The news of Keith Flint, the frontman of The Prodigy passing away at 49 by taking his own life has now reverberated around the world. The Prodigy have been a major force in music ever since they brought their brand of rave punk into the world with their album the prodigy experience in 1992, things have never been the same.
I am writing this basically as someone who feels like they have lost one of their own. Keith Flint and Liam Howlett were residents of Braintree, which is the next town over from where I grew up in Witham (the two towns even share a local newspaper). It was always a source of pride for me, growing up that such amazing music was being made locally. I remember clearly first hearing Charly in 1991 in an electronics shop and stunned to realise it was from local lads.
The music of The Prodigy has always followed me through my life, always at the important points, there has been an album next to it. Music For The Jilted Generation: A levels. The Fat of the Land: University. Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned: Post Doc job. These are my own personal recollections- I am sure anyone reading this has had something similar, if you are a fan of the group.
Keith Flint joined the group originally as a backing dancer, its no understatement to say that the album The Fat Of The Land put the group firmly on the map as a force to be reckoned with more mainstream acts. People always discuss the backlash at the Firestarter video, which really was a big deal at the time- the BBC, in particular, refusing to show the video, due to it ‘terrorising’ young children, was outright censorship which made people just want to listen and watch the video even more. It was in its time, I think, one of the best examples of viral hits I can think of, simply by the established outlets being nervous, and causing publicity as a result. Awesome.
More than this, the group have always courted controversy- you can read more about this here. Of the many examples I could quote is telling DJ Chris Evans at the Q awards to “f**k off” for not playing their music on his show, to turning down a production request from Madonna, to playing to 200,000 people for free in Moscow, there is always the example that they set for everyone, that you don’t have to conform, can do things YOUR way and still make waves. Not that this mattered to them
Keith’s attitude to becoming the frontman, and face of The Prodigy, was exceedingly humble and self-deprecating, claiming to ‘just dance around’, but with a healthy dose of “f**k you” to any haters and the establishment. He said in an interview in the Guardian in 2015:
“We have a distain for authority. You can’t tell us what to do. We’re the sort of people who can’t be told. We can’t even tell each other what to do.”
As the tributes have been pouring in, particularly from those who knew him and worked with him in some form, the picture emerges of someone who took his role seriously, yet with a passion and energy that simply could not be ignored. If you had ever seen the group live, with Keith at the helm, you would know that it is simply impossible not to feel this. Paul Fitzgerald, who was lucky enough to tour with the band, said this about Keith’s approach to gigs:
“Going onstage for him was like going into battle. A battle he always won. Each and every gig was a win for him. Like the whole organisation around him, he insisted that everything was just as it should be, otherwise he simply wouldn’t go on.”
In his personal life as well, Keith was a busy man, buying and renovating a pub-the Leather Bottle- where, if he had to light a fire and someone made a wisecrack about being a firestarter, there was a quid penalty- to running a successful motorbike team- to his love of architecture – and his love of dogs – the picture is one of a man who was both kind, passionate and self-effacing.
I don’t think anyone could say that post Fat Of The Land, Keith and the band have been lazy. Most groups would be satisfied with such chart topping successes since The Fat Of The Land– but they have continued to evolve and grow. For me the later works have held just as much significance for me, in particular, Invaders Must Die which seemed to me to be to be more of a social commentary but with the edginess and anger that seemed to be missing from always outnumbered.
What is important to discuss, as I’m sure there will be many comments online about this, is the mental health of performers in general. An article on the Liverpool based Get into this blog discusses this in more detail, but what is clear is that people in this role are in fact a very high risk group. For me, I feel that perhaps not enough is being done in the industry to support people, but we cannot appoint blame as much as we might like to. it is a complex issue- but one that I feel needs to be addressed in more detail with care and professionalism. Social stigma over this I am positive plays an important role.
There is clearly now a hole in music that simply will never be filled. Keith was unique, as are The Prodigy. No other group sounds like them, you know a Prodigy track the instant you hear it. I for one will be grieving for a while, but listening to their albums at high volume, and ignoring any noise complaints- I cant think of a better tribute to my neighbour.