Smack My Niche Up

That single, "One Love," was released on a plain white label in the summer of 1993 under the pseudonym Earthbound and was very warmly received. When Prodigy revealed that they and hot new stars Earthbound were, in fact, one and the same, all talk of their has-been status ceased. "That," says Maxim of the whole affair, "is a prime example of the way the press is over there."

Prodigy's second album, Music for the Jilted Generation, was released in the United States by Mute in 1995 (Elektra had dropped the band, citing poor sales). The album sold a million copies worldwide but did not reach the mainstream American audience. When Prodigy's introduction to that crowd finally came, it was in the context of the major labels' concerted effort to market a number of disparate European dance-music acts under a single banner. As Maxim remembers it, "Certain elements of the music industry wanted to re-create the rave scene and call it electronica." American music fans had good reason to be cynical about this reportedly impending craze. It was clearly less of an actual shift in taste than an attempt to manufacture a record-buying frenzy like the one incited unexpectedly in the early Nineties by Nirvana.

From Prodigy's point of view, being featured in stories about the making of a pop movement (the group was signed in early 1997 by Madonna's label, Maverick, after a highly publicized bidding war) skewed the American public's perception of their music for the worse. "Some [of the so-called electronica acts] might think it's good for their career to be lumped together in one category," Maxim continues. "For others, you think of your music as being unique and as being the best -- able to stand on its own feet." Obviously, Prodigy falls into this latter camp. Of their situation, Maxim explains, "It would be like if you were a solo songwriter and they put you in the same category as Cliff Richard. You wouldn't like it!"

Given that Prodigy's U.S. debut outside the dance-music realm was the video for their 1997 hit "Firestarter" -- an extremely flashy, garishly costumed affair -- it can be hard to accept their image as pugnacious heroes of the underground. With their interracial mix, outrageous hairdos, and rap/rock/house hybrid, Prodigy appeared prepackaged for an image-hungry audience. But Maxim insists that that's not the case. "It's not a marketing ploy," he says. "The way Keith looks, the way I look, it's just us. We don't have a stylist! I don't have anybody who dresses me. We're not the Spice Girls."

Asked how, then, he cultivated his look (Maxim generally appears in a kilt, with oddly colored contact lenses and a dental make-up scheme that he refers to as "creme teeth"), the MC replies, "Music opened up something inside me that allowed me to go up on-stage and express myself. Our audience has given me the right to do that. They've said, 'Yes, we want you to be yourself and to give me some of that back.'" And no matter how the group comes off on TV or in the press, says Maxim, on-stage they shake off the categorizations and generalizations. "It's Prodigy music and nothing else.... We live this." As for the naysayers, Maxim is confident Prodigy's live show will change their opinion of the band: "It's easy for an outsider to talk, but let them see the show."

Prodigy performs with opening acts Meat Beat Manifesto, Josh Wink, Monk & Confucious, and approximately twenty others at a pre-Zen Festival, Saturday, June 27, at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd; 305-358-7550. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $30 in advance, $35 the day of the show.

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