Breathing The Pressure Since 1996

It was 14 years ago now that I heard a song that changed my life. I was 13, and had recently started listening to Ugly Phil’s Top 40 while doing my Year 7 homework. I’d never been big on pop music but pop was still half-decent then, and besides, I hadn’t really developed a taste in music yet – but subconsciously, I think, felt like I ought to start doing so. So I listened to the daily Top 40 on my little shitpot stereo, until early one evening, an unusual song came on; an ominous, hypnotic bassline interspersed with metallic clashing and eventually breaking out into sneering vocals. I still remember the moment it stopped, because it was actually at that moment, when it wrapped up and Ugly Phil or whoever started blabbing again, that I realized it’d really engaged some part of my brain even as I was doing my maths exercises. It wasn’t that I’d jumped up and started dancing around the room the moment it came on, but I knew as soon as I’d had my first listen that something about it had stood out and grabbed me. Yes, I’d just heard Breathe for the first time, and within weeks I’d begun a lifelong obsession: I was a Prodigy fan.

A week or two after my first encounter with Breathe, I got my first glimpse of the band behind it: an in-your-face frontman with menacing dual mohawks; a black guy with gold teeth, cats’ eyes and tiger-stripe tatts; and a skinny dude with peroxide-blonde hair, utterly silent and stand-offish in contrast to the former pair’s manic posturing. The video clip, with its gritty haunted-house imagery, fascinated me as much as the song itself, and before long, whenever it came on during Video Hits, my mum would call me over in Polish with “Mateusz, your freaks are on telly!”

It’s funny but it’s been years since I last listened to Breathe – probably because I burned myself out on it so completely during those initial years of Prodigy fandom. But I can honestly say that I’ve listened to Prodigy in some form pretty much every day since that evening in late ’96. After converting my friends at the time, one of them promptly bought the newly-released Breathe single, which I recorded onto cassette and listened to nightly – to the point where I could recite Maxim’s MCing of Their Law and Poison from beginning to end. I got Music for the Jilted Generation for my 14th birthday – still my favourite album of all time – and slowly acquired every possible CD, MP3 and video of the band since then.

I guess the reason I’m writing this is because Prodigy music has been one of the oldest and most consistent elements of my life to date. It’s virtually the only thing that directly and without interruption, ties my present self all the way back to the 13-year-old kid I used to be. It’s pumped me up before hundreds of awesome nights out, spruced up a thousand long car rides, and their performance at Big Day Out 2009 – the first time I got to see them live, after so many years – remains one of the most memorable nights I’ve ever had.

Above all though, I’m proud of The Prodigy themselves. Even though everyone knew Breathe and Smack My Bitch Up back in the day, they were never that popular a band. They hit the charts globally when Fat of the Land was released – the album containing those two tracks, plus my beloved Firestarter – but imploded soon after, and it wasn’t for years afterwards (something like a decade in fact) that they regrouped in earnest and set about conquering that peak again. I still remember talking to a girl at work one night during this hiatus, and mentioning that my favourite band was Prodigy… to which she replied “Oh yeah, I remember them”. It hit home how little anyone knew or cared about them even by 2003, but now… wow.

In a couple of hours I’m going to the cinemas in Chadstone to see a movie – a fucking MOVIE, released worldwide – of their Milton Keynes concert, the headline act in a day-long music festival hosted by the band themselves. How many bands can claim to have their own feature-length movie? While The Prodigy are not major celebrities in Australia, in their home country of the UK they rule the electronic music scene, supported by a fanbase that’s not just huge – the Chemical Brothers concert I went to recently was just as big as Prodigy’s – but fanatical. As they’ve acknowledged themselves, that’s the unmistakable difference: people virtually never “like” or “don’t mind” The Prodigy; they love it – and how could you not? Liam Howlett is, in my mind, not just one of the most talented musicians of our generation but also a genuinely humble and cool dude, as are cohorts Keith and Maxim. To you guys, big respect from one of your old skool fans – and can’t wait to experience it all again tonight!

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