn't want us to play this fucking tune. But the way things go, I do what the fuck I want".
Wal-Mart and Kmart later announced they would pull The Fat of the Land off their shelves. Despite the fact that the LP had resided on their store shelves for over 20 weeks, and the fact that they had sold 150,000 copies of the album in total, the two stores found the marketing campaign for the new single release "offensive". At the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, "Smack My Bitch Up" won two awards; Best Dance Video and Breakthrough Video.
1999 saw the release of the Prodigy's The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One, a DJ mix album by Howlett, produced as an official record of a successful guest appearance on the British Radio 1. The original session came into being following a conversation between journalism and band biographer Martin James and Breezeblock presenter Mary Anne Hobbs. They are subsequently both thanked on the album sleeve notes. In June of the same year, when the band had arguably reached their commercial peak, they parted company with guitarist Gizz Butt.
Following 1999, Thornhill departed from the group after splitting up with Sara Cox; the band's website was replaced with their logo and the words "We will be back..." set against a black background, which would remain until 2002.
Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (2001–2004) edit
After the group performed some live shows in 2001, their single "Baby's Got a Temper" was released in July 2002 to critical disappointment. The original version of the song was written by Flint's sideband Flint, and was called "NNNN". The Prodigy version was a total reworking of Flint's track with only a few of the lyrics and melody remaining from the original and produced by Howlett. The song also featured Jim Davies. Once again, the band courted controversy by including references to the "date rape" drug Rohypnol in the song's lyrics. The song's music video was also controversial, which featured barely covered women milking cows in a suggestive fashion. The complete, unedited video was aired on MTV2 in 2002 as part of a special late-night countdown showing the most controversial videos ever to air on MTV. In the same year, however, Q magazine named the Prodigy 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, and 14 September 2004 in the US. A precursory and experimental single, "Memphis Bells", was released in very limited numbers, followed by the traditional release of the single "Girls". The US version of the studio album contained a remix of "Girls", entitled "More Girls", as a bonus track. The album, which topped the UK Albums Chart in its debut week, was promoted by a two-year-long tour.
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 choices were available. Five mixes were sold in three file formats: WAV, two audio mixes in MP3, and a 5.1 DTS surround sound mix, and all were free of digital rights management.
In 2005 the band released a compilation Their Law: The Singles 1990–2005, which spawned a single containing new remixes of the songs "Out of Space" ("Audio Bullys Remix") and "Voodoo People" (the "Pendulum Remix"). The artwork represented drawn versions of the front covers of the "Out of Space" and "Voodoo People" single releases. The latter was also followed by a music video filmed in Romford Market, Essex, which featured on the DVD release of the compilation. Sharky, the group's only female member, is shown running and winning the race depicted in the video. Also in 2005 the song "You'll be Under my Wheels" from the Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned album was added to the soundtrack of Need for Speed: Most Wanted. The cover artwork included an extended essay by band biographer Martin James.
The Prodigy's first two albums, 1992's Experience and 1994's Music for the Jilted Generation, were re-released in expanded, deluxe editions on 4 August 2008. As well as being remastered, the new packages featured a bonus disc including mixes, rarities, and live tracks. The two albums also featured expanded artwork in addition to the new musical content.
About the re-release process, Howlett said, "We didn't actually want to do the Greatest Hits, we were ready to start our new record—until the record company pointed out that it was in the contract. But then we got into it, and tried to be creative with it as much as [we could]. And, you know, we ended up being really proud of it. You have to have a different brain when you're doing a record like that. It's more about [saying] 'this is your achievement'; I could hold in one hand all the records we've released, so that was cool. We're moving on now, and getting on with the new record.
Invaders Must Die (2008–2010) edit
The Prodigy tested a few of the new tracks at Rainbow Warehouse Birmingham and Plug in Sheffield in May 2008. The Prodigy showcased three new songs at the Oxegen Festival in the early hours of 13 July 2008. Among the tracks previewed were "World's on Fire", "Warrior's Dance", and "Mescaline".
