If there’s one thing that everybody of a certain age in Britain can agree on, it’s a love of The Prodigy. The group cooked up an intoxicating blend of music born from a rave culture that appealed to music fans who wouldn’t usually think twice about the genre, and The Prodigy became a trend-defying group like the UK had never seen before.
Tragically, in 2019, the world was left devastated when Keith Flint was found dead by suicide. It’s impossible not to touch on this factor while remembering the band to ensure we celebrate his legacy. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 50 in the UK, and it is a pandemic that Flint was another victim of. Due to the singer’s high profile, it can be easy to think that he wasn’t going through the same stresses that everybody else is — that consideration alone is a tragedy, one which saw him become one of the 84 men that die by suicide in Britain each week.
Flint’s achievements during his lifetime were unique; he was a true modern-day British icon who exuded everything compelling about counter-culture. The Prodigy have revealed that they have plans to continue his legacy, with new music on its way shortly.
Their debut album, 1992’s Experience, was a product of the Essex rave scene and, at first, that was where their fanbase originated. However, as the years went on, The Prodigy slowly became a band that glued kids from all these different subcultures bonded over. It didn’t matter if you were a metalhead, a parka-monkey or a shoegazer — every one of a certain age connected with The Prodigy on a visceral level.
Liam Howlett recalled to Gone To A Rave about the group’s humble Essex origins: “To give Essex it’s due, the whole rave scene was generated in – the shit we were into – all from Essex into East London, through us, through the whole A13 area, Raindance, Telepathy, that was the shit right there –that’s what built The Prodigy, that’s the roots of the band. And when you see the cover of the album, you’ll see little references inside to Essex, we’re proud, this is the old skool Essex. We’re linked to nearly all the scenes in some way, shape or form. But we were from the proper rave scene.”
“What people don’t understand is that there’s a lot of free-thinking people out there that wanna do exciting things and wanna break the mould,” Flint added in the same interview. “But that goes back to what Liam was saying about where we come from back in the day. Coming from a scene that was about breaking into warehouses, y’know, 30-40 cars driving to a barn in Cambridge, cutting the lock, opening the barn, putting your sound system in and partying til the old bill come. But we’re not King Knut, we can’t send the tide back. It goes back to the ethic, that ethic we had as DJ’s, MC’s, a nutty raver, that ethic is in us.”
That rave background was ingrained in the group from adolescence and the members of the band remained unable to shake off that DNA, but it never held them back. There’s always been a slight trip-hop feel to The Prodigy’s work, and similarities between groups like Massive Attack were rife, as they both exploded around the same time.
Whilst Britpop and the work of Essex’s favourite ravers did merge happily. The Prodigy played their part as main-support for Oasis on the crowning night of their career at Knebworth Park in 1996. It was the decade’s pinnacle from a cultural standpoint, and whilst there were a plethora of typical indie bands on the bill, including Kula Shaker and Ocean Colour Scene, the inclusion of The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy made Oasis’ residency at Knebworth become a cultural moment about more than celebrating just one scene. It was a victory lap that saw rave culture combine with guitar-filled anthems, and the boldness of youth was the winner.
There were influences of rave culture that transcended into traditional guitar music throughout the ’90s. Take Primal Scream as a perfect example, and their decision to bring in Andrew Weatherall as a producer for Screamadelica, a move that acts as definitive proof of how well these two sub-cultures combine.
Nowadays, it is expected for the same people who go to raves to attend gigs by alternative musicians. As our pooled pallets have got more expansive, these two music areas keep getting closer as the years go on. However, the most unlikely fandom of music that adopted The Prodigy as one of their own was the metalheads. Whilst sub-cultures seem to be a thing of the past today; metal music is still a religion to millions. It takes a lot for them to accept you on-board, but once they do, then you are treated like Gods.
In 1996, they started exploring more with rock music on tracks like ‘Breathe’, ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ and ‘Firestarter’, all of which had all the aggression of a band like Rage Against The Machine. “We bent people towards what we were doing, rather than trying to fit into the rock scene,” Liam Howlett said to Louder Sound.
He continued: “Smack My Bitch Up’ is still our live anthem, and the sound still hits hard and fresh today, so I got that mix right, which I’m proud of. I don’t think it’s our best album, as a whole, but it has two or three of our best tunes, and it signifies a good moment in time when barriers had been broken down.”
The Fat of the Land was the album that changed everything for The Prodigy. They couldn’t get rid of their rave background, which was still an essential part of their identity and this new rockier edge they adopted collided at full-force. This new dimension created a kaleidoscope of inebriating sounds, which became the sound of Saturday nights for everyone around the country — no matter what you labelled yourself Monday to Friday.