China: 20 Years of The Fat Of The Land

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The Prodigy – The Fat Of The Land

Released June 30th, 1997 on XL Records

BestEverAlbums:  #397

The years following Kurt Cobain’s suicide marked a sea change in the makeup of popular music in England and North America.  Hip hop and electronic music ate up market share until a rough sort of equality emerged; “the kids” were just as likely to be into dirty south or drum n bass as they were rock ‘n’ roll, signalling that the Boomers were finally old and ready to be put out to pasture.  One of the key drivers of this changeover was the popularity of big beat between 1996 and 1998.  This movement – a product of the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy, Fatboy Slim Crystal Vegas, and helped along by the equally-brash sounds of other electronic acts like Daft Punk and the Sneaker Pimps – brought the slamming sound of drum breakbeats into the bedrooms of suburban teens from coast to coast.

The Prodigy were a little different from the others in that they incorporated a definite punk rock influence into their music.  The most obvious of these influences was of course singer Keith Flint, who wore a pink mohawk and looked like he’d just crawled out of a bender in the basement of Malcolm McLaren’s haberdashery.  There was also an aggressiveness to the way Liam Howlett arranged and programmed the songs, a certain je ne sais quoi that put the group more in the realm of anarcho-electro-punks Atari Teenage Riot than other English big beat acts that were jamming up contemporary rave culture.  “Smack My Bitch Up”, with it’s controversial Kool Keith sample and it’s car-chase propulsion, was discussed endlessly as to whether it was misogynistic or simply a reflection of the culture.  “Breathe” and “Firestarter” took the clenched-fist industrial energy of Trent Reznor and made it okay for kids tripping on E and glowsticks.  “Funky Shit” and “Naryan”, meanwhile, were closer to what the Chemical Brothers had been doing on Dig Your Own Hole.  Regardless of which direction the album took, it had the energy and edge that kids went for in the late Nineties.

It was such a success that at one point, probably around 1998 or so, I overheard a big farm kid claim that AC/DC wasn’t a real rock band and that real rock bands sounded like The Prodigy.  He was objectively wrong (and dumb as a rock to boot) but there you have it:  proof that, for the thrill and excitement that “the youth” craved, big beat was doing what rock ‘n’ roll acts couldn’t.

 

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China: 20 Years of Dig Your Own Hole

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The Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole

Released April 7th, 1997 on Virgin Records

As an adolescent I hung out with the stoners, the smoking pit crowd, the “greasers”, the rockers – however you want to call it, my friends were not the type to wholeheartedly embrace the sort of music that was making inroads in our mainstream consciousness during the mid 1990s.  Some of them splintered off and decided that hip hop was where it was at (they were right, in retrospect), but most of us plodded on with the Korns and the Bizkits, as the well-heeled buying public who lived vicariously through tortured-artist college rock and floor-punching macho pablum (with respect to Propagandhi).  Give us our guitars or give us death, we all probably thought at one point or another.

Still, there was something radically compelling about the kind of electronica that was finding it’s way onto radio between 1995 and 1999.  The Prodigy were practically a de facto punk band, with their mohawked singer and their overall vicious sensibility.  Ditto Atari Teenage Riot, whom we were all acquainted with through the legendary Spawn soundtrack.  The Sneaker Pimps kind of felt like an alt rock band that had been through a wringer that got rid of – most of – the guitars, in the same sense as Portishead.  The Chemical Brothers, though, were something else.  Dig Your Own Hole embodied – embodies – the sounds of big beat.  These beats are big, in the purest sense of the word.  The duo knock out funked-up samples and acid-inspired synthesizers and watch them land with the force of an atomic bomb into breakbeats that were, from the moment I heard them, all I ever wanted out of drums.

“Block Rockin’ Beats” and “Setting Sun” are the bigger singles, but every track on here hits the same particular nerve endings that make me want to loop the album forever.  It’s an amalgamation of drum n bass, hip hop, psychedelia, and English rave culture and it follows an internal logic that punches holes in walls.  Twenty years later it still gets the party going like nothing else.