Imagine seeing Keith Flint at 10 years old. Terrifying doesn’t even begin to cover it. I didn’t know who or what this creature was, but I was stunned.
His hair was shaved right down the middle and shaped into devil horns. He had a huge metal septum piercing protruding below his nostrils, and his wide eyes were blackened with thick makeup. All this coupled with a toothy, unhinged grimace-turned-smile and his thrashing psychotic dance moves, and Flint made his mark as a musical icon in the Prodigy’s “Firestarter” video with immediacy.
Read more: The Prodigy frontman Keith Flint dies at 49
The anarchic mesh of big beats, looped guitars and ferocious drums combined with his brash Essex accent bellowing lyrics such as, “I’m the bitch you hated, filth infatuated” as he pointed to his crotch in the black-and-white footage was mind blowing. It was unlike anything I or indeed the world had ever seen.
The fact that the single shot straight to No. 1 in the U.K. charts evidences how captivated the whole country were with the group, although you barely noticed the other members in the video. It was all about Flint. He was the face of the Prodigy.
But he wasn’t the visionary behind the band: That’s Liam Howlett, and Flint was the first to admit it. Howlett is the founder and the producer, but the addition of Flint was vital to their success. He was also crucial to engaging the rock and metal community because he was one of us. His absence could’ve rendered the Prodigy irrelevant to our scene.
Flint looked like a punk, but the music was dance and the vibe was metal. The Prodigy crossed over many different musical genres and united fans of them all. They were so universally appreciated that it was actually uncool to dislike them.
“Firestarter” was the lead single off 1997’s The Fat Of The Land, the Prodigy’s third album and the first to feature Flint, who had originally joined the band as a dancer. The next single, “Breathe,” also reached No. 1 in the U.K. charts. The third and final single, “Smack My Bitch Up,” was accompanied by arguably the greatest music video of all time.
The first time I saw it, I was speechless. Seeing such blatant drug use, belligerence, violence, groping, vomiting, nudity, sex and driving under the influence was wild. The cacophony of visual illegalities sent a clear message about a complete disregard for authority while on a quest for thrills. This explicit content cemented the Prodigy as the edgiest band on the planet.
It was supremely controversial at the time, and there were cries of misogyny which the band laughed off as being ridiculous because Flint had already referred to himself as a “bitch” in “Firestarter”—the term was gender neutral by this point, and the brilliant twist at the end of the video should empower women, if anything. While Flint didn’t actually feature on it, he performed it live during every set. He also spoke honestly to the press about his own hedonistic lifestyle, which mirrored elements of the video.
It’s still banned from most media platforms today. Does it get any more punk rock than that?
The first time I saw the Prodigy live was in 2002 at Reading Festival in the U.K. By then, they were big enough to be booked as headliners. Not much photographic or video evidence of their performance exists because we weren’t all consumed by smartphones back then, but after seeing them that night, I was a fan for life. Their reckless energy and unpredictability fronted by the charismatic Flint was simply intoxicating. He looked and sounded like danger, and when you’re a 17-year-old kid, danger can be pretty exciting.
Over the years, I saw them countless times. In 2006, when Axl Rose and his version of Guns N’ Roses headlined Download Festival in the U.K., most of the punters snubbed them to see the Prodigy close the second stage instead—it was a total no-brainer. They didn’t charge extortionate prices for tickets or preach to their crowds; they didn’t do many interviews, make music for the radio or care for critical acclaim unless it was fan-led. They made music for themselves, and we just happened to love it.
Recently, the band have been on an absolute roll. They released what’s now sadly their final album with Flint, No Tourists, in November of last year and completed a U.K. tour which included playing two consecutive nights in London. Over 16 years after I first saw them, I was still compelled to attend one of their gigs, and I’m immensely glad I did. Little did I or anyone else know that it would be the last time they played the capital with Flint.
The Prodigy were due to begin a U.S. tour in May, play festivals throughout Europe this summer and have now been revealed as one of this year’s Glastonbury Festival bookings. Devastated fans around the globe are grappling with the reality of this tragedy, and while we all try to make sense of it, we must also celebrate his artistry.
Keith Flint taught me the value of self-expression, that fearlessness is achievable and to not only embrace my weirdness, but to crank it up.
We are the jilted generation.