On 5 November 2008, it was announced that the band's fifth studio album would be called Invaders Must Die and would be released on the band's new label, Take Me to the Hospital. It was released in the U.S. on 3 March 2009, and was the first Prodigy album since 1997's The Fat of the Land to feature all three members of the band.
The album featured Dave Grohl on drums for "Run with the Wolves". The top five hit "Omen" and "Invaders Must Die" were co-produced with Does It Offend You, Yeah? frontman James Rushent. The band said that the album would go back to their "old-school but cutting edge" roots. The album was released as a CD, CD-DVD set, double vinyl, digital download, and a luxury 7-inch vinyl box set including five 7-inches, CD-DVD, bonus CD, poster, stickers, and stencils.
Invaders Must Die was released on 21 February 2009 in Australia and in Europe on 23 February 2009, charting at number one in the U.K. with week one sales of over 97,000—a higher figure than for either Always Outnumbered or their singles collection. The album also reached the top five in Germany and Australia and top 10 in Norway and several other European countries.
To coincide with the release of the album, the band embarked on a nine-date UK arena tour, with support from Dizzee Rascal, Noisia, Herve, and DJ Kissy Sell Out. The tour included the first edition of the band's own annual dance gig, the Warriors Dance Festival. The single "Omen" debuted at number 1 on the Canadian Singles Chart the week of 25 February 2009 and won the Kerrang! Award for Best Single. The initial critical response to Invaders Must Die was somewhat mixed. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 60, based on 20 reviews. However, the album was well received by the fans, who welcomed it in a positive light compared to Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. Two singles followed, "Warrior's Dance" and "Take Me to the Hospital", which were released on 11 May and 31 August 2009 respectively. The former song peaked at number 9 on the UK Singles Chart, while the latter included a VHS-filmed music video that premiered on VidZone. A fourth single, "Invaders Must Die (Liam H Reamped Version)", from the Special Edition of the album, was released. Howlett would later describe the album as "more of a celebration. We'd come back together and were like, 'Yeah! We're here, we're really buzzing!"
The band also played Glastonbury in 2009.
The Day Is My Enemy (2010–2015) edit
In May 2011, the band released World's on Fire, their first live album and concert film documenting their 24 July 2010 show at the Milton Keynes Bowl as part of that year's Warriors Dance Festival. The film screened to select theatres across Europe for one night. On 16 November 2010, Howlett announced that after their American tour with Linkin Park, The Prodigy were to re-enter the studio to record new material.
On 6 August 2011, The Prodigy headlined the Przystanek Woodstock in Poland, while at their two final shows of 2011 in Brazil, they premiered two new tracks: "A.W.O.L" and "Dogbite". They headlined the 2012 Download Festival on 8 June playing a regular setlist, with the addition of three new songs, "Jetfighter", "Dogbite" and "A.W.O.L", accompanied by on-stage imagery of jet aircraft. Howlett has confirmed this album will not be dubstep, but that it will feel "fresh" whilst darker. In April 2012, to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of The Fat of the Land, the album was re-released alongside a remix EP, The Added Fat EP, featuring remixes from multiple groups such as Major Lazer, Noisia, and Zeds Dead.
On 3 May 2012, The Prodigy announced the working title of their new album How to Steal a Jetfighter. In December 2012, a new track titled "The Day" was debuted at Warrior's Brixton and in June 2013, a new track titled "Rockweiler" was debuted at Rock am Ring. The band headlined the Sonisphere Festival at Knebworth in 2014. On 2 July 2014, the band revealed their upcoming album would have a different name and a "violent sound". In August 2014, they signed to the Three Six Zero Group for the United States, returning to Warner Music for the first time since 2004. Maxim indicated in September 2014 that the new Prodigy album would be released in the first quarter of 2015. It was later announced on 6 January 2015 that the next Prodigy album would be releasing 30 March 2015 and that it had been given the title The Day Is My Enemy.
