Where Ya Been?: The Electronica Years: Prodigy, Tricky, Goldie

Former 'Firestarter' act working on new LP; gravel-voiced MC directing film debut.

We couldn’t get enough of them. Their songs were our soundtrack, and we laughed, danced, cried and loved along with them. They flashed across our radio and TV burning brightly… but where have they been lately? As you’ll find out in this regular feature, sometimes the stories behind your favorite songs are more interesting than the hits themselves.

It was the mid 1990s, grunge was on the wane and the boy-band/girl-singer explosion was still on the horizon. Into the void came an undergreound genre of dance music dubbed “electronica” that had been bubbling up since the late-1980s rave scene in England. It was hyped in the U.S. as the next big thing and suddenly, for a lot of music fans, guys in flannel swinging dented guitars were out and faceless, pasty studio rats wearing flashlight eyeglasses and punching buttons on keyboards and computers were in.

For a few years there, electronica and techno gave a generation of geeky bedroom rock stars a chance to play to thousands of glow-stick waving fans, but the dance didn’t last long, as U.S. — and much of the rest of the world’s — taste again turned to the good ol’ staples of teen pop, guitar rock and hip-hop.

So, whatever became of acts like Leftfield, Autechre, Roni Size, Aphex Twin, Orbital and the Future Sound of London? For the most part, they returned to their roots as club DJs and underground dance acts, releasing mix CDs, playing clubs and remixing other artists. Or, in the case of the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, they kept pumping out albums with the occasional crossover hit. We tracked down the latest intel on what became of some of the genre’s biggest stars.

Who: The Prodigy

Biggest hit: “Firestarter”

Why do I know that name?: Even more than electronica stars the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy were touted as the “band” that could possibly break the genre wide open. With provocative Mohawked and nose-ringed maniac Keith Flint as its frontman — a rarity in the anonymous electronica world — the group had a high-energy live show that verged on punk rock with a drum machine. It was all fueled by the massive breakbeat and old-school hip-hop sampling of producer Liam Howlett, who was joined in the group by dancer Leeroy Thornhill and MC Maxim Reality. After scoring a British #1 with its second album, 1995’s Music for the Jilted Generation, the group gained international stardom in 1997 with the #1 U.S. and U.K. debut of The Fat of the Land, which featured the signature hits “Firestarter” and the controversial “Smack My Bitch Up.” After an extended period of inactivity, Thornhill split in 2002 and Maxim and Flint were largely absent from 2004’s attempted comeback album, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, which featured vocals from Oasis’ Liam Gallagher and actress-turned-singer Juliette Lewis.

What now?: A greatest-hits collection, Their Law: The Singles 1990-2005, was released earlier this year and went platinum in the U.K. The band — now Maxim, Liam, Keith, a guitarist and a drummer — have played some sporadic U.S. dates in support of the two-disc set, with a pair of West Coast shows scheduled for November. According to a spokesperson, Prodigy are working on a new album due next year for a yet-undetermined label.

Who: Tricky

Biggest hit: “Christiansands”

Why do I know that name?: A former member of the Wild Bunch (which mutated into Massive Attack), Tricky rapped on MA’s genre-defining 1992 Blue Lines album before he broke out with his 1995 debut, Maxinquaye, which is still considered one of the standard-bearers of the trip-hop movement. The murky album of gravely vocals and narcotic R&B had an underlying menace that was hard to pin down and would become Tricky’s sonic signature. Featuring the vocals of female singer Martina, who helped reinvent Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” the album turned Tricky into an instant electronica star. He went on to release a full album collaboration with the horrorcore U.S. rap group the Gravediggaz later that year and followed in 1996 with Nearly God, on which he worked with artists such as Björk and Neneh Cherry. He released another well-received album, Pre-Millennium Tension, later in 1996, and did remixes for everyone from Garbage to Yoko Ono to Elvis Costello. He recorded an album, Juxtapose, with Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs and Ruff Ryders’ Grease in 1999. The guest-heavy BlowBack dropped in 2001 to tepid response, despite cameos from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis and John Frusciante and Live’s Ed Kowalczyk.

What now?: Tricky released the stripped-down album Vulnerable in 2003 and appeared alongside Nick Nolte in the 2004 film “Clean.” According to his Web site, he’s finishing work on his directorial film debut, “Brown Punk,” due in 2007, and producing new acts on his Brown Punk label.

Who: Goldie

Biggest Hit: “Timeless”

Why do I know that name?: A hybrid of a hip-hop menace with his gold teeth and rave superstar thanks to his magnetic stage persona, former breakdancer Goldie was the first big star of the electronica offshoot of jungle, which was centered on a speedy drum’n’ bass sound. His 1995 debut, Timeless, opened with the trippy 20-minute epic of the same name, one of several stretched out, dark jams on the album. His 1998 follow-up SaturnzReturn was an ambitious two-disc set that featured the record-breaking nearly hour-long song “Mother.”

What now?: After releasing a few mix CDs, Goldie has remained a fixture on the DJ scene around the world, but has retreated from releasing new albums under his name.

Who: Underworld

Biggest hit: “Born Slippy”

Why do I know that name?: Singer Karl Hyde and guitarist Rick Smith got together in the early 1980s and released two marginally successful albums as Underworld before finally hitting it big in 1993 after recruiting techno DJ Darren Emerson into the fold. The trio’s combination of trancey groove and hard-hitting breakbeats layered with jagged guitars and more pop-oriented vocals spawned the classic hit “Born Slippy,” which appeared on the soundtrack to “Trainspotting.” The group, which also had a graphic-design firm called Tomato that did remix work for Björk and Depeche Mode and commercials for Nike and Pepsi, never again reached the heights of the ubiquitous “Born Slippy,” releasing the live album Everything, Everything in 2000, after which Emerson split to return to his life as a DJ. The duo of Smith and Hyde released their first album as a two-piece in more than a decade, A Hundred Days Off, in 2002.

What now?: Hyde and Smith have voluntarily retrenched over the past few years, concentrating on their online “Riverrun Project,” which debuted in 2005 as a series of download-only “packages” of music and digital photos, featuring the song suites “A Lovely Broken Thing,” “Pizza for Eggs” and June’s “I’m a Big Sister, and I’m a Girl, and I’m a Princess, and This Is My Horse.” The pair have also collaborated with composer Gabriel Yared on the score for Anthony Minghella’s upcoming film “Breaking and Entering,” which stars Jude Law, Juliette Binoche and Robin Wright Penn. They’re also scoring the new film from “Trainspotting” director Danny Boyle, “Sunshine.” In addition to live broadcasts from their studio, the duo are also working on a new album.

Past Where Ya Been? Artist Profiles:

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