The Prodigy - 07/13/1995

Prodigy 1995

My roommate named Anthony from Florida State was a huge Prodigy fan. If I kept coming back to Meat Beat Manifesto albums all the time, you were likely to hear some Prodigy record or other coming out of his walkman. I was familiar with more Prodigy tracks than I thought because their stuff had been a staple of the early 90's club scene in Tampa. Mixed in with tracks from Wax Trax artists and bigger industrial rock acts were token 12" mixes from The Prodigy who were at the time making music that was squarely set in the rave music world but that was aggressive enough not to get booed off the floor by the industrial diehards.

I could tell that Steve and Dave were trying to keep themselves entertained and trying to slip in a little of what they liked into nights that were promoted as being all about combat boots and hard basslines. Those guys were graduating out of that world and into the realm of big name DJs, top tier parties, jet-setting techno luminaries and the like. They didn't really seem all that keen on searching the crates for My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult requests but they managed somehow.

Those guys were my introduction to a lot of music that I wouldn't have heard if someone was sticking to the plan. Dave's early hardcore stuff was so seamlessly integrated into those nights with tracks by Aphex Twin and Prodigy that I didn't even know what a lot of it was until much later. There would be little mini-sets of the Orb, Orbital, Drum Club, and other stuff that started to veer pretty far away from the core industrial ethos but somehow always found a way back to the same Sisters of Mercy track!

By 1995 though, The Prodigy were on the fast track to bargain bins everywhere. They had found the formula for converting the typical American rock fan into someone who could headbang along to samples and synthesizers: they had found a frontman. I always felt like the dancers were okay with Prodigy and that the idea of an MC to hype up the audience was fine and rooted in dance culture, but when the guys started vocalizing over every track, it just lost me. It took me a long time to get to the point of letting go of vocals in music, but once I did, I didn't want them coming back over tracks I had grown to like in their instrumental state.

And just like a hip hop band ruining the nuance of a track by replacing the drum loops with a live drum kit, the Prodigy killed most of what I liked about their music by having MCs chant over all of the vocal samples. Seriously, those guys just didn't shut up! For a track like "Firestarter" it was okay because the song was built to have lyrics, but for something like "Charly" it was just really, really obnoxious and overblown. To make matters worse, the sound engineer had the vocal mics cranked up to MC level so that they could clearly be heard OVER all of the music. This managed to drown out all of the cool bits of Prodigy's sound and give me a headache.

Electronica was supposed to be the next big thing after Grunge. I knew this because I couldn't pick up an entertainment magazine without being reminded of this inevitablity. Then at some point, the stories all started to be about how "oh wait, maybe electronic is NOT the next big thing" which was a ludicrous way for a story to develop. After all, people in the media were the only ones running around proclaiming the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers as the second coming of the Beatles, so it only made sense that those same media outlets could turn around and publish more stories about their previous stories without actually creating any new content!

I was as ardent a supporter of electronic music as you were apt to find in the summer of 1995, but I was not convinced that electronic music was going to take over the world. It was clear that Moby and the Prodigy's success was a fad that might last nine months or a year, or two christmas shopping seasons, but not much beyond that.

The interesting by-product was that so many people were so quickly (over)exposed to electronica that the music suddenly gained defacto acceptance in commercials, movies, and other places that threw music in the background. I mean, until the mid-1990's if you listened to music in commercials and tv-shows, it was mostly canned music that was performed by a band in a studio somewhere in Nashville. There were volumes and volumes of this stuff available on vinyl and CD and other pro-audio formats for post houses and it got around. Incidental music might have sometimes been licensed but it was often just this weird, style-less average-rock that you couldn't place but that didn't stand out enough for you to notice.

But after people saw the commercial appeal of techno and electronica, combined with the fact that most of it was made by guys on indie labels and most of it didn't have any vocals, the floodgates started to open. I started hearing jungle tracks to sell Chryslers, the Matrix was full of big beat techno, and of course Moby was so ubiquitous that you would have thought he was just a jingle composer. I heard a lot of good music being licensed or sometimes cheaply copied to sell everything from maxi-pads to cars to video games, and the same music started showing up IN videogames, movies, and episodes of TV crime procedurals. I'm not sure if those of us who like electronic music are better or worse off for that, but I can definitely see where the Prodigy helped make that happen around the time of this tour.