Originally published: The Clash
On June 24, 1989, The Sun newspaper ran with the headline ‘Ecstasy Airport’, unveiling a story of how 11,000 acid house fans gathered for Sunrise’s Midsummer Night’s Dream rave at White Waltham airstrip, Berkshire. Revellers saw the event as the ‘second summer of love’ as they unified over an emancipated sound and dilated vision of a drug that would charge the underground rave scene into the coming decade; yet the tabloids struck fear into the hearts of the general public as they prayed on the unknown ventures of a misunderstood scene, running a story that wrongly accused the pilled-up partygoers of ripping the heads off pigeons!
Twenty-one years on and little has changed: tabloid journalism will always be the bearer of bad news for a jilted generation ingesting the latest soon-to-be-banned drug in easy supply, and the gathering of debauched citizens on mass will always be seen as a sign of the latest chapter of ‘Broken Britain’. However, The Prodigy’s headline set at the Milton Keynes Bowl was seen through celebratory and nostalgic eyes for the 65,000 people that turned out for the Warrior’s Dance Festival. With a career spanning twenty years and five studio albums, it’s more of a testament to the trio’s constitution and longevity that they are still going, especially when considering their narcotic history.
And as the crepuscular sky fizzes and fades with the warmth of Ecstasy, the amphitheatre-like Bowl is illuminated with bright red lights as the haunting resonation of ‘World’s On Fire’ creeps through the floor. With arms raised, the crowd’s eyes are fixed upon Keith Flint spitting Lydon-esque into the mic. Now into his forties, he still has a playful aggression about his stage demeanour. Wearing his classic ‘Fat Of The Land’-era twin Mohawk, red suit jack and white vest, he spins and bounces with the exuberance of a child whipped on E numbers, leading the crowd into their own rave workout.
With an audience that ranged from enthused teen tearaways looking for the tunes from their latest output ‘Invaders Must Die’, to Old Man Rave searching for that feeling that he left back in a warehouse party on the outskirts of Manchester in the Nineties, The Prodigy produced a set that would unify any reason for attendance. Moving from the likes of ‘Breathe’ to ‘Invaders Must Die’ to ‘Poison’ with ease, they electronically weaved a thread through their back catalogue with a sense of classic neatness.
Aurally aggressive and intimidating throughout, Maxim’s delivery and sheer demonic presence is masterful. Referring to the audience as his “warriors” and “people”, a 30-foot circle opens at his command as ‘Warrior’s Dance’ kicks like a disgruntled mule, as a maelstrom of movement bustles to the build and break of the bass’s whoomp. Again, when he informs the crowd to ‘get down on the floor’ like an enraged gunman chomping at the bit as ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ gurgles in the background, they duly comply; jumping into the air on the cerebral command of the sub-bass shooting through the floor.
With ‘Firestarter’, ‘Voodoo People’, and ‘No Good’ still sounding fresh and raw against the likes of ‘Thunder’ and ‘Take Me To The Hospital’, The Prodigy prove that age is no boundary to the gurning face of rave’s experience and vigour. And like a rock of MDMA that fizzes under your tongue, the trio’s appeal only gets better as the night, and their return to form, continues.