2022 Gig Reports

The Prodigy at Brixton Academy, Thursday, 21st of July 2022

One summer night last July, it was time to venture to see the Prodigy in the venue that surely is their spiritual home: the Brixton Academy. The evening felt deceptively cool and breezy compared to the near 40 degree peak that London had endured few days earlier, but the tube was still stifling and the Academy even more so. Entering the venue at 8.30pm, with the support DJ well into his set and the venue already packed, was like venturing into some kind of bizarre rave-sauna.

The crowd cheered riotously as the opening notes of Underworld’s “Born Slippy” emanated from the stage and I tried to manoeuvre myself into a viable spot. I found myself a tiny bit of space towards the back of the crowd, and commenced an intrepid hour of attempting not to die of heat exhaustion. The gig hadn’t even begun yet but I was sweating so much at this point that I waved goodbye to dignity and tucked my t-shirt into my bra just to feel a tiny suggestion of air on my skin.

The Prodigy came on at half past nine and were exactly as I remembered them from the last times I saw them in 2004 and 2005: the most thrilling tunes, the most exhilarating chaos of lasers and lights timed so perfectly to match the titanic beats, a constant euphoric frenzy of blue and white and green beams piercing and slicing through the air.

“Breathe” was first, heralding an hour ahead of just one thing: glorious sweaty mayhem, with the limbs of everyone present propelled into motion by the universe-sized beats. “Omen” was a red-laser monster, with the crowd hollering along “the writing’s on the wall! It’s an omen!” The thrill of the tunes combined with the intense heat and sweatiness were, at first, energising and life affirming.

The one glaring difference between this gig and the ones I experienced nearly two decades ago was, of course, the absence of Keith Flint following his tragic suicide in 2019. For me, the outstanding moment was when the outline of his “Firestarter” look began to materialise above the stage in green neon, before it commenced the crazed dance of the video as an instrumental version of the track played. It was incredibly moving, and somehow much more fitting than if they’d just played his vocal over the track accompanied by the video. “He’s still with us!” roared Maxim afterwards, and we definitely felt his presence the whole evening.

Now the sole frontman, Maxim steered the show mightily, although I must admit I barely actually saw him the whole night, so enmeshed in the sea of flailing limbs and bouncing bodies as I was. By the time “Smack My Bitch Up” rolled around I was starting to seriously flag, and so I weaved my way back to the bar to gulp down some water. Once refreshed and turning back to the crowd, I found myself confronted with a solid wall of people, and the prospect of fighting my way through the mayhem of sweat and moving bodies was too much for me. Normally at a point like this, I would have found a spot at the back of the throng to witness the rest of the gig with a bit of breathing space, but even this was impossible, as the room was packed right up to the exit to the foyer.

So I decided at this point that I was good. There was no point in forcing myself to stay at this gig beyond the point of enjoyment, especially as I was still seriously overheated and the risk of collapsing in a sweaty heap was not inconceivable. So I finished my water, poured the remaining ice cubes over myself, which seemed the only fitting thing to do, and roamed out into the balmy Brixton night.

The intense crowdedness of the gig is not something I would have reflected on much further, given that it seemed pretty much of a par with the Prodigy gigs I’d witnessed at the same venue in 2004 and 2005. I just assumed that, being nearly two decades older, I was not as fit for the jostle and mayhem of a Prodigy crowd as I had been back then. I did hear some anecdotes from acquaintances who’d been to the Friday and Saturday gigs that the crowding had got even worse on those nights, with staff letting people in without tickets, but that seemed unlikely to me at the time. I’d never known the security to be that lax at a Brixton Academy gig, and I’ve been to many gigs there at the venue over the past 25 years.

It turns out, I was wrong. The tragic events of last December, where unticketed crowds surged into the venue, causing two deaths and multiple injuries, suggest that the Academy was not as safe as I had previously assumed. This is a devastating thing to happen. Live music may be what makes life worth living for me, but it is certainly not worth dying for. The venue is closed now pending a safety review, and I truly hope that it can re-open its doors soon, and that all who enter its iconic gig space in the future can do so with confidence, and enjoy a glorious gig like this one from the Prodigy without any fear for their safety.

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