Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham
3rd December 2015
Alumni of the early hardcore scene, The Prodigy are perhaps one of Britain’s most beloved and critically acclaimed groups. Fuelled by manic hedonism and a punk ethos, their live shows have to be seen to be believed. Tonight, this particular show, in Birmingham’s capacious Barclaycard Arena, has enough strobes and neon lights to give off the essence that we may be in a spaceship.
As the familiarity of Breathe vibrates through the arena, it’s apparent that this is a gig you have no chance in hell of standing still to; track after track is a masterclass in dance music, Maxim leaps around the stage crying for his “warriors” whilst the bullish Keith Flint is the true Johnny Rotten of the techno world, snarling and stomping around. As Firestarter kicks in three songs later, it says a lot about their back catalogue that they’re playing huge hits this early on into their set.
With the release of their 6th number one album, The Day Is My Enemy, they’re still riding on a malevolent, if cartoonish high. Nasty Nasty is exactly the kind of beserk, electro-punk that The Prodigy live for whilst Wall Of Death calls out to all the ageing ravers in the crowd – “fuck you and your heart attack”. The Prodigy are an inexplicably exciting live band no doubt; built on hyper energy, they crept out of the underground like day-glo goblins and decided to cause some civilised chaos. They’re still breathtakingly relevant, managing to maintain most of their credibility without floundering into obscurity, however, their music and live show can be a little formulaic. A bit repetitive if you will. The angry buzzsaw of songs that fizz out of every member’s pore is entertaining sure, but lacks a little in terms of progression.
Earlier this year, Liam Howlett stated, “dance music at the moment is so fucking dead. Producers are too safe, they rely on being retro”, which may be a bit rich coming from a group who were certainly innovative the first time round, but haven’t really changed anyone’s perceptions of dance music, since, well, the 90s. The shouts of “let me see all my fucking people” gets a bit tiresome after a while, especially when it’s met with a sea of camera phones bobbing in the air. Certain tracks like Beyond The Deathray, sound more like a parody, like one of Jeremy’s bedroom recordings in Peep Show. It’s a breath of fresh air when the group are joined by the thuggish Jason Williamson for the explosive Ibiza. One half of Sleaford Mods, Jason fits so unnervingly well into the group that he should have stayed for the whole set. The track, an expletive filled tirade at fake superstar DJs is kind of hilarious, kind of enthralling, but most of all, utterly mesmerising. Williamson, stood by himself, spitting spoken word vitriol into an arena full of bemused ravers is perhaps the most punk thing that could have happened tonight – it made the rest of The Day Is My Enemy sound like a lullaby.
The Prodigy are now wizened ravers who will perhaps never grow up, who will still pine for the days when bucket hats weren’t ironic and the pills blew your mind. It’s not a bad thing in any case, it makes The Prodigy exciting because they hold a level of sentimentality that most people will never have experienced. The indelible impact of not only tonight’s show but the Prodigy’s entire career should mark them as not quite national treasures, they’re too mental for that, but a UK institution at least. Then again, they’re far too prolific for anyone to look back on them in retrospect, which is what makes them so remarkably relevant.
All words by Harley Cassidy. More of Harley’s work for Louder Than War can be found in her author’s archive.