Benedict Spence

It was Keith Flint’s aggressive, feral, live performances which made The Prodigy so great

Keith Flint, the fearsome looking frontman of British electronic dance group The Prodigy, has died at the age of 49. With him, you fear, has gone one of the most important music movements of the last 30 years.

The Prodigy is, or was, a strange group, all things considered. They emerged from the rave scene of early 90s Essex, with hits such as ‘Charly,’ ‘Everybody in the Place’ and ‘Out of Space’. The latter became a popular, upbeat, conciliatory anthem the band ended every show with, whilst ‘Everybody’ just missed out on number one.

But the group went mainstream with a much darker brand of music than the ‘kiddie rave’ of their debut work. Flint was at the forefront of this transformation, bringing an aggressive punk aesthetic to the band’s formerly placid, casual look, as well as howling lyrics and dancing that bordered on disturbing. Everyone has heard ‘Firestarter,’ The Prodigy’s first number one, and there isn’t a dance floor in the world that hasn’t at some stage seen a mass of head-banging to ‘Breathe,’ ‘Warriors Dance’ or ‘Voodoo People.’ The black and white music video for Firestarter, shot in a disused section of the tube, was banned by the BBC on account of Flint’s manic, transfixing performance, whilst ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ was banned from the airwaves in the US and UK due to its lyrics, which were said to promote misogyny and drug use.

But it was nothing if not successful. The Prodigy’s next six albums reached number one in the UK charts, all of them fast, angry and very, very loud. What made them so popular? Plenty of people have looked to the individual tracks for encouragement: is ‘No Good’ an embrace of damaging lifestyles? Was ‘Invaders Must Die’ a harbinger of the creeping nationalism that would engulf the West a decade later? Can ‘Their Law’ be considered a protest against authoritarianism, or a weary submission to its relentlessness?

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