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Members include Keith Flint, dancing, vocals; Liam Howlett, songwriting, programming, synthesizers, mixing; Keeti Palmer (Maxim Reality), vocals; Leeroy Thornhill, dancing. Addresses: Record company--Maverick Recording Company, 9348 Civic Center Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210; 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

With the release of their beat-driven, high-energy single "Firestarter" in 1996, U.K. dance act Prodigy grabbed American audiences with both their aggressive sound and the intentionally freakish style of vocalist/dancer Keith Flint. However, like many "overnight sensations," Prodigy had spent years gaining a steady popularity among British listeners. Whatever the band's credentials may have been, within less tha a year many American critics predicted that Prodigy would spearhead an invasion of electronic dance music in the United States. Ironically, songwriter Liam Howlett has viewed Prodigy's role as ambassador of techno with a grain of salt. "I don't know. America's a funny place," Howlett quipped to Rolling Stone. "The {music} industry seems to be hyping the electronic scene up, saying it's the new thing. I don't agree. I don't think kids in America should be told to forget about rock music, because all this is, is another form of rock music."

Although Prodigy is comprised of numerous members and is often most identified with the multiple-body-pierced, rainbow-haired Keith Flint, the band's backbone--and only contracted member--is songwriter and synthesizer player Liam Howlett, a native of Essex, England. Even as a pre- adolescent, Howlett had been attracted to dance-based music, namely the ska artists on the seminal Two Tone label. By the time he was in high school, Howlett was immersed in the world of hip-hop, a style that emerged primarily from urban, African American roots, exemplified by such artists as Grandmaster Flash and the many performers showcased in the 1985 film Beat Street, which Howlett viewed almost obsessively. "It was the first DIY {do-it-yourself} music after punk, I guess," Howlett told Rolling Stone. "Music I felt I almost could make."

Following such impulses, Howlett soon purchased a set of turntables and signed on as a DJ in a newly formed dance band called Cut to Kill, and in the meantime completed coursework for his graphic design degree. The outfit practiced intensely, played live occasionally, and were soon offered a nominal amount to cut a studio album. The naive band of hip-hoppers grossly mismanaged their budget, and to compound matters, all of the members of Cut to Kill, excluding Howlett, signed a secret contract which effectively barred him from all rights to material he had collaborated on. Howlett's relationship with hip hop was strained by this time, and this fiasco only served as a final death knell.

By the summer of 1988, the rapidly-paced, technologically oriented dance music known as Acid House had made its way from clubs in Detroit and Chicago to London youth culture where it was rechristened "rave music", and Howlett was quick to succumb to its influence. "I really loved the music and the whole vibe," Howlett told a website interviewer. "I had never been into dancing that much, but it didn't matter, because you could enjoy it, you didn't have to dance properly." Howlett quickly became a figure within rave clubs, spinning records and introducing his own material, for the first time under the moniker Prodigy. Whether this title referred to the then 18 year old Howlett's precocious abilities or the brand of Moog synthesizer he used--both accounts have circulated-- Howlett/Prodigy began turning heads among dance floor denizens of the Barn, Howlett's main venue. Most importantly, his innovative approach to acid house attracted Leeroy Thornhill, a nearly seven foot tall newfound raver, and Keith Flint, his globe-trotting friend who would later become the public face of Prodigy. The two fans offered to perform as stage dancers during Howlett's live sets, giving his DJ efforts the status of a bona fide group. Howlett accepted, and the group Prodigy was born.

After performing an inauspicious first gig at the Labyrinth, a club in East London, Prodigy decided that something was needed to spice up their persona, and quickly sought out reggae vocalist Maxim Reality--Keeti Palmer to MC for their outfit. While originally solicited as a temporary fixture, Palmer/Reality fit into the chemistry of Prodigy so well during their first performances that he was adopted as a permanent member. Prodigy had finally rounded out their full lineup, and by early 1991 took the next leap: releasing singles. In February of that year, Prodigy put out its maiden single, the ominous "Where Evil Lurks," in a limited pressing of 7000 copies. The song generated a modicum of buzz among club-goers, which grew even more with "Charly," another 1991 single which featured the gimmicky sample of a meowing cat from a television ad well-known in the U.K.

Prodigy continued to pump out singles that continued to allure dance fans with their violent, rapidly changing beats, and soon amassed enough output to release a debut album, The Prodigy Experience. The album featured many of the band's club hits, as well as the memorable "Weather Experience." While it sold well for an independent dance album, critically The Prodigy Experience was besieged by the kind of jeers that many acid house inspired have received ? that it was musically superficial and unimaginatively repetitive. As writer Chris Heath commented in Rolling Stone, "{w}hat had begun as fresh was becoming stale ritual." Howlett and his cohorts realized this as well, and while their characteristic use of hyper break beats would continue, Prodigy's recorded material soon became more diverse.

