TALENT: THE PRODIGY December 10, 1996, 7:13 AM EST Music Week, November 30, 1996 TARGETING THE US AFTER WINNING OVER A WIDE UK AUDIENCE Two number one singles on the trot have confirmed The Prodigy as the hottest dance property in the UK. They've also become the hippest act in the country, appealing to everyone from streetsmart club types to dyed-in-the-wool punks. But, while Firestarter and Breathe have made the band one of the most recognisable in the UK, they still seem like an overnight sensation to many. In fact, the Essex band have had eight Top 10 hits in total while Breathe is their 10th consecutive Top 15 entry. And in a year when alternative dance music has crossed over like never before, The Prodigy are the undisputed leaders of a pack of top-notch acts including Underworld, Orbital and The Chemical Brothers. It is their across-the-board appeal that separates them from the rest of the crop.
Everyone loves them. Kerrang! editor Phil Alexander says, "They really appeal to our readers because they're such an exciting live act. And their attitude is also very attractive to rock fans. " Melody Maker editor Alan Jones agrees, "They're more rock'n'roll than rock'n'roll. " The band's mainman Liam Howlett has always been eager to break down boundaries by working with a wide variety of artists. This includes collaborations with Skin from Skunk Anansie and Kula Shaker already this year, and the fruits of those labours could be seen on their next album which is slated for next March. Although The Prodigy's appeal to Kerrang! readers is obvious, their market is much wider. Emma Cochrane, deputy editor of teen mag Smash Hits, believes the band are perfect for its readers, too, if not for their parents. She says, "They're definitely a Smash Hits band. They're great to party to and I know little kids love jumping up and down to them because they're so exciting. " But mums and dads think differently. She says, "We get a lot of complaints from parents when we feature them, because they say they're really offensive and scary.
" XL managing director, Richard Russell, who signed The Prodigy seven years ago, believes he understands their appeal. He says, "They have two great frontmen in Keith and Maxim, who's really going to become a face with the Breathe video. But they're also both innovative and populist. " The manic-eyed and strangely coiffured Keith Skint explains a lot of their populism and his mad bastard antics appeal to the child in every adult and the nutter in small children. But what is surprising is the fact that the two singles which have brought them their biggest success have been among their noisiest. Russell says, "They're not a very whistle-along kind of band, but they really do connect with a lot of people. I feel Liam as a producer and musician is just a genius. He's doing something that's completely sonically different and out there. " Kerrang!'s Alexander adds, "The Prodigy are at the forefront of a breakdown of boundaries. There's a point where the heavy end of techno meets the industrial end of metal and The Prodigy are right there at the cutting edge. "
Another factor in the rise of The Prodigy is their excellent live performances. They were the highlight of Glastonbury in 1994 and were only let down at this year's Reading by poor sound quality. The criticism in the past of dance acts was that they couldn't do it live and were over-reliant on backing tapes and technical trickery. None of this applies to The Prodigy, says Russell. "The band have never done things the rock way," he says. "When they started, they'd record during the week and then play a rave at theweekend. They never got caught up in the slow timeframe of rock and have basically been on tour for six years. They have played everywhere, which explains why they're huge in places like Poland, Iceland, Scandinavia and Germany. " The next step is for the band to crack the US, where they've achieved cult status, but have yet to have a hit. Russell is currently in the US finalising a "tripartite deal between XL, Mute and a large US company", which will put more promotional clout behind the band. And Firestarter,which is currently being repromoted in the US, will be added to MTV's Buzzbin on December 9, which could give them the kickstart they need.
Russell says, "The general feeling is that Firestarter could be avery big hit in the States. The alternative market is very staid there and The Prodigy and acts like them could fill the gap. " The US has never had a mainstream dance scene as such, which explains why The Prodigy have never had crossover success there. But Firestarter has already sold 80,000 copies through word-of-mouth, which shows they have a promising fanbase to build on. And, when the sight of Keith Skint going doolally on the promo starts being beamed into the nation's homes, it's only a matter oftime before American kids go mad for them, too.