Return of the Prodigal Band

The Prodigy, stars of rebellious underground raves in the electronic 1990s, are back in Tel Aviv.

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It’s hard to describe what a landmark the British band The Prodigy’s first album “Experience” was when it came out 22 years ago. The band, appearing in Tel Aviv Thursday, was part of the hardcore-techno scene in Britain, embraced all styles prevailing at raves as it started out. They made dance music sound like futuristic punk from outer space. Their punctuated break-beat rhythms, which were actually punk and hip-hop played at high speed, synthesized sounds and samples of reggae played at high speed, giving an effect of inhaled helium.

In those days, all these were part of the hits playing at underground rave scenes, on pirate radio stations and in record stores for DJ’s. The Prodigy succeeded in breaking out of the underground scene, becoming one of the most successful electronic bands of the 1990s, alongside others such as Underworld, The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, all of their records grouped together rather humorously as “Student Techno.”

The Prodigy achieved this by moving closer to mainstream rock music, with catchy hits such as “Out of Space,” which employed samples of the Jamaican Reggae singer-songwriter Max Romeo. Their single hit “Charly”, referring to contemporary slang for cocaine, included a sample of a children’s public information film called “Charlie says,” which warns about talking to strangers or playing with matches. “Charly” became a huge hit on the rave scene and started a trend of including children’s songs from Sesame Street in raves.

The core music of the group was written by its founder Liam Howlett. He became a leading influence in the 1990s, especially with the first three albums, for each of which he reinvented the band’s sound. He was influenced by hip-hop, which is apparent throughout his work. Today, when “Out of Space” is on the playlist of every wedding in Israel, it’s hard to imagine how electrifying it first sounded, a mix of shock and revelation. In addition to Howlett, the group includes Keith Flint and Maxim Reality, who were first dancers and later singers in the band.

The band first appeared in Tel Aviv in 1995, playing at the Cinerama. Flint then rolled onto the stage in a transparent ball, from which point the show exploded into a wild techno event that helped explain the group’s nickname as the Sex Pistols of Techno. The Prodigy appeared in Israel again in 1996 and 1997. Thursday's show was organized by the Zappa club as part of the Pepsi MAX Music project. The show will include an opening act by British producer Feed Me.

The band did not start out in clubs, but rather in fields or abandoned buildings in which a party could last for days. One of their well-known songs, “No Good,” is accompanied by a clip showing the hallucinatory and dazed esthetics and atmosphere of parties in such venues. It became a period icon.

With each new album the band tried to shake off the style it was associated with. Its second album, “Music for a jilted generation,” tried to distance the band from the “kiddie rave” reputation that dogged it, attempting to adopt a hard techno and rock style. The band sent a message of support to the rave community, which was being hounded by the authorities, with an anti-police cover on their album.

The band further distanced itself from the rave scene by composing electronic break-beat and big beat sounds, with rock tracks such as “Firestarter” in 1996, which did well on the charts. The Prodigy went on to produce some of the best known clips of the 1990s, which included provocations and scare tactics.

From its outset, the group brought audiences a new sound and concept, with some members dancing rather than singing or playing. Later, it became more traditional, with singers and a guitarist. Their songs began to sound repetitive, and by the end of the decade they appeared more like dinosaurs, playing in stadiums instead of abandoned warehouses. The band was still successful commercially, and after a hiatus returned to play.

Its last disc, “Invaders Must Die,” came out in 2009. In it the band returned to its roots in rave, hip-hop and electronic rock, with more modern bass sounds.

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