The Prodigy’s Keith Flint remembered: The unforgettable face of rave rebellion
The punky provocateur was the face of the UK's ‘90s dance music revolution, bringing the rave scene to the radio with the iconic 1996 hit, ‘Firestarter’. Yet he was a kind and gentle soul offstage. DJ Mag’s editor-in-chief, Carl Loben, pays tribute to Flint, the unparalleled frontman who died earlier this week at the age of 49...
One of electronic dance music’s greatest characters, Keith Flint of The Prodigy, has died aged 49. It was reported that he had died by suicide on the morning of Monday 4th March.
Onstage, Keith was a much-loved, fiery, madcap character — but offstage he was a gentle soul much loved by band, family and friends. He will be sorely missed.
Flint’s The Prodigy bandmate confirmed the news in an Instagram post. It read: “The news is true, I can’t believe I’m saying this but our brother Keith took his own life over the weekend. I’m shell shocked, fuckin angry, confused and heartbroken. RIP brother. Liam.”
Keith initially grew up in East London but his family moved out to Essex when he was at primary school. Going travelling after leaving school, on his return he was swept up in the UK rave scene — and found that he loved to dance. And his charisma would inspire others to do so too.
Much of the weekend’s entertainment around Braintree in Essex started to revolve around raves in a place called The Barn, and it was here that Keith first met Liam Howlett, a fledgling producer and hip-hop head who also DJ’d at the events. When he heard some of Liam’s proto-hardcore tracks on a tape Liam made for him, he suggested that Liam should be up on stage performing them live — and that Keith and his friend Leeroy Thornhill should be up there dancing with him as part of the act.
For their first ever gig in 1990, at the Labyrinth night at the Four Aces in Dalston in East London, the band also recruited MC Maxim Reality from the Peterborough reggae scene. Additionally, for their first few shows they featured Keith’s friend Sharky as another dancer, but she soon left — leaving The Prodigy as a four-piece. This line-up continued for the rest of the decade.
Early Prodigy videos and shows featured Keith with long, floppy hair and baggy rave gear, but after the band’s breakthrough success and No.1 album ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ he morphed into the technoid cyberpunk familiar from the ‘Firestarter’ video. The twisted face of rave rebellion.
There was an outcry about Keith scaring children after the band’s Top Of The Pops appearance, although in the ‘Firestarter’ video — shot in a deserted London underground tunnel — arguably the only real ‘controversy’ is Keith revealing a tongue piercing.
Providing the vocals for ‘Firestarter’ and follow-up single ‘Breathe’, which both shot to No.1 in the UK charts, he added an extra dimension to the Prodigy cannon, effectively becoming their second featured vocalist (although the band still used their fair share of vocal samples).
The mainstream music media had been struggling to cover dance acts, as there was often no front-person or ‘singer’ to focus on — but here was Keith, a deranged ‘punkin’ instigator’, providing a visually arresting presence, alongside Maxim who had also taken to wearing striking outfits.
Crossing over from rave to rock and back again, The Prodigy are undoubtedly one of the most important acts of the past 30 years.
Headlining Glastonbury in 1997, the first dance act to do so, The Prodigy effectively crossed over into rock band territory — later playing huge rock-fests like Download — as ’The Fat Of The Land’ album conquered the globe — soaring to No.1 in 23 different countries, including the USA. The Prodigy became reluctant pop stars before Keith embarked on a solo project — the industrial band named Flint, who had limited success.
Leeroy Thornhill left the band in 2000 to start producing music himself, and the next Prodge single, ’Baby’s Got A Temper’ — with words by Keith — also caused controversy, following the furore that had followed the misunderstood ’Smack My Bitch Up’.
Idle for a few years in the noughties, Keith didn’t contribute any vocals to 2004 album ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’ but was back on subsequent albums — including penning and performing ‘Champions Of London’ on most recent album ‘No Tourists’.
Always a dynamic focal point for incendiary live shows everywhere from Brazil to Russia and all points in between, Keith also started his own motorcycling team, Team Traction Control, in recent years and had interests in a pub in Essex until 2017.
After a hugely successful sold out UK arena tour at the end of last year, The Prodigy were about to embark on a big US tour — and were due to play Glastonbury again this summer for the first time in years. The music industry was united in grief for the Prodigy frontman.
“Today we lost a man who helped me become who I am, I will never forget our times together,” said former Prodigy member Leeroy Thornhill on Facebook. “RIP Keith x.”
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected] In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
Carl Loben is DJ Mag’s editor-in-chief. Follow him on Twitter here.
Check out 10 moments that defined The Prodigy.
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