After continuing to tour and occasionally cutting a single, Prodigy returned to the studio to generate what became Music For The Jilted Generation. Released in the summer of 1994, the album begins with a spoken preamble that sums up their new attitude: "So I've decided to take my work back underground--to stop it falling into the wrong hands." However much the band went "underground" with Music For The Jilted Generation, its success with British record buyers was mainstream: it entered the sales charts at Number One, and within two months had sold more than their debut had in two years. A sprawling 79 minute effort, Prodigy's second album evidenced Howlett's roots in hip-hop and hard dance, but more importantly showed an influx of rock riffs, ambient techno, and hints of jazz. Violently energetic and brimming with wide-eyed end of the millennium paranoia, Jilted Generation's 13 tracks, highlighted by "Poison" and "Voodoo People," managed to charm critics as well with the band's new scope, and the album was instantly pegged as a potential Album of the Year by numerous reviewers. And yet, Prodigy's biggest success was still to come.

While electronica music had more or less always had a wide acceptance in Europe, Americans traditionally have shown a greater degree of resistance to genres outside of established rock and pop. Until 1996, this had been the case with Prodigy as well, but before long the band became heralded as a driving force of electronic dance music within theUnited States. With the release of the single "Firestarter" in March of that year, Prodigy found the perfect weapon to break through America's stubborn armor: a dance track with an undeniable rock edge, bearing an aggressiveness nearing that of heavy metal. In addition, the song's video made maximum use of dancer--and now vocalist Keith Flint's eye catching presence. His epileptic movements and wild accouterment--an array of body piercings and a colorfully dyed inverted-Mohawk hairstyle--captured the attention of "alternative"-crazed America.

Prodigy's third album, Fat of the Land, was not released until a year after "Firestarter," but in the meantime the band, especially Flint, stayed in the limelight of MTV and other influential media in addition to touring. After such a hiatus, it became questionable whether a new album would benefit from "Firestarter's" momentum, or whether in fact that single's American success had been a fluke. When Fat of the Land made its debut in Billboard magazine's sales chart at the number one position, such questions were quickly stanched. Although the album had its moodier moments, notably "Minefields," the hard, relentless quality of "Firestarter" prevailed--in fact, "Fuel My Fire" is a cover of a song by the thrash-rock band L7. As Fat of the Land's sales remained steady, the band had gained enough notoriety to attract heavyweights such as U2, David Bowie, and Madonna, all of who approached Howlett in hopes of using his mixing expertise--and were refused. "I was, well, I'm quite flattered, to be honest, but I'm not going to do it," Howlett remarked on the subject to Rolling Stone. "That's possibly the worst move we could do right now--give Madonna our sound. I don't want to be spreading our sound around. I'm just not prepared to take that risk."

Critical reception of the album (and the band in general) ranged from praise to scorn, the latter party often attacking the band's "shock-value" aesthetics. With the release of the single "Smack My Bitch Up" in late 1997, this attack reached its peak. Despite the band's contrary claims that the song's title is ironic, some critics and listeners found the song to be offensively misogynist. "It's so offensive," Howlett countered, "that it can't actually mean that. That's where the irony is." Moreover, the video for the song, which contained images of nude anorexic bodies and vomit, among other things, was instantly pulled from many television channels around the world, and was banned in the U.K. Joss Ackerlund, the video's director pointed out to New Musical Express that he "didn't do it to shock the world with disgusting imagery--I had an idea, the Prodigy liked it, and we did it. If this had been in the art world, this is nothing." Such defenses did little to deter censors, and the powerful Wal-Mart chain used its clout to have the song's title bleeped on further pressings to be sold in their stores. In the long run, Prodigy seem to be a band who only benefit from controversy, and the censorship debacle seems to have done no damage to the band's increasing popularity.

by Shaun Frentner

Prodigy's Career

Band formed by Howlett alone as a DJ in the late 1980s in London, England; Thornhill and Flint enlisted in the outfit, followed by Reality, 1991; released debut single "What Evil Lurks" in a pressing of 7000 copies, 1991; released debut album The Prodigy Experience, 1992; Music For the Jilted Generation, 1994; broke U.S. market with the single "Firestarter," 1996; released Fat of the Land, 1997.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Prodigy Lyrics

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 15 years ago

Hi Cousin, Keith Palmer Congrats on a job well done! Love your songs. Family is praying for you. Love, Cousin from New York, Marvia..

almost 16 years ago

fat of the land firestarter exelent song