Formed: 1990, Braintree, Essex, England
Members: Liam Howlett, producer (born Braintree, Essex, England, 21 August 1971); Maxim Reality, vocals (born Keith Palmer, Cambridgeshire, England, 21 March 1967); Keith Flint, dancer, vocals (born England, 27 March 1969). Former member: Leeroy Thornhill, dancer (born Essex, England, 8 October 1968).
Best-selling album since 1990: The Fat of the Land (1997)
Hit songs since 1990: "Firestarter," "Breathe," "Smack My Bitch Up"
In 1997, on the strength of the album The Fat of the Land, the Prodigy brought to popular radio a new musical style called electronica, which fused techno, rock, and dance music and relied heavily on samples from the music of other artists.
By the age of nineteen, Liam Howlett was already a veteran of the British underground music scene, having produced and released his own music, which was heavily influenced by rave culture. Raves, all-night parties that combined loud techno music and drugs, were spawning a growing subculture in England, and Howlett, in his music, attempted to capture the excitement of that young and subversive scene. Howlett met up with dancers Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill, and with them formed the Prodigy in 1990. The trio performed in clubs and at raves, with Flint and Thornhill serving to rile up crowds while Howlett played his music. The British label XL picked up the Prodigy and issued the band's self-produced first release What Evil Lurks in 1991, along with a host of singles. The Prodigy expanded its sound by adding rapper Maxim Reality to the lineup in 1993.
Music for the Jilted Generation, released in 1995, gave the band its biggest success in England, but also saw the band move away from its rave-style sound and toward a more complex fusion of rock and techno sounds. With his spiky hair and ample piercings, Flint physically embodied this fusion and gradually emerged as the band's visual icon.
Flint was also the catalyst for the band's biggest single, "Firestarter," released in 1996. In his first-ever vocal on record, Flint spews the lyrics with memorable ferocity: "I'm the bitch you hated, filth infatuated / Yeah, I'm the pain you tasted, fell intoxicated." "Firestarter," with its booming drum-and-bass style, its siren-like guitar samples, as well as its wailing vocal catcalls courtesy of Flint, was an immediate British hit and gradually made its way across the Atlantic. With its fresh sound, "Firestarter" was a revelation to mainstream U.S. radio, and the single became a surprising hit. The Prodigy's subcultural look resounded with MTV audiences as well, and the station moved the band into heavy rotation.
"Firestarter" had embroiled the Prodigy in minor controversy for its seeming endorsement of arson; the follow-up "Smack My Bitch Up" brought even more attention to the band. The pulsing "Smack My Bitch Up" is largely an instrumental track, featuring only the single, oft-repeated lyric: "Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up." The lyrics enraged women's groups, which charged that the song inspired violence toward women. MTV ultimately removed the promotional video for "Smack My Bitch Up" from its rotation, sparking a debate on censorship and further cementing the Prodigy in popular consciousness.
The Prodigy's penchant for controversy, coupled with the band's radical new sound, helped The Fat of the Land reach number one on the Billboard album charts—a first-ever achievement for an "electronica" act, as the genre would be dubbed by the media. The Fat of the Land ultimately sold 10 million copies worldwide.
In the years following The Fat of the Land, electronica lost much of its radical appeal, as acts such as Moby brought a less harsh, more mainstream flavor to the genre; as a result, the Prodigy largely faded from view. The band did not put forth any new music until 2002, when it released the U.K. single "Baby's Got a Temper," which generated little excitement.
Though its popular success stemmed largely from a single album, the Prodigy possess a formidable legacy, having almost single-handedly introduced a bold, new style into American popular music.
Experience (Elektra, 1992); Music for the Jilted Generation (Mute, 1995); The Fat of the Land (XL, 1997).
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