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The Retro Review: 1996 – The Prodigy at Phoenix Festival

As festivals around the world are put on hold, we thought we’d revisit some festival performances of yesteryear in a series we call: The Retro Review.

Coming into this performance, I thought I knew what to expect. The Prodigy were champions of the UK Rave and Big Beat scene in the 1990s, so I knew they were going to bring the energy. But what came next blew my socks off.

On a piping hot day on the 18th of July 1996, at Long Marston in Stratford-Upon-Avon, The Prodigy opened the show with Voodoo People, and brought the house down. Even watching back at this performance, a grainy VHS quality video uploaded via Youtube, you can feel the raw energy of the stereo, and the thousands of people in the mosh pit losing their minds.

Frontman Maxim goes at it like a man possessed, complete with a metal claw for a right hand, gold grill and white contact lenses that stare straight into your soul. Keith Flint dances around him like a devilish imp, his black eye-liner and neon green hair adding further intensity to his efforts to pump up the crowd.

Liam Howlett’s not letting the team down either, showing mastery of his equipment – controlling the crowd and getting them raving. Occasional keyboardist Leeroy Thornhill is here as well, cutting some shapes on stage every now and again, but Maxim, Flint and Howlett have the crowd in the palm of their hand and they aren’t going to let them go.

Frequent visits to the crowd turn the excitement up to fever pitch, as they move through hits Breathe, Poison and Diesel Power. By the time Firestarter kicks off (having only been released a few months earlier), the crowd are in a frenzy. There’s no fancy big screen projections or elaborate stage theatrics – these guys are here to bring the beats and the atmosphere, with lights and smoke machines enhancing the breakneck speed they throw down beats.

The Prodigy weren’t even the main event for this day of the festival – David Bowie was due to come on next! I don’t know how these festival goes had the energy – watching this performance from my TV at home has made me exhausted.

I can only imagine what it would have been like in that mosh pit, thousands of bodies jumping in time to some of the biggest hits of a generation. Even now, watching nearly 20 years later, the energy, passion and quality of the music shines through the grainy footage.

If you feel like you’re losing your mind being stuck inside, you may as well lose it to the Prodigy.

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