Keith Palmer, better known under the stage name Maxim Reality, is one of the driving forces behind The Prodigy's inimitable sound.
Initially approached to manage the group, he didn't show up to their first scheduled meeting, only to unexpectedly arrive hours later as they walked on for their first gig, joining them on stage without rehearsal to perform a completely improvised set. They were invited back on the next night, went on to tour almost non-stop for the following eight years, and the rest was history.
Today, on Maxim's birthday, we take a look back at 10 tracks that define The Prodigy's electrifying ascent to dance music royalty.
Their only release before hitting the charts, the What Evil Lurks EP demonstrated that The Prodigy were on the cutting edge of the emerging UK hardcore rave scene. Android in particular has stood the test of time with its energetic ‘jungle techno’ drums and psychedelic synth work.
While lumbered with the ‘toytown techno’ tag at the time, Charly is a serious piece of dance music that fused resampled Roland Alpha Juno hoovers, the break from Meat Beat Manifesto’s Radio Babylon and, of course, an inspired, surreal sample from a children's public service announcement into a certified chart smash.
3. Fire (Sunrise Version)
Before Keith Flint became an ‘official’ vocalist, he provided a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it soundbite for this track from the group’s first album, Experience. At 1:45, you’ll hear Keith’s lairy “yeah, you’re rockin’”, giving a sneak peek at the punky direction The Prodigy would eventually take.
4. Voodoo People
Disillusioned with direction of the UK’s rave scene post its 1992 heyday, The Prodigy ventured into previously unexplored territory with this blend of rock, techno and funk that helped cement their reputation as festival heavyweights. The later Pendulum remix became an anthem in its own right, and introduced The Prodigy’s unique vibe to a new generation.
The first non-live Prodigy track to feature a full vocal, the group’s MC Maxim featured heavily on this downtempo track. Despite featuring The Prodigy’s trademark gigantic breaks and acid-tinged synths, this hip-hop-inspired workout was nevertheless a dramatic departure from their previous hardcore sound.
The first single from third album The Fat Of The Land, Firestarter took Prodigy fans by surprise with its full punk-inspired vocal from Flint. The track was a number one hit in the UK and made Keith a celebrity figure in his own right, thanks in part to the video which saw the demon-haired dancer take to the spotlight.
Despite the iconic Firestarter’s success, Breathe is arguably The Prodigy’s quintessential single. With Keith and Maxim both contributing vocals over Liam Howlett’s razor-sharp beats, ominous bass and malevolent guitar grooves, Breathe sounds as fresh and iconoclastic today as it did back in 1996.
After 1997’s The Fat Of The Land, the band took a break from releasing albums until 2004’s Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. Funky lead single Girls was another surprising release - Keith and Maxim were nowhere to be found, with vocals coming courtesy of electroclash outfit Ping Pong Bitches and a sample from Broken Glass’s Style Of The Street.
9. Take Me To The Hospital
Giving a nod to their rave roots with a stab sampled from Electric Light Orchestra’s So Fine via LA Style’s James Brown Is Dead, Take Me To The Hospital also saw the return of Keith on vocal duties and a featuring in a grimey, Firestarter-esque promo video.
10. We Live Forever (Teddy Killerz Remix)
Remixed by Teddy Killerz in a hard-edged DnB style that owes much to The Prodigy’s early work, and released just a few days before Keith’s untimely passing, We Live Forever is a fitting tribute to Flint and The Prodigy’s contribution to dance music culture.