The Prodigy is the punk band that bended history by turning into the strongest political phenomenon in the last 20 years – the only genuine sequel in the strong line of politically aware bands inside the pop culture, starting with MC5, through Sex Pistols and The Clash towards Public Enemy. Their core statement however is not based in the socially aware lyrics and activism, but on the whirlpool of body movements, short slogans and aggressive visualisation that just suggests and provokes meaning. There can be no marketing strategy to plan this unity of emotion and philosophy without philosophy, the eternal promise of the possibility of change, and it makes The Prodigy such a special unit. They do not fit in infotainment world circling around millennium.
This is the exact shape in which The Prodigy came to Belgrade 8th of December 1995 in the sold out Pionir Hall (capacity 10000), as the first big international act to play there since decomposition of Yugoslavia made Belgrade a capital of paradoxes. Dayton agreement in Bosnia was just signed, UN sanctions over Serbia partially lifted and it looked like Mr. Milosevic has foreign approval to stay, much to the dismay of the Serbian youth.
The band has just finished touring masterful “Music For The Jilted Generation” album and was ready to introduce couple of new songs of which we did not know anything about at the time. I never asked them why did they think Belgrade was a good choice for the show at that moment, our offer was just up to their standards at the time, but for us the positive answer was a heaven’s gift that we fought bitterly to make happen, writing projects and putting the budget together, and finally combining it from independent business sources (HMK Music) and City Hall of Belgrade. As music journalist turned promoter I just knew that below the radar of local forces of control, it was only pop culture that offered the rebellious language to unite young people around the country – and that this show will change the landscape we live in.
It was all dreamlike rush and blur, from the meeting with the band on the Belgrade Airport to the hotel and meeting very selected media, through City Hall of Belgrade reception on which the band was presented the Keys of the City of Belgrade. It was all just heating up for the evening – as far as we know, the event itself turned out to be with the largest attendance on any The Prodigy solo concert before. Put together as the big rave, with Serbian DJs and guests from Hungary playing hours before the band hit the stage at 11pm, the show actually turned into full blown celebration of local counter-culture, as the crowd was uneven mix of who-is-who in general cultural life and kids of all ages.
The band went straight to the extreme roar of the audience, and has given us later a historical gifts by playing “Breathe” for the first time, and “Firestarter” for the second time. But somewhere early in the set, deep inside the venue, the football fans fired torches so strong that they orchestrated sharp blazes of light stronger then the light from the stage itself. The band gasped for one very long moment, blinded in the middle of the song action, as much as John Fairs, manager, standing by the side and asking me if this is the regular thing to happen on shows in Serbia? Who could remember, we did not have any foreign shows for a long time, so my answer was affirmative. From my point of view, we were setting the rules for the future to come back to Belgrade, and if we needed some more light in the process – so be it – even if the fire starts.
The show became part of the urban myth, not only in Belgrade, but all over Serbia – politicians as always tried to rub the shoulders on this success, but it was youth that won. Next year the local elections in Serbia were marked by attempt from Mr Milosevic to steal votes as his party lost in all 20 big cities in the country. It all turned into longest civil march in the history of Serbia, first bitter and then carnival-like merry walks that lasted three months through 1996-1997 winter, followed by soundsystems on each corner. The Prodigy music was coming from each of them, constructing a soundscape for the change to come.
True to the post-millennium political praxis, it was this in-joke that finally changed the unfortunate social and international trap in which Serbian youth have lived unwillingly for a darkest decade. For them, The Prodigy 1995 show was a glimpse of the change that can happen and showed them the way to fight for their cause against all odds – after all, it is historical fact that the youth movement Otpor (Resistance) was one of the key factors in getting rid of Mr Milosevic rule in 2000. When the band returned to Serbia, they won hearts again on Exit festival, who in turn voted their 2007 show as the best in the 10 years history of the event, paying symbolically tribute to the fact that the band helped “the other Serbia” find it’s voice. And fire-started it.