Remembering The Prodigy’s Keith Flint, one of electronic music’s most iconic frontmen
The rave flag is at half-mast as one of the most iconic frontmen in electronic music Keith Flint has passed away, aged just 49.
No one ever forgets their first Keith Flint experience. Mine was 1997 as a wide-eyed teenager at Glastonbury. A fiery ball of rage and energy, he whipped up the crowd to the kind of riotous energy levels not seen on Pilton’s most famous field since. He seemed beyond human. Stalking the Pyramid like a possessed animal, singing, screaming, swearing, spitting, dancing: he amplified and galvanised everything the band had achieved since forming in Braintree, Essex in 1990.
The band’s powers at the time were unmatchable; their two albums Experience and Music for the Jilted Generation had successfully converted more teenage misfits, waifs and strays than any other rave act. They’d scattergunned the UK charts with a slew of singles and united moshers and ravers like no other act has ever done before or since. Their aggressive energy, use of guitars and fuck you attitude showed us how the two worlds of extreme music weren’t actually as disparate as we felt at the time. Then Flint took things to the next level.
A founding member since the band’s earliest incarnation, it was the period between 1995-97 which saw Flint hone his role into the distinctive frontman for which he’ll be forever known. While he had been an on-point hype man since day one – goading the crowd to lose themselves as much as he could – it was was during this chapter in the band’s history that he truly began to embody the band’s spirit.
In the year preceding that Glastonbury performance, their singles Firestarter and Breathe – the first two tracks featuring Flint on vocals – had both scored UK No. 1s. The band’s third album (and arguably strongest late 90s rave culture accelerant) Fat of the Land was days off dropping and their most controversial single Smack My Bitch Up would top that charts just months later. By the end of 1997 everyone knew who The Prodigy were. And it was down to Flint’s presence, his look, his attitude, his energy.
With his wild hair, tatts, piercings and demonic look he seemed dangerous and exciting. Rave culture was moving further into the mainstream, superstar DJs were becoming a phenomenon and superclubs were on the horizon, but Flint represented the original spirit; that freeing, naughty, anti-authoritarian sensation that allured so many of us into the culture. And he did it with authority. Born in 1969, he’d grown up in the Tory-pummelled 80s, soaking up that feeling of generational unrest and distrust of the authorities that had been bubbling under the surface for years. He was the visual, visceral link to the punk foundations that set the country up for the rave explosion, and remained so throughout the rest of his career.
Yet, to speak to him personally, he was a consummate gentleman. I had the pleasure once when the band returned after a five year silence in 2009 with their almighty comeback album Invaders Must Die. He was polite, articulate, sharp with the jokes and asked more questions than he answered. When I pointed out a link we had through my partner’s auntie (who worked on an off-road bike circuit in west Wales) he chatted candidly as if we’d spoken many times before. Motorbike sports was just as much as a driving force and influence for Flint – a keen amateur racer and fan, at the time, he was just in the process of establishing his British Supersport squad Team Traction Control. Emerging into the class in 2012, his black and grey camo Yamaha livery was just as distinctive in the sport as Flint was on stage.
Managed, backed and coached in his own inimitable style, Team Traction Control also went on to be promoted to the higher British Superbike Championship class in 2017. Madly, this was a moment slap bang in the middle of the last two Prodigy albums; The Day Is My Energy and No Tourists. Both albums led with Flint’s venomous frontman style and, backed heavy touring schedules, these last few years have been some of his busiest since the band’s 2009 return.
Which makes the news which broke early yesterday, that he had taken his own life, all the more shocking and tragic. Aged only 49, his energy and presence on stage during their UK tour last year remained undimmed – he seemed as touchable as ever. Raring to go, with zero fucks to give.
That tour, almost consistently sold out, will have provided many of us with our final, unforgettable Keith Flint experiences. It reminded us why The Prodigy were so revolutionary. Now, his energy was touching a very different crowd: ravers aged from 15 to 50, families of fans, all united by a band who have continuously cut through any current trend or style with their vibrant, visceral sound and style. A sound and style borne from collaboration, but personified by Flint. He was the unforgettable face, voice and spirit for countless members of jilted generations.
Maximum love and respect to Flint, his family, the band and everyone he ever touched. He will never ever be forgotten.