Manchester Warehouse Project
Of course they are brilliant live – The Prodigy have been dealing out this ever changing show for two decades now, a show where the huge beats can change at a whim but never take their feet off the dancing gear. There are the monster hits like Firestarter and Breathe as well as outlaw anthems like Poison and Smack My Bitch Up, but they seem to endlessly morph and change into different songs with a restlessness and resourcefulness that is just not apparent in most indie bands who get all the credit with none of this inventiveness. With the beats and the breakdowns fluid and ever changing the Prodigy never sound dated whilst always sounding the same- a brilliant and difficult trick to pull off.
It’s a great spectacle of course, Keith Flint and Maxim make sure of that with their twitching, gurning and cajoling- two great showmen who morphed from MCs years ago into being firebrand frontmen – pyrotechnic pirouette prankster performers in a rule breaking band that have redefined the word genre and created a startling music that can not only make vast audiences dance like lunatics but also break barriers and mix the extreme with the inventive and somehow still make it into a pop music.
Liam Howlett is the prodigy at the heart of the band – with his box of tricks he mangles the digital into new shapes and sizes with huge beats for the added live guitar and drums to jam around to, giving the music an added electricity and raw power. The whole gonzoid chassis is the perfect shape shifting dance beat for the packed house of metal heads, gonzoid ravers, mad kids from the estates that no one dares to go to, skinny students, indie heads and an army of girls of all shapes and sizes to freak to with hands in the air and feet twitching on the cold warehouse concrete.
Conducting this fleshy melee are the two MCs who have turned into some of the best frontmen out there- the terrifying court jester, folk devil, madman of Keith Flint with his shorn freak hair and the charismatic Maxim with his constant calls for reaction from the audience. It’s these front men that somehow define the public face of the Prodigy- the psychotic, high octane, entertainers conducting this flow of wild energy.
It’s packed in here- a huge warehouse in the middle of nowhere on the edge of Manchester/Salford with an ecstatic audience bouncing to the big beats like they exist in some sort of parallel universe. Somehow in the great and grand explaining of pop culture- the endless articles, writing and TV documentaries- this whole scene and band has been missed out. The scene that is the legacy of the rave culture of the late eighties- the last great youthquake in the UK that was always at its best in those illegal raves in the beat up post industrial warehouses of the then decaying cities, a scene where the crowd was king and the music a soundtrack to all night shenanigans and the biggest cultural shift along with punk in the last three decades. The Prodigy are the logical conclusion of this- they turned the energy back into being in a band but a very different kind of band. Meanwhile the Warehouse Project itself is a venue and space that captures that dance yourself crazy madness of those long ago times into the familiar warehouse space but with added features like safety and a responsibility about the drug side of the culture and creates a space for this fine madness.
Somehow this whole culture has been ignored in favour of the indie guitar bands that dominate the radio and the written discourse on modern music, this huge seething culture of venues like the Warehouse Project and the band that is playing tonight, who sell out arenas worldwide with a music that is both powerful and ground breaking- The Prodigy.
Even with number one singles and number one albums the Prodigy are outsiders- talk about nineties music and it’s always Britpop, talk about the next decade and it’s the Strokes or another jangly guitar band- it’s never dance or metal- the only two forms that combined changing the music into new shapes with an unlikely mass popularity and if there was one band that broke all the rules and forged a whole new form of music they are up there on stage tonight.
The tightly packed throng of 7000 in the room are flailing crazily on a three night sold out stint and going crazy. All the way to the back row there are hands in the air and freaky dancing and as you stand here it’s great to acknowledge this band who managed to make a pop music out of the mangled avant garde genius of noise rock like Big Black and industrial hardcore as well as the fractured beast beats of dance and the possibilies of acid house are still at the top of their game. A band that, in a sense, invented the beats before drum and bass and before dubstep and are still quite possibly not only the best dance act in the world but the best metal and rock band in the world as well.
And therein lies the problem- the modern music media has no interest in dance and metal- the only two genres left where music still reinvents itself and is restless enough to avoid the dead weight of history.
What The Prodigy have done so successfully is to combine the best bits of all these renegade outside musics into a seamless 21st century whole. Tonight you can hear the pulverising power of metal, the sneer and attitude of punk rock, the rush of hardcore, the clank boom beats of hip hop, the deep bottom of dubstep and the sheer physicality of dance music jam into something of their own.
The show is a relentless 90 minutes that is so packed with detail and switches in sound and beats that it never gets boring. They are even better now than when my band Goldblade supported them at a lunatic festival in Macedonia in 1995. It was another hazy night of madness in front of 5000 people delivered by the Prodigy who had driven through a warzone to get to the gig and didn’t complain once about the shoddy set up of the festival. There were live electric wires hanging from the roof and water dripping everywhere and the toilets had broken. Committed to dealing out the show, the Prodigy did just that and were down to earth guys with none of the bullshit that can surround big bands.
And they still do the same- tonight the performance is still full of freak flag energy and the beats are as inventive as ever- two steps ahead of the game they bring the future to the masses and reinvent the carcass of the possibility of pop on their own terms. They have a new album brewing for release in 2014 and who would bet against another powerful statement and redrawing of the battle lines?
Like a computer game gone feral, like cartoon characters gone 3D, the Prodigy continue to break all the rules and are perhaps the only genuine people’s band left and one that proves the mainstream can handle music of far more strangeness and noise than the radio and the mainstream media thinks they can.
If you want to hear what the now actually really does sound like and not a souped up version of the sixties then this is it.
The future has never sounded so good.