Controversial, innovative, distinctive... . That's what usually comes to people's minds after hearing the name of the UK's most successful dance band, the Prodigy. Original sound, deterring image and careless attitude are the components needed to make a typical underground band, as their purpose is to stay away from the mainstream and teeny-mags-buying mass fan base...
But apparently the Prodigy are a somewhat weird combination of those two extremes, as their, unwanted to some extent, popularity, has grown immensly since the day they released their first record. Still, they haven't 'betrayed' the underground scene.
Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill met in 1989 at the Barn, a rave party. The two dancers had become friendly admiring each other's abilities and, after hearing Laim Howlett's tape, the dancers plus the musician decided to form a music band. Soon they found an MC in the form of Maxim Reality (aka Keith Palmer, aka Keeti) who fitted in with the rest perfectly. Originally there was a third dancer, Sharky, the only female member in the band's history, but she left after the group signed a record deal.
Their first EP, entitled "What Evil Lurks", released in 1991, sold 7,000 copies, quite impressive for an underground band. Next single, "Charly", made it to number 3 on the official UK charts, which entailed an invitation to "Top Of The Pops". The band firmly refused, not wanting to lose their anti-fame philosophy and respect from the underground fanbase. "I want to keep one foot in the underground. I want to be respected." once said the brain of the band, Liam.
Never mind live TV performances, the video for "Charly" was featured on TOTP, as well as on "The Chart Show", which definitely helped the band's success.
From the very start the Prodigy have been playing live with an insane frequency. At first their audience were just a group of people having fun, like the band themselves, but soon after their commercial success some symptoms of stardom, which the members of the group were desperately trying to avoid, started to appear...
"I'm not one of these people who think the fans come first", admitted Liam in one of the interviews. But could they avoid having them? Not really. The band always wanted to be perceived as normal people, nevertheless, the fan phenomenon was unavoidable. After their live shows, the band saw the usual fan paraphernalia starting to appear, such as T-shirts bearing the group's logo. Normal people don't have these kind of devotees - fans - do they?
The Prodigy's image matured, they were no longer just a group of guys having fun on stage. And after their debut album, "Experience", gained platinum status and stayed in the Top 40 for six months, the underground critics started to describe the band as "sell-outs".
At this point the band's philosophy didn't relate to reality much. Something needed to be done and it had to be done quickly, as underground airplay of the Prodigy's tracks was very low. An innocent ploy they invented to get back the respect from the underground, seemed to work fine. Namely, a white lable record released under the pseudonym "Earthbound" soon gave them a strong position on the DJ scene again.
"The whole concept is confusion. It's cool that everybody doesn't get it. I don't want to be like The Spice Girls". Those are Maxim's words, and the Prodigy definitely aren't a band accepted as easily as the Spice Girls. Another interesting fact is that the guys don't mean anything by their music. "There is no message in Prodigy music really, it's just an expression of hardness".
So if there is no message, or even if there was one but most people wouldn't get it, is it possible that all those fans are just normal people having fun? Wouldn't it be exactly what the band intended?
But back to the story, and in 1994 a new single, "No Good (Start The Dance)", supported by huge ariplay on none other than MTV, became a major hit. The following album, "Music For The Jilted Generation", topped the charts, selling over a million copies around the world.
The band had achieved true fame, as they won "Best Dance Act" at the MTV awards and received widespread critical acclaim. Liam even gained himself a compliment from NME who called him a "modern-day Beethoven".
Even more success was on its way, as in 1996 "Firestarter" reached Number One in the single charts, supported by a video that everyone knows. Scary in itself, because the video featured only Keith dancing and singing in the underground. Nevertheless, after playing that video, "Top Of The Pops" received many letters of complaint from parents worried about their children watching it.
"Breathe" continued the success and soon articles about the band appeared not only in underground magazines, but in more mainstream titles too, while their music was played within mainstreem radio and daytime TV programs... From the outsider's point of view the Prodigy were just a popular band like others whose videos are played on MTV. But then, the Prodigy released their third single from "The Fat Of The Land" album, entitled "Smack My Bitch Up".
As you can guess, the video was not shown until late at night and its mainstream airplay wasn't as huge as that of "Firestarter" or "Breathe". The band continued playing live to a great extent, but rumours of "The Fat Of The Land" being their last album became quite serious.
Could it be because they decided that this chapter of the Prodigy should come to an end? Were they disapointed with their, hard to control, raising popularity?
Not many people are aware of the fact that the band, even being stars, had more control than most famous artists in the business. Liam, writing and producing the tracks in his own studio, had all the control music-wise. The band had authority over their record releases, videos and tours, not to mention their image.
The Prodigy controlled everything they were able to control. To what extent could they control their own image in the eyes of the audience? Being scary and repugnant does not guarantee people will stop idolising them and start treating them like normal people. Usually people see what they want to see, not necessarily the reality.
The new Prodigy album is hoped to be released sometime in 2000. Meanwhile, Liam Howlett has recorded a DJ Mix album called "Dirtchamber Sessions Volume 1", released in February 1999.