Firestarter – The Prodigy (Track + Cultural Analysis)

The Prodigy are an English electronic music group from Essex formed by Liam Howlett in 1990. Along with The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, The Crystal Method and Orbital and others, The Prodigy have been credited as pioneers of the big beat genre, which achieved mainstream popularity in the 1990s and 2000s.

The group’s were well known for various genres ranging from rave, hardcore techno, industrial, jungle and breakbeat in the early 1990s to big beat and electronic rock with punk vocal during the progression of the band.

The Prodigy first emerged on the underground rave scene in the early 1990s and have been called “The Godfathers of Rave”.

Cultural Analysis

Since The Prodigy were prominently influenced during the 80s Punk timeline with bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Clash, the track itself features very harsh vocals that reenacts more of the DIY screaming and shouting aesthetic that was dominant with punk, compared to traditional musical singing. Even the lyrics and chord progression are very repetitive and simple in nature, similar to that in punk music at the time. The simplicity of the lyrics provided a very clear message however the lyrics were often vague. Paired with the repetitiveness nature of the genre, it made sure that it was catchy and simple to remember.

The prodigy has even gone out of its way to make sure that “Firestarter” would not reach mainstream popularity by rejecting publicity from interviews and billboard top lists. This itself promotes the general idea that Rave Culture was meant to be elusive and enigmatic. Most record labels that published this genre, promoted the ideology of listeners actually going out of their way to find music and not conform to mainstream music outlets such as “Top of The Pops” or “MTV hits”

Punk, just like rave originally took place in local scenes that tended to reject association with the mainstream. An associated punk subculture emerged, expressing youthful rebellion and characterised by distinctive styles of clothing and adornment. Even in the music video, the physical representation of Liam is reminiscent of Punk bands like the sex pistols who often portrayed themselves with mohawks, make-up  and jewellery such as earrings and chains.

Since rave culture was meant to be an anarchistic revolt against mainstream culture and governmental establishments, the lyrics themselves are usually open for interpretation. For example, Liam can be seen wearing a sweater with the U.S.A. flag on it, claiming that he is the fire starter and the instigator. This could be a nod the U.S. and how they were seen who starts many of the wars of the world during the time.

The music video is set at Aldwych tube station which is a closed station formerly on the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground. The aesthetic closely resembles the whole rave scene accurately since most of the genre were being played in abandon factories or establishments.

Song Structure

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 7.46.02 pmEven looking from the song structure it self, its obvious that it even reflects the whole violent and restless nature of the genre. There is only a 30 seconds interlude, compared to 3 minutes of fast paced sections where it has a more agressive and driving beat. compared to many western pop structures, this arrangement is not foreign to dance music and most genres within this tempo like Drum and bass,techno and acid take from this.

Intro

The song starts off with a drum pattern that is slowly introduced via a low pass. Filtering is a common FX used within this track as most of the melodic and rhythmic content is slowly introduced this way.

There is also a drone bass that is being played in the background which plays a prominent role in all the song. The drone bass is a slow attack saw bass that is heavily phased and low passed so that it sits behind the mix and works to glue the harsh synths with the vocals.

It Is also here where the main guitar riff is introduced. The guitar is processed through a wah-wah pedal which is panned towards the centre with a small delay.The looped wah-wah guitar riff in “Firestarter” was sampled from The Breeders’ track “S.O.S.” from the album Last Splash. Sampling overall is a very prominent occurrence in electronic music, and the members are even acknowledged in the track credits.

Pre Chorus

Most of the percussive frequencies are introduced at this point and is more of a build-up towards the chorus. The main backbone of the rhythm section is the kick that is being played every 4/4. The kick itself features a lot more mid and high end frequencies due to the fact that it pierces throughout the mix and is rather barren in the sub bass frequencies.

There is also in the introduction of a phased noise which acts as the crash. This phased noise can be heard as a reversed crash and is heavily distorted but is mixed relatively quite so it sits in the back of the song.

The big beat rhythm comprising of the snare and the 16th hi-hats provides the whole energy of the track and covers most of the mid and high end frequencies of the spectrum.

To transition to the main chorus, there is a vocal vowel being reversed that is slowly panned from right to left. Reversing synths or vocals are a common trope in electronic music to seamlessly transition to different sections. similar to how an anacrusis would be used for more traditional music.

Chorus

Most of the rhythmic and melodic content from the previous section is transferred to this section. The big addition is the vocal hook which is accompanied by a 1/4 delay which repeats the last words of the line.

However there are also minor additions such as an extra reverse synth on every offbeat and an addition of a vocal sample. There is also a reversed synth with a slow attack which closely resembles a tire screeching which pans to the left. There is also additional “Hey” samples that triggers every end of the bar which is heavily delayed and reverbed in the track. This sample will be very prominent in the entirety of the song.

Verse
The Verse is an instrumental section which closely resembles the Pre-Chorus in terms of instrumentation however it strips backs the vocals and primarily features the synths. There is also an addition of a gated pulse synth which is slowly high-passed in to the section.

Middle 8
The structure pretty much repeats it self twice before reaching the middle 8 section where most of the harsh tones are stripped for a more melancholic and softer sounding synth pads.The most prominent feature here is the phased out acid lead. Along with the lead, the drum patterns are also phased in and out. The phasing is most likely automated in and out via a cutoff which is mapped to a sine wave lfo. As this section goes along, a heavily distorted stab synth is introduced as well as the reverse screeching synth to help build up the tension within the track. The track ends with another instrumental section which lasts for 8 bars and the dynamics are faded out towards the end.

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