Keith, remembered.— Si Sharp -
The Prodigy are a strange beast. For the majority of their catalogue the music is just the work of Liam Howlett and yet the supporting cast that orbit his talent are important to The Prodigy in a way that doesn’t really have a comparison elsewhere. On Monday we learned we’d lost Keith Flint - an essential part of that essential band.
Keith embodied the spirit and attitude of the Prodigy, and the Prodigy embodied the spirit, and attitude of a generation. Due to the Prodigy’s celebrated crossover appeal, a significant number of that generation are feeling the loss of a man who started out, with Leeroy, as the band’s dancer. Even for those two albums where he makes precisely zero musical appearances, he was an important element.
From the start The Prodigy were an act - how they looked in their videos and on stage was part of who they were and to understand why The Prodigy transcended their genre and Keith transcended his role, the visual history is where we’ll go as we chart the early evolution of his role from dancer to frontman. We’re not qualified to speak of the man’s character, although that so many are doing so with fondness isn’t surprising, but we remember his transformation into an icon and we’d like to share that instead.
Let’s start with Everybody in the Place - a total joy of a thing.
7 seconds in with a gurn and we’re there. Dancing with stupid hat, mouth agape. This Keith is such an archetype. There were loads of Keiths in 1991. Always up and always up for it. People who got the party started. Even then he managed to embody the band.
On Music for the Jilted Generation, the party went dark. They were still about the good times but they were now in the basement rather than the warehouse and even more than last time, they’re a gang. Inspecting the premises, approving the vibe. Chairmen of the dance.
Jump to 2 mins 20 secs, Keith is dancing like a man whose feet are struggling to keep up with his drugs and the creeping new sense of menace in the band’s sound is writ large in his eyes, their rabid energy apparent in his later strait jacketed appearance.
By the time they’ve released the final single from Jilted, they’ve embraced the aesthetics of a rock band, and a still wild-eyed Keith is moshing.
Which of course brings us to Firestarter….
There’s a reason little children sat entranced by the scary man in 1996, you can’t keep your eyes off him. The song barely exists without the video. With hindsight it’s easy to see why Firestarter had the effect it did. It’s an escalation of what went before, something unique and needed, but it was a really bizarre move. This was something dance acts just didn’t do - vocalists provided sweet melodies, not menacing threats in a punk style. He took them from an electronic band with crossover appeal to create a sound that was harder and edgier than their guitar wielding contemporaries. This wasn’t just a bunch of ravers living out stale rockstar fantasies, or hiring a guest singer for some commercial symbiosis like Leftfield had done with John Lydon. This was a genre of one being created and once again, our hero lived and breathed it.
From here of course they stuck to their niche and became a stadium act equally at home in a field or with condensation dripping from the walls. They remained a rite of passage live experience for subsequent generations; Keith centre stage controlling the crowd.