The Prodigy are an English electronic music group from Braintree, Essex, formed in 1990 by keyboardist and songwriter Liam Howlett. The first line-up of the band also included Maxim (MC and vocalist), Keith Flint (dancer and vocalist), Leeroy Thornhill (dancer and live keyboardist), and female dancer and vocalist Sharky. Along with The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and other acts, The Prodigy have been credited as pioneers of the big beat genre, which achieved mainstream popularity in the 1990s.
The Prodigy first emerged in the underground rave scene in the early 1990s and have since achieved popularity and worldwide recognition. They earned titles like "the premiere dance act for the alternative masses" and "the Godfathers of Rave", and remain one of the most successful electronic acts of all time. They have sold an estimated 30 million records worldwide, and won numerous music 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 "Charly" (1990–1991)
The Prodigy were founded in Braintree, Essex in 1990 by keyboardist and songwriter Liam Howlett. He had taken piano lessons in his youth and gained the ability to play difficult passages in just a few run-throughs. After he decided to pursue a music career, Howlett first met dancer and vocalist Keith Flint in mid-1989 during an outdoor night party that Howlett was spinning records at. Flint complemented the songs and mixes Howlett was playing, and the two became friends. After Flint requested Howlett make a mix tape for him, Howlett obliged, returning a cassette several days later with a collection of his own songs on the other side. Howlett had scratched the word "Prodigy" onto the cassette, the same name as the Moog Prodigy analogue synthesiser, and Howlett's moniker. The tape was well received by Flint and keyboardist Leeroy Thornhill who developed new dance sequences to the music and suggested to Howlett they begin a group together. They were soon joined by MC and vocalist Maxim, then known as Maxim Reality, and female dancer and vocalist Sharky, a friend of Flint's. Together they became the first line-up of The Prodigy.
The group's first live gig occurred at Four Aces in Dalston, London. With a group secured, Howlett wrote, produced, and mixed a 10-track demo tape on a Roland W-30 sampling workstation keyboard, and approached Tam Tam Records with the hope of securing a record deal, but they declined. He then turned to XL Recordings, headed by Nick Halkes and Tim Palmer, who agreed to a meeting and subsequently picked up the demo. In February 1991, the band released the extended play What Evil Lurks on 12-inch vinyl, containing four songs that Howlett had produced on the demo.
In August 1991, the Prodigy released their debut single "Charly", a reference to cocaine, 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 at the time, and reached number 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 "hardcore 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 speed and ecstasy-fuelled clubbers, but not to reviewers and critics, who dismissed the music as "kiddie rave" or "toytown techno".
"Everybody in the Place" and Experience (1991–1993)
The band's second single, "Everybody in the Place (Fairground Edit)", was released in December 1991. It reached number 2 in the UK, beaten by a re-release of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen following the death of their singer Freddie Mercury.
In September 1992, the band released their debut full length album Experience, produced entirely by Howlett. The idea of making one originated from XL, and initially Howlett wanted to produce a "rave concept album" inspired by the progressive rock band Pink Floyd, but abandoned the idea due to the risk of limiting his musical ideas. It peaked at number 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 songs from other artists, and closes with a live version of "Death of the Prodigy Dancers" featuring Maxim on vocals. As with "Charly", it became landmark release in the history of British rave music. Five singles spawned from the album: "Charly", "Everybody in the Place", "Fire/Jericho", "Out of Space", and "Wind It Up (Rewound)"; the latter a remix of "Wind It Up".
After Experience 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 move on from its hardcore phase, with the Criminal Justice Act's "anti-rave" legislation on the horizon, calling rave music "repetitive beats". The Prodigy responded to the bill by writing "Their Law".
Music for the Jilted Generation (1993–1995)
In 1993, Howlett released an anonymous white label, bearing only the title "Earthbound I". Its hypnotic, hard-edged sound won wide underground approval. It was officially released as "One Love" later that year, and went on to chart at number 8 in the UK. The following year, the Prodigy's second album, Music for the Jilted Generation, debuted in the UK Albums Chart at number one, and jettisoned into positive reactions from album critics. Adding elements of big beat and electro-industrial to the mix, the album expressed a wider spectrum of musical styles, with heavy breakbeat-based tracks complemented by the concept sequence The Narcotic Suite and a rock-oriented inclination, "Their Law", featuring Pop Will Eat Itself. The album was later described as a "complex, powerful record that propelled dance music into stadiums with rock’n’roll swagger".
