Let’s take a look at this timeless band from different, anecdotal perspectives, in 10 acts, as a prelude to the spectacle at the Gorki List Main Stage of the EXIT Festival on Thursday, July 6!
ACT #1: The Historic Concert in Belgrade
Rewind to 1995 – the sanctions were still in full swing. The notion of anyone daring to perform in Serbia was unthinkable. With the country on the brink of bankruptcy, much like many other Eastern European nations in transition, ticket sales were a pipe dream. Moreover, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was practically a no-fly zone for performers. Yet, for The Prodigy, these roadblocks didn’t exist! They ventured into Serbia, conscious that the electronic music wave that had, curiously, blossomed in Serbia during the 90s was still rolling, even against the most formidable odds. Those years saw rave parties reaching epic proportions, with crowds going wild, despite their illegality in the UK. The black-market CD trade was in full gear, and every tune was on the tips of people’s tongues. The concert drew not just half of Belgrade but half of Serbia. Later, during an English class, a teacher friend of mine gave her students the following assignment: “An event that changed my life.” Seven essays emerged on The Prodigy’s concert! Perplexed, she asked me, “Who exactly are these people?” In the absence of the internet, I brought in a cassette and hit play. That was the genesis of the unshakable love affair between Serbia and The Prodigy.
ACT #2: “Jilted for Jilted” and the Keys to the City
Rock stars or musical celebrities may not always understand the implications of their actions. Nonetheless, historic performances, such as Metallica’s in Moscow during the opening of the USSR or The Rolling Stones in Cuba, undoubtedly served as significant landmarks. Following a press conference in Belgrade, someone knocked on the hotel doors of The Prodigy’s members and informed them that the Mayor of Belgrade had requested their presence. To their surprise, the City Secretary for Culture presented them with the keys to the city. Honorary citizenship was off the table – it had been discontinued in 1986 and only reinstated in 2006. It was at this moment that Liam Howlett and his crew truly grasped the historical imprint they had made: the creators of “music for the jilted generation” had become beloved by a “jilted country.” Jilted for jilted, jilted loved by jilted.
ACT #3: “Firestarter” and Keith Flint’s Haircut
It’s 1996. Keith Flint steps into his hairdresser’s. “Shave me bald,” he instructs. The barber picks up the clippers and, as is customary, starts by shaving the middle of the head before moving to the areas above the ears. Suddenly, Keith stops him and jumps off the chair: “That’s it!” The barber is flabbergasted: “I’m not finished!” Keith hands over the full payment and leaves ecstatically. At home, he spikes the remaining hair above his ears into “horns” with gel. The band then film their first video for the song “Firestarter“ in a creepy, abandoned part of the London subway, looking decidedly twisted. The rest, as they say, is history.
ACT #4: “Breathe“
During our study sessions, we spent a lot of time in front of the TV, and the most neutral choice was watching VIVA Zwei – an endless stream of music videos, the soundtrack to countless hours of problem-solving. They were on 3K (Channel 3 of the Serbian national broadcaster) all night long. In Serbia, everyone stayed out until half-past three. It was always convenient to drop by for an afterparty and tune in to VIVA 2. One November day in 1996, a new video appeared, complete with filthy drain water, holes in walls, rats, cockroaches, and a man with reptilian eyes. All accompanied by an opening bassline that took your breath away. Was this the same “Breathe“ bassline that debuted in Belgrade a year ago? It was! My friends split into two camps: those horrified by the aesthetics and music and those enthralled. That day, I knew my friendship with the former group was drawing to a close. “Breathe,” a song that had become an anthem for Serbian youth in 1995, had become a dividing line within our generation.
ACT #5: “The Fat of the Land“ and “Smeh Mladića“
During long days of military service, everyone looked for a way to escape and do the least menial tasks, so with my disc collection, I was assigned to work in the canteen and play the music I liked. It’s 1998, and “The Fat of the Land“ is making waves worldwide. The Prodigy has now become the mainstream of the underground. A hulking soldier walks in and says: “Play ‘Smeh mladića!’ (A Young Man’s Laugh) What song? I don’t have that song. “You do; you play it every day! It goes like this: smeh-mla-di-ća!” Suddenly it clicks, and I say, hey, here it is; I have it. And I put on “Smack My Bitch Up.“ He walks away, satisfied. I realize that The Prodigy has transcended genres, cultures, and languages. People don’t understand that the song isn’t in Serbian, nor where the band comes from. Simply put, their magnetism wins people over.
ACT #6: The Prodigy at EXIT!
In 2009, the moment arrived to see The Prodigy on the Main Stage of the EXIT festival. But, alas! The crowd was so large that you could only get so far, and even then, there was such a stir that it was barely possible to breathe – my girlfriend, all of 156cm, was neither enjoying the view nor the air. We moved further back. We realized we were so far back that we were almost outside the Main Stage. There had never, ever been such a crowd as there was then. Except when The Prodigy came again. This love story between Serbia and the iconic band definitely transcends time. And everyone still loves them, just like in 1995 – those who love electronic music, those who love rock, and those who love good, melodic pop. All types of faces, styles of dress, and hairstyles are there. Gathered around the deity.
ACT #7: The Prodigy Not at EXIT?
But love moves on, and sometimes it’s good to make a joke out of it. Thus, in 2017, a lineup was announced that didn’t include the famous Brits, and Njuz.net poked fun with the following piece: “In the past few days, the EXIT festival management had as many as 30 missed calls from the band The Prodigy, we found out in the festival’s headquarters. Keith Flint, Liam Howlett, and Maxim Reality had been calling the EXIT team in turn, and there were also several calls from unknown numbers with a UK prefix.” Indeed, the band had become a “household name” at EXIT, even getting incorporated in the jokes about the festival.
ACT #8: “Serbia is one of The Prodigy’s spiritual homes”
“We performed in Serbia when they were going through the toughest of times,” Liam once said. “Serbia is one of our spiritual homes, and EXIT is our favorite festival.” It’s indisputable that The Prodigy has had a significant impact on Serbia. But how much has Serbia influenced them? A lot! The song “The Day is My Enemy“ was inspired by Balkan traditional music, Liam Howlett personally confirmed in direct correspondence with fans. Didn’t you notice? Listen again carefully!
ACT #9: The Beauty of Being So Big, Yet So Down to Earth
The Prodigy is currently touring the world and their tour, as they say, is “off the hook.” However, even their stellar success hasn’t made them forget that they’re still ordinary, warm people. Back in 2014, Theo from the band Hurts did something that most people wouldn’t expect – he changed out of his suit, dressed casually, watched Suede, and then proceeded to visit the other stages. People stopped him in disbelief to take photos, and he warmly accepted. Similarly, our friends from The Prodigy arrived a day early for the Sea Star festival this year, in the town where they helped launch the festival in 2017, and relaxed in Umag like true locals. Liam Howlett and his girlfriend Natalie Appleton rented bicycles and took photos all around Umag, sharing the beauties of Sea Star and Umag on social media. It’s wonderful to be so big yet so down to earth!
ACT #10: The Triumphant Return of The Prodigy to the EXIT Universe!
Everything worth experiencing is worth repeating. That’s why The Prodigy is set to reign over the EXIT Festival again this year, and we are ready to embrace them. After all, we’ve been with them through their highs and lows, and we’ll be there, no matter what. They are the “last great punk band” and perhaps the most impactful electronic band ever. In sports terms, they’re the GOAT. If that’s not special, I don’t know what is. See you at the Gorki List Main Stage to kick off the festival in style on Thursday, July 6!
Written by: Žikica Milošević