The Prodigy began with an initial 10-track demo by Liam Howlett, put together on a Roland W-30 music workstation in Essex, England. XL Recordings picked up the demo after Howlett played several tracks to XL boss Nick Halkes in a meeting and an initial 12″ pressing of “What Evil Lurks” was released in February 1991. There are some few thousand bootlegs of this release; the original should have “the exchange” carved in the vinyl around the centre of the single (the matrix). The Prodigy’s name was a moniker Liam had chosen as a tribute to his first analogue synthesiser, the Moog Prodigy.
The Prodigy’s first public performance (with Howlett augmented by dancers Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill) was at the Four Aces in Dalston, London (then home to “Club Labyrinth”). “Charly”, released six months later, became a huge hit in the rave scene at the time, largely due to the popularity of AA-side track “Your Love” which was arguably more popular within the scene at the time. The release reached #3 in the UK Singles Chart, catapulting the band into the wider public attention. The Kaos Theory compilation series featured “G Force (Energy Flow)” from their third single “Everybody in the Place”.
In the wake of “Charly”‘s success the music charts were filled with unsophisticated “hardcore” rave tracks to which speed and ecstasy-fuelled clubbers had danced all night, but which did not appeal to critics in the music press. Examples were tracks such as Urban Hype’s “Trip to Trumpton”, and Smart E’s (as in Ecstasy) “Sesame’s Treet”, instigating death-by-publicity to the underground “hardcore rave” scene according to many critics, ravers and followers of the scene. As a result “Charly” (a contemporary reference to cocaine), with its memorable sample of the “Charley Says” children’s Public information films and The Prodigy were briefly identified by critics as “kiddie rave” or “Toytown Techno”.
“Charly” was soon followed by the band’s first full length album, Experience, a landmark release in the history of British rave music. After Experience (album track “Death of the Prodigy Dancers” featured Ragga MC band member Maxim Reality) and the run of singles that accompanied it, the Prodigy moved to distance themselves from the “kiddie rave” reputation that now dogged them. The rave scene was beginning to move on from its hardcore phase, with the Criminal Justice Act’s “anti-rave” legislation on the horizon. In 1993, Howlett released an anonymous white label, bearing only the title “Earthbound I”. Its hypnotic, hard-edged sound won wide underground approval. Many former critics of the band were astounded when Howlett finally acknowledged responsibility for the record. It was officially released as “One Love” later that year, and went on to chart at #8 in the UK.
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