A True Prodigy
IN THIS PHOTO: Keith Flint/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Remembering the Exceptional Keith Flint
IT seems cruel that we cannot brace ourselves for such...
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
news when a brilliant artist leaves us. The past year or so has not been as tragic and horrendous as 2016 – when David Bowie and Prince died – but some big names have departed since then. A few hours ago, the world started reacting to the news that The Prodigy’s Keith Flint has died aged forty-nine. It is a tragic revelation and, for a man so young, it adds extra punch and sadness. People from all corners are paying tribute and sharing the news. The Guardian have reported what is known so far:
“Keith Flint, vocalist with the Prodigy, has died at the age of 49, it has been reported.
The singer was found dead at his home in Essex on Monday.
An Essex police spokesman confirmed that a 49-year-old man had died. “We were called to concerns for the welfare of a man at an address in Brook Hill, North End, just after 8.10am on Monday,” he said.
“We attended and, sadly, a 49-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene. His next of kin have been informed. The death is not being treated as suspicious and a file will be prepared for the coroner.”
With his punk aesthetic of spiked hair and intense stare, Flint became one of the UK’s most iconic musical figures in the 1990s. He joined the Prodigy – originally formed by Liam Howlett in 1990 – as a dancer, later becoming a frontman alongside rapper Maxim. Aside from their 1992 debut, all of the group’s seven albums have reached No 1 in the UK, the most recent being No Tourists, released in November 2018”.
Although The Prodigy’s Liam Howlett has been responsible for shaping the sounds that make the songs so evocative and timeless, it is Keith Flint’s vocals that brought the songs to life. Many consider Music for the Jilted Generation to be the finest moment – that used samples and other vocals – but I connected with The Prodigy when they released The Fat of the Land in 1997. In 1997, the landscape was changing and we had seen the best of Britpop. American guitar sounds were inspiring a lot of evolution but there was this vein of brilliant Dance and Electronic music that was offering genuine difference and commercial freedom. Away from the mainstream sounds, acts like The Prodigy were providing this intense, thrilling and unifying music that one could lose themselves in. Some see The Fat of the Land as less credible and consistent as Music for the Jilted Generation but the powerhouse vocals of Keith Flint brought something new to the fold. I had never heard a singer like him: a sense of energy and expression that was so foreign to the vocalists who were scoring Rock and Pop hits of the day. Backed by fiery and innovative compositions, Flint turned songs like Firestarter and Breathe into classics. Seeing him in the videos with his unique looks and mad moves thrilled me and my peers and we would chant The Prodigy in the playground.
This review from NME in 1997 highlighted the strengths of The Fat of the Land:
“I remember imitating – in terms of the moves rather than the looks! - Breathe and Firestarter’s concept and we would often lark around pretending to be Keith Flint. I love the fact he took The Prodigy to new audiences and helped bring the music to the masses. The Prodigy did not lose any edge or credibility: instead, they had this firecracker vocalist whose personality and nuances make songs on The Fat of the Land so indelible. Smack My Bitch Up might be the classic from The Fat of the Land but I have a very special place reserved for Breathe. It is a song I remember a school chum of mine playing as we played football outside his house. I hear the song now and am transported back to the time I was thirteen/fourteen and would barrel out of school; run around the corner to Stefan’s house and hear the song played on a stereo – as we would kick the ball around the field and enjoy that freedom.
Now, following the chart triumphs of 'Firestarter' and 'Breathe' (the best darkly apocalyptic pair of Number Ones since Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'Relax' and 'Two Tribes', and both included here), a two-show blitz at traffic jam-cum-festival Phoenix and a support for Oasis at Knebworth, they're on the brink of US destruction care of a deal with Madonna's Maverick label and all set to terrify a continent whose musical wet dreams remain controlled by Beavis And Butt-head...
Before it all is sonic grace. 'Breathe' - that rarest of things, a Prodigy track that grows on you - sounds ever more sinister in such claustrophobic surroundings, drilled as it is to a brain-numbing intensity of kick drums over which Keith howls the still baffling lyric, "Twisted animator!". 'Diesel Power', an overdriven nod to the band's hip-hop roots, comes care of a growled vocal from Kool Keith, aka Dr Octagon, and 'Serial Thrilla', home to the best example yet of Keith's ability to faultlessly master vocalus Johnny Rottenus, covers the Jeffrey Dahmer axis comprehensively (sample lyric: "Serial Thrilla!/ Serial Killa!") before ending, after five and a quarter brain-in-the-Kenwood-mixer minutes”.
Fast-forward to 2009 and the album, Invaders Must Die. There are period where Flint did not feature on Prodigy records and, on songs like Colours and Take Me to Hospital, Flint – alongside Maxim – brought new life and insight into the songs. Some say Flint, on the biggest moments, was too aggressive and lacked clarity but it is his force and electricity that made the songs so exhilarating and memorable! Listen to the vocals on Nasty and Rebel Radio – from 2015’s The Day Is My Enemy – and, again, these potential-great songs are lifted to the status of classics. Even if Howlett was providing the inspiration and source; Flint was making songs realised, confident and colourful. His input and role in one of the greatest Dance/Electronic acts this country has every produced is obvious.
