The Prodigy’s era-defining Music for the Jilted Generation topped the album charts 25 years ago next week, establishing the former Essex ravers as musical kingpins.
To mark the occasion, Melody Maker sent journalist Simon Reynolds [later the author of excellent tomes Energy Flash and Rip It Up And Start Again] along to meet the group’s Liam Howlett, and find him in a somewhat politically-charged mood.
“The government are trying to make out the whole scene is bad, and they want to stop everyone going out and having a good time,” Howlett explains, in the 16 July 1994 edition (archived at the excellent Rock’s Back Pages) – a period when the Criminal Justice Bill was being discussed by the UK Parliament.
“The police can control the sound levels at raves. Basically, there aren’t going to be big outdoors raves anymore. They’re not giving them licenses in the first place now cos of the alleged disturbance and noise pollution, and all the drugs. And cos of that, the punters have lost faith a bit.
“A year ago, you’d get 20,000 at a big event, no worries. Now you’d be lucky to get 10,000. Events happen up until the last minute and then they get cancelled, and so people stop bothering. The Obsession rave, a big three-dayer on the beach, was cancelled, and that was going to be the only major event this year. The Prodigy haven’t suffered from it at all, we’re still packing out shows and selling records. But it does annoy me, the government telling young kids what they can do.”
Elsewhere in the article, Howlett, who dedicates the album to “all the kids who’ve grown up on this supposedly corrupt dance music”, tells Reynolds that he believes the fragmentation of the dance scene into a myriad of genres, coupled with the clampdown on rave culture, has led many panging for the ‘golden days of rave’s bygone unity’.
“I think a lot of people are,” he says. “That’s why the housey progressive scene is so popular, cos even though it’s not as mental and sweaty, it’s still got the love vibe.
“On the hardcore scene, the DJs won’t mix up different styles of music, they just wanna play the brand new ‘dubpates’ that no one can get hold of, cos they only printed ten copies.”
In terms of the style of the then newly-released Music for… album Howlett admits he moved away from “180bpm breakbeats” but retained some of that hardcore spirit.
“The new album is as hardcore as anything I’ve written, but hard in a different way, a German techno way,” he explains. “But I still use breakbeats, cos I’ve always been into hip-hop and that side of me will always be there.”
Jungle, at the time very much in the ascendancy, doesn’t get a thumbs up from the Braintree native, however.
“The reason I got into rave was that hip-hop had gotten too much into attitude,” he says. “To me, the jungle scene now is really confused. One minute they’ll play something really uplifting and the next it’s dark and gloomy. Also, that music’s lost a bit of energy. Because it’s so fast, people don’t dance to the 160 bpm drums, they lock into the reggae baseline, which is half speed. So you dance really slow. With techno, you dance to the full-on beat.”
But as for those discovering the new album, and perhaps their first dalliance with rave culture? What ‘scene’ would await them in a post-Criminal Justice Bill world?
“At the end of the day I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do. But as long as people can still go to clubs, it’ll survive. They’ll never kill the whole thing off completely…”
[Article snippets from The Prodigy: Touched By The Hand Of Prod by Simon Reynolds, Melody Maker, 16 July 1994]