All the hoo hah and hot air about Britpop seems to miss the one key factor in the whole affair and that’s the rewriting of the musical history of the period to exclude The Prodigy who were by far the most innovative mainstream band of the period. The celebration of the so called Britpop era should be about the Prodigy- the one true innovative band of the period.
Now, of course, we are not claiming that The Prodigy were Britpop in any shape or form, after all what exactly was Britpop? was it a musical style? a Union Jack draped jolly knees up? because if it was how did Pulp fit in? if it is the story of the last great predominance of home-grown talent in the charts because UK radio actually played then and the last time the mainstream media recognised homegrown music then you have to refer to the Prodigy even if you don’t call them Britpop. Their existence cannot be ignored in an era they dominated without resorting to any cliche.
I guess they didn’t hang around with the right people- they came out of rave culture which was ‘beyond media’ and either Liam was too busy writing music and the rest of guys too busy crashing bikes or dressing like lunatics to care to make the right friends.
I remember doing a gig with them in Macedonia in 1994, in the early days of Goldblade, and they sold the place out. They drove through a war zone in a bus and turned up and plugged into the dodgy electrics and didn’t whinge about the backstage. This was no normal backstage- it had no toilet, leaving everyone to piss on an old class room floor which saw some of the lesser bands on the bill threatening to go home. They then played a great gig that had the whole place going crazy. Down to earth guys, they showed several of the other bands on the bill that being cool does not get in the way of being mental on stage. Their music was already out on its own limb at the time and far far away from the sixties guitar chatter of the Britpop boys and girls.
In the mid nineties they were quite simply the most innovative and original British band who broke musical barriers and forged ahead whilst everyone else argued over the legacy of the Beatles. Somehow whilst the music press enjoyed its last great created movement the Prodigy forged ahead out of the tail end of the rave scene pre-cursing jungle, big beat and whatever came next by years and somehow being a pop band at the same time.
Even from their first single Charlie they were miles ahead. Dismissed as a gimmicky single at the time its infectious beat was startlingly original and by the time they smashed to number one with Firestarter they were the kings of the high decibel castle with the best live show and music that mashed the power of metal, the fuck you of punk and the big beats of dance as well as the grind of industrial into a whole freak beat of their own.
Whilst they were gurning away at number one with their charismatic frontmen dancing on the bones of the Beatles and the Stones the media debate was elsewhere. They were looked on as clowns by the so called high brow but were setting their own sonic agenda. Liam Howlett was creating a musical style of his own and scoring a number one album with Fat Of The Land in 1996 in more than 20 countries worldwide. They did this without being media pets, they did this because they were fucking brilliant and ground breaking with what they did, they had a killer live show that made sense to rock kids at worldwide festivals and they hooked into the 24 hour arty people of dance culture and the chemical daze of the underground.
They didn’t just disappear. They carried on and got bigger- they are now one of the biggest live draws in the world but oddly don’t sound dated. They play many of the same songs but Liam is constantly tweaking and reinventing them into his own style with little care for the on going debate around music. Out there and on their own, a band that truly married dance and rock without it sounding like a remix, the Prodigy had a foot in every key musical genre and camp of the period. They may have been all things to all people but were always a law unto themselves and the one true innovative mainstream band of the period.