The Prodigy were a formative experience for millions of teenagers across the globe.
Whether it was catching 'Charly' on pirate radio or watching them perform 'Firestarter' on Top Of The Pops, catching those incendiary rave shows or watching them at a festival in the 21st century, the band were - literally, in some cases - a gateway drug.
An unrelenting anti-authoritarian experience, The Prodigy's bold stance stayed with them throughout both chapters of their career, yet this masked a careful and considerate approach both to making music and their fans.
The loss of Keith Flint is one British music is going to feel deeply - Clash staff round up 7 of the very best tracks from The Prodigy's catalogue...
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‘Out Of Space’ (As picked by Emma Finamore)
From its euphoric synthy strings intro, to its infectious, breakneck rave tempo – spliced with samples from classic reggae track ‘Chase The Devil’ by Max Romeo, produced by Lee Scratch Perry – to the genius “BOING!” sample, this track arguably embodies everything The Prodigy were about.
It’s anarchic – showing off producer Liam Howlett’s innovative and nimble sampling prowess – irreverent and joyful…and all at breath-taking speed. It’s impossible to separate the group from its visuals – especially in this earlier rave period – and again, the video to ‘Out Of Space’ has everything. Ambiguous rural rave setting? Check. The infamous shuffle, executed with perfection? Check. Keith in a neon boiler suit and gas mark? Trippy technicolour visuals (including unexplained ostriches)? Check and mate.
This remained one of the most frequently performed songs throughout The Prodigy’s extensive touring career, and for good reason. It’s a stone cold classic.
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‘Everybody In The Place (Fairground Remix)’ (As picked by Eric Thorp)
This was released three years after the second Summer Of Love and in the same year that the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was introduced, the main motivation of which was to restrict outdoor raves. The tune really sums up the feeling in Britain and the rave scene at the time – one of uncertainty but also of solidarity, between ravers and people being affected by the changes in law.
It’s a unifying anthem utilising all the tropes that now might seem like rave clichés – the manic, crescendoing synth and hip-hop vocal sample from MC Duke – but in a really beautiful way. It also marks a turning point in UK music, sitting on the cusp of jungle before things took a darker musical turn – a time when there was still an element of innocence to the rave scene.
The track’s video is one of The Prodigy’s best: Leroy and Keith cutting crazy shapes in front of busted fire hydrant in New York simply sums up what The Prodigy were all about – great music and great dancing.
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'Charly' (As picked by Emma Finamore)
Zigzagging, woozy synths, driving, thunderous drums…and the meowing of what sounds like a drunk cartoon cat might not strike you as a winning combination, but ‘Charly’ is one of The Prodigy’s triumphs.
Using a 1970s public information broadcast warning children against the dangers of talking to strangers as a jump-off – from which the track samples “Charly says, always tell your mummy before you go off somewhere” – this song really highlights The Prodigy’s knack for combing cheekiness with irresistible beats. Its accompanying video, too, pokes fun at the unfortunate cartoon cat inter-spliced with frantic rave footage, creating an atmosphere of ecstatic chaos.
This unsettling juxtaposition – of samples from children’s programmes and public info broadcasts aimed at kids with hardcore beats and the atmosphere of a drug-fuelled rave (not to mention the connotations of the track’s title) – was intoxicating for younger listeners and rave kids, and no doubt terrifying to their elders; the precursor to when a generation of children would be entranced by Keith Flint and ‘Firestarter’ on Top Of The Pops, while parents across the nation clutched their pearls in bewildered disbelief.
In many ways, ‘Charly’ was the original fire starter.
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'Warrior’s Dance' (As picked by Robin Murray)
The Prodigy’s implosion was perhaps inevitable. A band who flew too close to the sun, in-fighting and exhaustion pushed them apart as the Millennium dawn.
Returning with 2004’s shaky ‘Always Outnumbers, Never Outgunned’ the group re-captured their nascent fury on their lengthy tours. An innately British phenomenon, it’s a mark of their universal appeal that cities such as Zagreb and Lisbon remained Prodigy strongholds, their anti-authoritarian slogans resonating across the globe.
It’s this energy that fuels often neglected late era classic ‘Invaders Must Die’. Released in 2009, it helped galvanise a second generation of Prodigy fans, alongside some incredible festival slots. ‘Warrior’s Dance’ was always a highlight; the sound of The Prodigy ripping open a portal to the emergence of rave culture, and inviting the 21st century kids along for the ride.
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'Your Love' (As picked by Robin Murray)
The Prodigy were rave kids. They first met at a series of illicit parties across the south of England, and their first show was at Dalston’s storied (and now shamefully demolished) nightclub The Four Aces.
‘Your Love’ brings these formative influences together, with its relentless reach towards euphoria both a comment on and participation in the shattering fault-line that was rave culture. But it’s not all glow sticks and Vicks vaporub.
The breaks point to the emerging sounds of hardcore, that slightly darker edge reminding us that the trip has to come to an end at some point. While Chicago had its post-disco lust and Detroit boasted clinical techno futurism, The Prodigy have this dirty Essex grit to their sound right from the start.
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'Firestarter' (As picked by Robin Murray)
If Keith Flint was the Pied Piper for a rave generation then ‘Firestarter’ is the point where he truly grasped the mantle of tabloid fury. A lightning conductor for anti-authoritarian viewpoints, ‘Firestarter’ was accused of being everything from an ode to pryomania and little more than a drug habit laid down on tape.
Listening back ‘Firestarter’ still holds its dense fury, its amalgam of punk noize and rave energy enacting a kind of middle finger salute to the hordes of Middle England in charge of a failing country.
In fact, it’s not aged at all – an incendiary device placed on the Top Of The Pops rundown, it scared the authorities (whether that was your parents, the police or the press) absolutely shitless.
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‘Jericho’ (As picked by Emma Finamore)
The opener to their first album ‘Experience’ could easily have been the fourth of The Prodigy’s singles to go Top 10 – it only missed out because XL Recordings deleted the vinyl after two weeks (by which time the single had reached number 11) in order to shift focus over to the release of the debut album.
It would have well deserved that Top 10 spot if it’d been allowed time to get there. Ominous film score-like brass gives way to driving, building synths and acid house piano combined with a sample from ‘Kunta Kinte’ by Jamaican reggae outfit The Revolutionaries – the house band at the iconic Channel One recording studio in Kingston.
Elsewhere, vocal samples from Jungle Brothers’ ‘What ‘U’ Waitin’ 4’ – including the contagious, relentless “Keep on dancing, yeah, keep on dancing” – are another great example of how The Prodigy’s early tracks used cuts in place of vocals to powerful, dance floor-friendly effect. ‘Jericho’ is so busy, it has so much going on, but is pinned together by those breakneck, breakbeat hardcore drums, creating a sort of collage soundscape reflecting the breathless, frantic atmosphere of the rave.
Wherever you are, keep on dancing Keith.
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