The album 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 managed to continue to prevent over-exposure in the media by refusing to appear on Top of the Pops or other television shows in the UK. To date, their only studio appearance on British television came when they appeared on the BBC2 series Dance Energy in 1991, performing "Everybody in the Place". In the ensuing years, their videos received a strong level of support by MTV Europe, which boosted their popularity across the continent. Keith Flint himself hosted an episode of the MTV show 120 Minutes in 1995.
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 (1996–2002)
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 U.S. 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 shockingly madeover Flint, the album nevertheless retained the bone-jarring breaks and buzzsaw synths so 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.
The music video for "Smack My Bitch Up", directed by Jonas Åkerlund, featured a first-person point of view of someone going clubbing and indulging in large amounts of drugs and alcohol. Other content shown includes the protagonist getting into fist fights with men, abusing women, vomiting repeatedly, and picking up a lap dancer (played by British glamour model Teresa May) and having sex with her. Much of the aforementioned is depicted fairly explicitly. At the end of the video, the camera pans over to a mirror, revealing the subject to be a woman. MTV only aired the video between 1 and 5 a.m due to the controversial material. After one week, MTV removed the music video at NOW's request. The director got the inspiration for the contents of the video after a night of drinking and partying in Copenhagen.
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. 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 due to the risk of nervous breakdown, resulting in the band's website being replaced with their logo and the words "We will be back..." set against a black background, which would remain until 2002.
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, produced by Howlett, and also featured Jim Davies. Once again, the band courted controversy by including references to the so-called "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".
Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (2004–2008)
The Prodigy's fourth studio album, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, was released on 23 August 2004, and 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". The U.S. version of the studio album contained a bonus track; a remix of "Girls", entitled "More Girls". The album, which topped the UK Album Charts on its debut week, was promoted by a 2-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, they released a compilation, Their Law: The Singles 1990–2005, which spawned a single containing new remixes of the songs "Out of Space" (the "Audio Bullys Remix") and "Voodoo People" (the "Pendulum Remix") and featuring guitar by Tom Morello. 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.
In 2006 the song "You'll be under my wheels" from the "Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned" album was added to the soundtrack of "The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift".
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.
When asked about the idea, Howlett responded that they were getting ready to make a new album:
No, we're all done with that [those albums] now, all the old material. 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)
The Prodigy tested a few of the new tracks at Rainbow Warehouse Birmingham and Plug in Sheffield in May 2008. The Prodigy showcased four new songs at the Oxegen Festival in the early hours of 13 July 2008. Among the tracks previewed were "Worlds on Fire", "Warriors Dance", "Mescaline", and "First Warning", which was featured in the gangster movie Smokin' Aces and as among the songs featured in the soundtrack for Electronic Arts video game Need for Speed: Undercover.
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 US 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 drummer 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 UK 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. 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!"
They also played Glastonbury in 2009.
The Day Is My Enemy (2010–2015)
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. It was the band's largest concert to date, performed to 65,000 people. 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 to 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. Liam 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 off 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 off their upcoming album The Day Is My Enemy after announcing it three days earlier. The Stop-motion animation 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 2015, The Prodigy announced a winter 2015 UK and mainland Europe tour on 26 May, with Public Enemy as support.
Seventh studio album (2016–present)
On 26 December 2016, the band announced that new music due for release at an unspecified date in 2017 on their Twitter account. It's likely the new release will be an EP as Howlett stated in 2015 that the band may cease releasing full studio albums in favour of EPs, citing a lack of interest and the time it takes to make one. In September 2017, the band signed a new recording deal with BMG Rights Management which will release their seventh studio album in early 2018. The deal reunites the group with Howlett's song publishing, which BMG had acquired from EMI Music Publishing in 2012 as part of the Virgin Music catalogue.
Along with The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and other acts, The Prodigy have been credited as pioneers of the big beat genre, which achieved mainstream popularity in the 1990s. The Prodigy is also considered alternative dance, techno, electronica, hardcore techno, and rave.
Current live members
Former live members
Awards and nominations
- Experience (1992)
- Music for the Jilted Generation (1994)
- The Fat of the Land (1997)
- Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (2004)
- Invaders Must Die (2009)
- The Day Is My Enemy (2015)
- World's on Fire (2011)