The rope bridge spans a large ravine that fades into darkness because it drops. On one aspect, below skies choked by smoke being belched from distant factories, is a military of police. Pouring out of a riot van onto dry rocky land they’re assembling behind a wall of shields, one officer waving his baton with violent intent. This menace is directed towards an idyllic scene that is separated solely by the huge gulf between them. Here, daylight fills the sky nurturing an expanse of inexperienced grass. In the gap, speaker stacks tower above an enormous gathering of individuals. A lone determine stands within the foreground. At the start of the bridge is a long-haired raver sporting military boots, cut-off denims and a black t-shirt. The center finger of 1 hand is held up in defiance. His different holds a machete, moments away from severing the ropes that maintain the one crossing in place.
At a time earlier than digital downloads, when album paintings went additional than merely a canopy, this was the inlay that greeted those that purchased The Prodigy’s ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’. Released in 1994, it was a 12 months when big protests had taken place in opposition to Section 63 of the Criminal Justice Act — a chunk of laws that gave police additional powers to break-up raves, and described the music performed there with the well-known phrase: “emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” One march ended with a large free get together in Trafalgar Square, the subsequent violent clashes with the police round Hyde Park. Officials accused demonstrators of instigating the violence, however , one of many protestors’ lone political defenders on the time, referred to as police ways “ill-conceived” after police charged at individuals who have been trying to go away, critically injuring many together with kids. Against this tense political backdrop, the album’s paintings was a daring assertion — a literal fuck you to the forces of regulation and order who have been completely happy to perpetrate criminality for their very own ends.
This was a change of tone for a bunch whose first album, 1992’s ‘Experience’, was constructed from hovering piano strains and the sampling of a cartoon cat. Opening with an eerie intro that featured the sound of a typewriter, the brand new script actually being written, a voice declared, “I’ve determined to take my work again underground, to cease it falling into the fallacious arms.” First monitor ‘Break & Enter’ hammered residence this level. A whirl of metallic breakbeats and smashing glass, social unrest was ingrained within the track’s DNA, a repeating rave whoop now pained the place as soon as it had been ecstatic. Then got here a vocal sampled from Baby D’s piano traditional ‘Casanova’, its chorus of “Bring you right down to earth” signalling a flurry of darkish beeps and synth strains that encapsulated each anger and grief, but a decided sense to push ahead regardless.
Speaking with Clash Magazine to mark the album’s 20th anniversary, Liam Howlett, the grasp sampler and musician behind the music, said that the now-famous image was chosen earlier than the Criminal Justice Bill was handed. Even if the album’s temper wasn’t deliberately reflective of the occasions surrounding the invoice, the extra private causes for The Prodigy’s metamorphosis have been nonetheless resonant.
“I bear in mind standing on stage in Scotland, at a rave, and it simply felt foolish,” Howlett advised Clash, including that at one level the group had thought-about splitting up. “I used to be like: ‘What the fuck am I doing right here? I’m not into this. It’s now so removed from what it was.’” It’s a sentiment that is many have echoed lately concerning the state of the present membership scene.
The “Fuck them and their regulation” hook from ‘Their Law’, the album’s second monitor, the place Howlett defied expectation by teaming up with Brummie grebo rockers Pop Will Eat Itself, could have been as aimed on the conventions of the rave scene because it was the authorities shutting it down. Filled with grungy guitar strains and suggestions, its acerbic, aggy vitality coiled to lower than 120bpm, it is about as far-off from ‘Experience’ because it was attainable to go. This uncoupling from the inanely completely happy sonics of hardcore that they had begun with — retaining the breaks however including a darker, gritter edge — additionally fuelled one other iconic album monitor, ‘Voodoo People’.
A reverence for dwell bands over the facelessness of techno helped steer The Prodigy to turn out to be competition headliners by the mid-’90s, together with taking them to Glastonbury in 1994. It’s a metamorphosis that occurs earlier than your eyes within the video to ‘Poison’, the album’s final single. A sluggish acidic lower constructed round varied funk breaks, a bare-chested Maxim Reality is recast because the group’s lead singer with Liam enjoying drums, whereas Keith additional develops the erratic dancing fashion that might ultimately turn out to be his signature. Leeroy Thornhill, the band’s long-limbed proto-shuffler who left in 2000, is already beginning to look misplaced in his dishevelled rave garb.
The album’s first single ‘One Love’ was initially launched as an nameless white label referred to as ‘Earthbound 1’ — an opportunity for the The Prodigy to check out that monitor’s uplifting organ stabs and tribal chants with out their title connected. Its success proved they might write an underground rave anthem in the event that they needed to. By the time of ‘No Good (Start the Dance)’, the album’s prime 5 hit, their want for underground approval was all however lifeless. Howlett’s manufacturing genius past doubt, Kelly Charles’ sampled lyrics, “You’re no good for me, I do not want no physique”, may as nicely have been written by him too, a producer shrugging off his previous, a band pulling up the drawbridge and, for higher or worse (‘Baby’s Got a Temper’), taking their very own iconoclastic path. The video even options Howlett strolling by an underground get together, choosing up a hammer in a again room to smash by a plaster wall. The limitations holding them again are a flimsy phantasm — now they’re free.
If there was a jilted era in 1994, then there’s one other for whom this album nonetheless rings true as we speak. Thanks to ever-tightening licensing legal guidelines and draconian laws, councils are doing their greatest to close down nightlife as soon as once more. The inevitable result’s extra free events. After years of the corporatisation of clubbing, it is also lastly getting its political chunk again. Conversations about racism, sexism, homophobia and extra have opened up not simply political dialogue but in addition musical dialogue, with all the things from EBM and industrial techno to jungle and gabber coming to the fore. For many, The Prodigy’s marauding vitality and no guidelines mindset have been a gateway into this. With the world going to shit, it is time to restart the dance.