The Flame That Keeps Burning: Keith Flint
WORDS BY BENJAMIN CASSIDY
The Prodigy were cool in a different way than other bands that found mainstream success during their reign as unique figureheads of the alternatives and dissenters – as well as being a crucial part of the soundtrack to the last pre-internet-generation of music fans. They’d established a dedicated following well before that though – via desire to listen to them, dance and nothing else. Being part of a movement back then happened without online chat-rooms, or, any other form of internet based-promotion. People came, heard and told everyone else what they were missing. This often took place in old, industrial areas at illegal raves, or at within the networks of parties, that people had. Spaces simply had to be found, because the thought of not getting together to celebrate what being alive is really about – shaking off the drudge of the working week and the stifling constrictions of nine to five just wasn’t feasible.
The big sound, packed full of fuck offs and meaty beats, injected the power of being alive into you. The party well and truly started as soon as people heard those unmistakable sounds of The Prodigy. Mayhem and love met. They brought people together, as the experience was always better shared. Many wild nights were made more-wild by watching your mates take it all in – it was as if you needed to observe someone else, at times, just to make sense of the sheer power and force occurring. They watched you too. It was reciprocal; the magic of it kept the wonderful self-fulfilling loop of it going. A rocket-fuelled ceremony on repeat.
Even when they hit big, and were at their commercial peak, The Prodigy still maintained a status as separate. They celebrated many punk attitudes both in their sound and image: raw energy, individuality and sheer love of the music, amongst other attributes that never fail to mobilise new listeners within a generation. So much more than that though, they reached people of varying tastes, penetrating clicks and usually closed off clubs. If you were Oasis or Blur didn’t matter. The Prodigy offered something else entirely and were too likeable to not enjoy. They were immersive and immediate. Everyone knew. Contemporaries watched and learnt, even if they didn’t give the praise The Prodigy deserved. It didn’t matter to them. The sound and the fans did – making as much of an impact as possible, whenever and wherever they could.
Their enigmatic front man, who originally joined as a dancer, epitomised what music can offer, exploiting perfectly via the electronic sermons, that he was the divine instigator of, harmony, happiness and collective expression. Keith Flint achieved the rare accolade of being the coolest person in music without any accusations of selling out. The man simply wasn’t capable of that. Yes, he changed, but only in so much as the party got bigger and better, and he adapted for that. He dressed for the occasion, but not for marketing purposes or to sell an image.
He was genuine, and that’s what people wanted to emulate more than anything. He was adored, but not with sycophantic adulation. His achievement was the total respect of those who knew how dull and flat life can get without someone to get things blazing. Keith wore the uniform of self, proudly, and taught others that they could too, and should. He wasn’t interested in being shocking or making statements. He was too intelligent for that, and simply not interested. He just liked to dress that way, so he did. Of course, there was some theatricality in his peerless performances, but that was the music flowing into him and pouring back out. He caught the energy of the crowd – a filter for the moment. It was clear he loved making people happy by doing what he loved.
One way to measure bands, a method that separates forgettable from legendary, is how they hold up in a live performance. The Prodigy were made for performing, and if they were there, so were their army of followers – many from the early days – Keith was well known as “that dancer”, at the parties that stemmed from the early nineties’ own Summer of Love. First up and last off the floor, no doubt. Some of the future crowd probably spent time alongside him, although none could compete. He was the public talisman of the group, the face that let everyone knew they were creating something. Bonding. Mattering. It was the Holy Grail for many, to go and see The Prodigy live.
The inclusion of their track, Mindfields, from The Prodigy’s seminal 1997 album, Fat of The Land (it was a landmark record that stands up today and paved the way for so much) on the soundtrack to The Matrix (1999) is entirely unsurprising. It shows how culturally relative they were, somehow tuned in to what people needed, not just wanted. If anything is going to jolt you out of a fugue-state it’s Keith’s sneering vocal, to the backdrop of an impossibly clever array of noises that collectively, could cure zombification in an instant, by the sheer musical excitement.
His delivery incites a sort of static-shock, absent from mainstream music today. If you’re ever unsure of what’s real and what’s not, then listen to that and watch the hairs on your arms start tingling and dancing. It’s honestly just not an option to stay still when you play their music and hear Keith make the announcement “This is Dangerous”. Indeed, in the best possible way. You can’t ignore it, even if it’s not for you. The stuff it’s made of won’t let you. Those crashing battering rams of drumming, the sublime, synthesised sonics of reverb and bent notes.
Following news of Keith’s death, even with him gone from mortal form, his light will continue to make many sparkle and fizz with heat and never want to be extinguished, for even a second. An absolute icon and cultural phenomenon. He’ll be much missed. Though his death may cause many, for a while, to feel that a flame within them has been extinguished – for older fans perhaps seemingly snuffing out that eternal burning combustion that is youthful reminiscence, the inevitable tears won’t stop him starting fires for long. They mustn’t and can’t. There are too many parties yet to first discover him and the petrol of his song. Once they do, like so many before, they’ll burst to life, ignite and make the night go boom.