On 12 January 2015, The Prodigy released "Nasty" as the lead single from their upcoming album along with the title track on 26 January 2015. Howlett found that "violent is the word that keeps on coming up" when describing the album. The entire recording process took almost six years taking in a number of studios and a few restarts to establish that "angry, energetic sound". Unlike previous efforts, The Day Is My Enemy became a band-album where Flint and Maxim worked in tandem with Howlett. This created a degree of friction although Flint noted that "four years ago we sat down and talked about where the next album was gonna go, and we knew we had to bust out the most 'band' album we could create".
The band played at Future Music Festival Australia in February–March 2015 and toured Germany and France in April 2015 and the UK in May 2015. They also performed at the Rock Werchter, Rock am Ring/Rock im Park, Benicàssim and Isle of Wight festivals.
On 23 February 2015, The Prodigy released "Wild Frontier" as the second single from their upcoming album The Day Is My Enemy after announcing it three days earlier. The stop-motion animation video was directed by the Dutch filmmaker Mascha Halberstad and animator Elmer Kaan. The cover art was designed by Austrian artist and designer Moritz Resl. In May 2015, The Prodigy announced a winter 2015 UK and mainland Europe tour, with Public Enemy as support.
No Tourists, Flint's death, and return to touring (2016–present) edit
The Prodigy's seventh studio album, No Tourists, was released on 2 November 2018 under a new recording deal with BMG Rights Management. The deal reunited the group with Howlett's song publishing, which BMG had acquired from EMI Music Publishing in 2012 as part of the Virgin Music catalogue.
On 4 March 2019, Flint was found dead at his home in Essex, weeks after the band had toured Australia and New Zealand. The rest of The Prodigy's tour dates were cancelled. Following Flint's death, fans began using the Twitter hashtag "Firestarter4Number1" on various social media platforms to get "Firestarter" to number one on the UK singles chart out of respect for Flint and to raise awareness of suicide among men. In August 2020, Howlett said that The Prodigy will continue. That Christmas Day, he confirmed that new music will be released at some point in 2021. Former member Leeroy Thornhill said that Howlett had been working on a new Prodigy album at the time of Flint's death, and wishes to complete it as a tribute to Flint. On 10 February 2021, the band announced their plans to begin production on a documentary film about the band's history, with an as-yet unknown title and release date. It will be directed by long time collaborator Paul Dugdale and produced by Pulse Films.
On 7 March 2022, The Prodigy announced a return to the stage with a 10-date tour of the UK in July to coincide with the 25th anniversary of The Fat of the Land, also hinting that new material would be performed on the tour.
On 28 October 2022, the band announced they would be returning to live shows outside of the UK for the first time in four years, stating that in 2023 new dates will be added, including the festival circuit, with a June date in Austria confirmed. Further tour dates would be announced in due course.
Musical style and influences edit
Along with The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy have been credited as pioneers of the big beat genre, which achieved mainstream popularity in the 1990s. The Prodigy is not considered entirely representative of the genre, as their production "often reflected the more intelligent edge of trip-hop, and rarely broke into the mindless arena of true big beat" according to AllMusic. The Prodigy are also considered techno, alternative dance, electronic rock, electropunk, rave, dance-rock, electronica, breakbeat hardcore, industrial, rap rock, and rock.
Liam Howlett cited early electro as a big influence, mentioning tunes like "Clear" by American music group Cybotron and "Al Naafiysh" by Hashim. He also cited The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy, and Rage Against the Machine as influences.
Band members edit
Current live musicians
Former live musicians
Awards and nominations edit
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Keith Flint of British rock band "The Prodigy" performs on stage during a concert in Vienna, in 1997. The Prodigy performed in front of some 15,000 spectators during the "Sundance '97" open-air festival.
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