I have said it many times before, and it is worth re-iterating, The Prodigy are one of the most important bands of the last 20 years without question!
The fact that they are still around 20 years after their debut album, in a genre where a group’s longevity is virtually non-existent, is an achievement in itself. But they have continued to push boundaries and remain extremely relevant in a constantly changing musical landscape, where trends and fashions come and go, bands rest on their laurels, go soft, or just whimper out of existence completely, while others may push the self destruct button and never last the distance. The Prodigy have survived and have continued to be frontrunners and pioneers in the evolution of current dance music. With a distinctive sound that could come from nobody else but them, they continue to shape and mould the face of popular, powerful, dance music, not just in the UK but on a worldwide scale. A key ingredient to their success is their massive (and I mean massive!!) crossover appeal. Not just appealing to the rave generation of the late 80s/early 90s, they have appealed to the alternative, punk, rock, metal, as well as mainstream listening public consistently for the last 20 years. This crossover appeal manifests itself in Liam Howlett’s obvious ear for a catchy melody and his meticulous attention to detail when building these songs up from samples and his distinctive programmed beats, that are almost like his trademark sound, that thump, groove, and spit at the listener with punk attitude.
This CD/DVD release is a timely reminder of all of the above as the band played their biggest headline show to date at Milton Keynes Bowl in the summer of 2010, and released in the bands 20th year since their debut album ‘The Prodigy Experience’.
With a setlist that covers the whole of the bands career to date, with the exception of the ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’ album that was, in all but name, a Liam Howlett solo album and probably should have been named as such, due to the lack of front men Keith Flint and Maxim. Howlett chose to bring in guest names to provide vocals instead of his trusted cohorts and while it had some brilliant songs (“Spitfire”, “The Way It Is”, and “Shoot Down”) it did lack that certain something. The slightly underwhelming critical and public acceptance of the album may have been the best thing that happened to them. It did after all, arrive 7 years after the huge beast that was ‘The Fat Of The Land’ that had turned them from a successful, and highly respected band, but still very much on the fringes of the mainstream, to a front page phenomenon thanks to “Firestarter” and its accompanying video scaring the living daylights out of middle England. Public expectations were high for its long delayed follow up and it just didn’t quite hit that mark across the board. For whatever reasons Howlett may have had, and the fact that both Keith and Maxim were back in the saddle for the albums tour make it seem even more strange, the album is obviously not one of the bands favourites and has been omitted from proceedings and the celebratory air that surrounded the gig and its subsequent release.
Howlett however learned from that experience and it seemed to breathe new life into his creativity resulting in 2009’s Invaders Must Die album, probably the most consistently brilliant album since 1994’s ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’. An album that they are justly proud, taking all the bands best elements from the previous 20 years and putting into a melting pot of energy and punk spirit. The release of their Greatest Hits album in 2005 also forced the band to go back and appreciate their earliest work that had largely been ignored for a number of years. The reintroduction of some of their biggest hits from their first album into the setlist seemed to show the band that the, albeit, rather dated sound of their first album could stand shoulder to shoulder with their later work and still provoke a huge reaction from audiences whose first experience of the band in their youth were these songs. The rave elements of that first album are scattered throughout the Invaders Must Die album making it feel like the band had come full circle. So, the album is heavily represented through this film, along with obvious choice cuts from the rest of their back catalogue.
The gig itself with support from the likes of Pendulum, new commercial drum and bass duo Chase and Status, and DIY emo-punk-hardcore band Enter Shikari made The Prodigy’s own Warriors Dance Festival feel like a celebration of not just the bands career up until that point, but their continued influence on bands, the dance music scene, and popular music in general, right up to the current day too.
It is easy to forget sometimes that this group of men are now in their 40s, putting to bed the assumption that it is a young persons game, and if anything proving that while nostalgia is great, still being relevant and appealing to a younger generation who were not even born when ‘The Prodigy Experience’ and ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ were released, is achievable, and not only that, but by consistently blowing all their competition out of the water and showing them how it is supposed to be done.
While the audio cd is impressive enough, to feel the full force of the band, then the accompanying DVD is essential. The overall feel of the film is one of one long music video. The cameras are jumpy, frequently cutting between shots at a furious pace between band and crowd. Some of the camera work from within the vast crowd really does make you feel like you are there. The addition of drummer Leo Crabtree and guitarist Rob Holliday who have accompanied the band on the last few tours, really does add the band both visually and sound wise. Howlett is like a rave maestro conducting each tune from behind his stacks and stacks of keyboards and samplers, Flint and Reality bound about on stage like men half their age. While Maxim’s stage banter is far from varied (just try and count how many times he says “Where are my People??!!” and variations of the same sentence throughout the film) he is an accomplished master of ceremonies and has the crowd in the palm of his hand. Drummer Crabtree is also a compelling visual spectacle, with an intensity and energy that is impressive when you think about how hard it must be to play drums for a band like The Prodigy. Flint’s general air of menace and wild eyed vitality is still there and he still clearly revels in the fact that his promotion from band dancer to punk rock front man has stood the test of time.
As for the songs we get the best version of ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ I have yet to hear, ‘Firestarter’ is still as anthemic as it always has been. Fellow big hitters ‘Voodoo People’ and ‘Their Law’ still sound as heavy and vibrant as they did the first time around. More recent efforts from ‘Invaders Must Die’ truly shine in the live environment with ‘Take Me To The Hospital’, ‘Running With The Wolves’ and ‘Warriors Dance’ and its accompanying crowd circle pit being a particular highlights. The encore performances of ‘Everybody’s In The Place’ and ‘Out Of Space’ is a timely reminder of how far the band has come in the last 20 years and how these songs that started of as very much a niche concern have become engrained in the publics consciousness.
The gig itself was a triumph for the band, their genuine and appreciative acknowledgement of the crowd at the end shows how much it meant to them. With the current renaissance in their creativity and unwavering influence and relevance, who is to say that they don’t have another 20 years in them?