My first physical encounter with the world of leather and…
The Prodigy were formed by Liam Howlett in 1990 and are arguably the UK’s ruling dance act. In addition to selling over 25 million records worldwide, the group has won two Brit Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards, two Kerrang! Awards and five MTV Europe Music Awards. They’re a monstrously thrilling live act and they’re my deaf brother’s favourite band, says Stewart Who?
I’ll never forget the first time I heard The Prodigy’s ‘Charly’. It came blasting through the speakers of a pub in Manchester that had been turned into a spontaneous rave. I’d taken pity on an alcoholic, slightly podgy Goth boy in my drama class. ‘You need a night out,’ I said, convincing him to get on a train from Liverpool to the city undergoing a rave revolution.
We must have heard the track 15 times by the end of that weekend. My friend Andrew was transformed from a morbid shape swathed in black, to a nubile rave monkey with day glo face paint- in the space of 72 hours.
It’s kinda true what they say about ‘Madchester’ in the flare-wearing early days of the city’s late ’80s renaissance. Before the gangs took over, everyone from matriarchal women to teenage scally lads seemed to be on ecstasy. Fights were rare and the city quite literally buzzed with chemical pride and well, buckets of amphetamines.
The Prodigy’s ‘Charly’ was viewed as a gauche novelty by the trendier dance purists, but Manchester has always embraced the cheese and took the tune to its heart. The record’s mix of nostalgia, spawned by the public information film the track sampled- and the sheer aural assault of hoovers and breakbeats caused everybody to puff and gurn.
That was two decades ago. Now on their 6th album, the band have headlined Glastonbury, rocked across America and courted international scandal with ‘Smack My Bitch Up’. They’ve garnered an awed respect and proved Q magazine’s assertion that they’re one of ‘50 Bands To See Before You Die’.
Prior to my brother James losing his hearing through meningitis, The Prodigy were his favourite band. They remained so. Even when profoundly deaf, he could still feel them, via the bone shaking bass lines they employ.
For a birthday present, I took my brother to the All-Night Rave hosted by The Prodigy at The Brixton Academy. He now has a cochlear implant, which means he can understand most sounds, but gets confused when faced with a barrage of noise.
After the 40 minute squidge and shuffle for the bar, we found a spot to the left of the stage, in spitting distance from the hardcore moshers, but safe for sipping from those bendy, spendy, plastic pint glasses.
I have no idea who the pre-gig DJ might have been, but he played a few old dance tunes that had been remixed to today’s standards, which seemed to please old ravers like myself…and the pointy-haired children, who seemed ready to dance to anything.
When the band took to the stage, opening with Fat of the Land’s ‘Breathe’ it was like having a nuclear rave gun fired right into your face. From there on in, the show was relentless, with a rib rattling bass and a sea of bouncing, smiling faces.
You don’t get to collect your thoughts or amble to the bar during a ballad- ’cause there ain’t none. Maxim’s roaring, baiting, demonic energy didn’t let up for the entire show. His litany of ragga-punk-rock proved aperfect compliment to Keith Flint’s chaotic, stage-dashing lunacy.
For the encore, they came back with even more gusto and managed to milk another 10 minutes of sweat and adrenaline from the up-4-it crowd. ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ and ‘Outta Space’ saw the entire Academy pogo-ing up with deranged and gleeful abandon. Then it was over.
As we shuffled to the night-bus stop, with the rest of the wide-eyed and gibbering throng, it became clear just how exhilarating the gig had been. It was like the world had gone from 3D colour to muted, flat black and white.
If there’s a downside to experiencing The Prodigy, that’s it, right there. Everything looks and feels dull after the sensory overload. Especially waiting for the night bus.