On 2nd November, 2018, the band released No Tourists – an album that won acclaim and, again, featured Flint. I do wonder if they will continue without him now but I know this is sure: the gap he has left will never be replaced! We Live Forever and Champions of London are a couple of the strongest songs The Prodigy have released in years and both feature Flint’s vocal skills. Maybe the quality declined after their 1997 peak – or the end of their peak – but you cannot refuse the urgency of The Prodigy’s music, regardless of when it arrives. Keith Flint was a vital ingredient in the mix and, away from the music, the man’s loveable personality and crazy hair certainly made us smile! He was an original and someone not willing to conform to ideals and be anyone else. I wanted to quote from one of the last interviews he gave (at the end of last year) that showcases why his sort of honesty and lacking ego is what makes him so authentic.
“There’s a no-smoking sign on the wall of the London studio where we meet Keith Flint. Still, The Prodigy’s pierced and punk-plumed wildman is rolling a fag. He crams a wad of Golden Virginia into a crumpled Rizla, licksit, lights it and takes a long, merciful drag.
“I fucking hate this nanny state we live in right now,” he exhales, filling the room with smoke. “It’s like being back at school. I cannot be told what to do. As soon as I’m told not to, I will. It’s the death of life, the nanny state. And it kills everything. It will turn us all into zombies”.
As the reporter/interview remarked, having a chat with Keith is not a forgettable or average experience – it is almost like him and the music are the same:
“A conversation with Keith is not unlike one of his gigs. It is unpredictable, visceral, and raw. It can be angry at times, scary at others, but entrancing throughout. But he is not the four-letter lady-part he just singled out. Not today, anyway. In fact, he is rather charming and funny. Eloquent, too. And he laughs a lot.
“I am kind of a court jester meets asylum escapee,” he says. “I sometimes describe myself as like a hallway in a house: you think you’re inside, but there’s another door to the real me. I’ll sit and wait like a predator and then I will cut you down. I will fucking cut you down to the ground”.
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
His fashion and looks, again, are hardly what you’d confuse with your everyday Pop artist – the type that seemed dressed by committee and unwilling to deviate in case their Spotify numbers decline!
“Keith Flint has come to this interview dressed as Keith Flint. Apart from the shades, he’s wearing a pork-pie hat and a blue-and-white striped prison uniform shirt. A bolt bores through his upper ear and tattoos cover his arms and chest. He bursts with energy and ideas, pogoing between topics as they come into his head, and he swears like a trucker in a jackknife. He’ll often call someone, or himself, a cunt, apologise, then use the word again”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The final part of the interview I want to bring in concerns the turn of the century and The Prodigy stepping into the 2000s. The end of the 1990s, in a way, ended a creative flow from the band and it would be a little while until Liam Howlett rediscovered that Midas touch. There were problems when Howlett gained new focus:
“By the time Liam finally found his mojo, Keith had unravelled. “I got to the point where I had to stop. I didn’t want to be a jabbering wreck.” But coastal walks and solitary Saturday nights in never much suited Keith. “I was heading for complete vanilla-ism,” he says.“Being sober, my obsession became being fit and focused, but I like to leave the planet now and again. I decided to have the odd joint or a few beers to keep a bit of psychedelia in my life.”
And here we are now, sitting with Keith in this London studio, five albums and 26 years since he and Liam first met in that muddy Essex field – two lost boys drawn together by a shared love of hardcore and a burning problem with authority. “I think Liam is the only person I’ve ever loved,” says Keith, with genuine affection. “He and Maxim have actually taken time to get to know who I am. It’s probably to do with not having a good family background. The band became my family”.
The band has lost a family member: its quirky uncle and its faithful brother; its strange lead and its true voice. I know many prefer the samples vocals and periods when The Prodigy operated differently but I love the Keith Flint contributions. From the cocktails of explosion on The Fat of the Land to the new vocals on No Tourists; there is nobody in music that boasted the same qualities and angles as Keith Flint. His death is unexplained but, tragically, I feel like suicide might be the cause – although it would be reckless to mention that or feel drugs played a part. Whatever the cause of his death, the music world has lost another star. Social media is filled with tributes and sad words. It is a bolt out of the blue and one that will take a long time to recover from. As a tribute to Keith Flint, listen to those great records and feel the impact and power he brought to them. He was in life as he was on record: a unique and open human who was contradictory, earnest and bold. The music industry is becoming more sanitised, safe and less interesting and losing someone like Keith Flint highlights that sharply. We go to sleep with the knowledge Keith Flint is no longer with us but, through the wonderful music he left behind, we will never...
TRULY lose the master.