After bedaubing yourselves in your splashiest regalia, possibly having a few barely palatable drinks, making sure you have enough money, mint chewing gum, and pressed tabs for yourself or possibly a couple others, you and your friends finally get your tickets scanned to gain entrance in to the fray. The gun metal grey halls are illuminated by the faint light of errant lasers and passerby’s glowsticks. You see a fleeting blast of autumnal orange suddenly envelop the hallway as the bass begins to reverberate off the walls so thunderously that you wonder if the foundation of this building can even withstand what the night portends. You arrive at the last set of steel double doors. They’re all that stand between you, the music, and the crowd. You fling them open with abandon, and the full force of the music hits you with the same power of an unexpected squall crashing upon a lost ship in a churning ocean. You’re in.
There are colors, sounds, bodies, and energies moving and undulating concurrently in unison and arrhythmically as the DJ’s and singers hold you in the palm of your hand. You no longer belong to yourself, you go but for the grace of the sound, as do all around you. You can’t help but be taken by the ecstatic faces, and the beautiful madness that surrounds you. Thus, for the next five or so hours, until the dark light of the sky gives way to a slight navy blue, and the warblers, wrens, and robins decide it’s time that their songs are heard, you dance. You connect. You are free.
Whether you may know it or not, if you have experienced anything similar to this, be it from your favorite local DJ’s, the world’s biggest touring acts of today, or whiling away the hours at any of the seemingly infinite electronic and/or mainstream festivals in the world, you have red in your ledger. Because you owe a debt of gratitude to forefathers of toothsome EDM and the culture therein as we know it today: The Prodigy.
The news cycle moves at breakneck speed in 2019. It can be stressful at best and harrowingly depressing at worst to attempt the seemingly Sisyphean task of keeping abreast of all there is to know or follow. An event that would normally dominate a news cycle for weeks or even months now passes through our collective consciousness as swiftly as smoke is scattered to the wind. Which, in actuality, is a rather perfect parallel to the ultimate profundity of the modern EDM scene and the festivals it has wrought. While EDM festivals like Lighting in a Bottle, Electric Daisy Carnival, Nocturnal Wonderland, and the innumerable others may provide the attendee with a care free weekend of dancing, moving, and a drug and alcohol-soaked bacchanal of immediate pleasure, one would be hard pressed to tell anyone concretely what these festivals are actually about . Are they fun? With the right mindset, certainly. But substantive? Hardly. This is not cynicism, this is reality. In your heart of hearts, you know as well as the rest of the rabble that ultimately the only lasting keepsakes people seek to leave these festivals with is a plethora of selfies of the attendee and their friends looking as attractive and positive as they possibly can so they may give demonstrable proof on their Instagram pages that they’re living their #bestlife. An ultimate meaning begins and ends as quickly as it came and afterwards lasts only as long as the ensuing hangover.
However, it was not always like this. Amidst the infinite myriad of EDM there is to choose from today, only an elite few still remain relevantly in our minds, and they are the ones that were innovators, or even better, actually had something to prove and to say; thus, The Prodigy deserves better than being forgotten quicker than a weekend at Envision.
As such, in light of the recent suicide of Prodigy front man Keith Flint, it is only pertinent that we give him the proper epitaph that he is owed.
Flint was born in September of 1969 in East London, whereupon which he later relocated with this family to a more secure, if not dull existence for a young boy in Springfield, Essex. Like so many of the creative geniuses that of the cloth from which he was cut, Flint didn’t take to suburban life peacefully. The dramatic switch in environment presented itself as little more than a land of unparalleled doldrums when compared to the energy of the city he had left. After his parents divorced shortly after the move, Flint became more disruptive and insubordinate which lead to his eventual expulsion from school at the age of fifteen and moved to Braintree where he began working blue collar jobs until he found himself embroiled in the acid house scene of the 80’s. The acid house scene began in the early 80’s in Chicago with by solidifying its sound that would essentially become the foundation of all of the electronic music we know today by utilizing deep bass sounds and synthesizers.
Before too long, the sound had spread to and was embraced by British underground club scenes. The term ‘rave’ had existed in its fledgling state for decades before what we come to know it as today. The word in its origins had emerged out of the fifties amongst jazz musicians, and later moved its way in to more dominant pop culture when it was employed by acts like Parliament and David Bowie, among others, to at its essence describing cutting loose and embracing the music in whatever manner it should inspire your emotions to rise and your body to move.
By the 1990’s a plethora of subgenres had emerged out of its original state in Britain, and by that point, ‘rave’ had undergone an entire etymological transformation to bear large similarities to what we now recognize the phrase as. Naturally, as with almost any widespread trend people enjoy, politicians and police officers sought to crackdown on and squash the scene by fining promoters for hosting the events, and even randomly picked attendees. This forced the electronic acts in to more rural locales for their shows- often either giving little notice, or completely spontaneously having a concert in an abandoned warehouse or garage.
Flint solidified his presence in this culture when in the 1989 he met Liam Howlett, a DJ, in Braintree at one of the aforementioned shows. After he was given a mixtape from Howlett, Flint allegedly returned to Howlett and insisted to his new friend that he should be performing his own shows. After further impressing keyboardist Leeroy Thornhill, MC Maxim, and vocalist Sharky, the band that we would know as The Prodigy was formed. The band name was inspired by Flint himself, when after receiving the mix tape from Howlett, he labeled it with the word ‘Prodigy’ in sharpie on the cassette. Originally, Flint was just one of several dancers that rounded out the stage presence for Howlett’s sound and Maxim’s vocals. Their first two albums as a group Experience, and Music for a Jilted Generation gained plenty of traction in the UK as the evolution of electronica was beginning to gain international traction. However, it wasn’t until the 1996-97 release of what would become their only truly legendary album, The Fat of the Land , that The Prodigy would stake their claim as one of the most recognizable leaders of ravenous sound as Flint moved out of dancing, and instead became one of their lead singers and songwriters.
While The Prodigy’s first two albums helped to solidify their sound with pulsating, chaotic reveries and intensely dance-able hooks that set them apart from the burgeoning crowd, The Fat of the Land was the equivalent of (pardon the reference) turning their sound to warp speed. Ironic for a title such as the album dons, this record managed to both shirk the sounds that were unnecessary or ancillary and instead highlight and expand upon their strengths.
Maxim Reality, formerly the head of every aspect of each track, instead decided to play the background, only providing vocals for two songs on the entirety of the record. However, if I asked you in a lightning round to name those two songs without using your smartphone, I’ll bet you’d be at a loss. We all know who not only stole the show but laid the groundwork of raw intensity that almost all since have merely tried (most unsuccessfully) to duplicate or improve upon.
Whom among us in the millennial generation would not instantly recognize the incredible fusion of synth keyboards laid over ominous power chords leading in to the thundering bass drums and earth shattering cymbal crashes that mark the beginning of the iconic song “Breathe” before Flint’s psychotic but infectious energy beckoned us wailing like a banshee lost in hell to “Breathe the pressure, come play my game, I’ll test ya!”
I’d venture that there isn’t a single one among us that didn’t feel their inner beast awakened because of Flint’s lyrics and vocals on “Firestarter,” a song that was written with clear influential reference to breaking free of the forced societal constraints of modernity. However, unlike so many of their contemporaries and subsequent followers, the rebellion suggested wasn’t the mere act of congregation and dance as aforementioned at the top of the article, the rebellion was pretty carte blanche: burn it down.
In spite of the controversy that followed, to which the band insists that the name of the song was essentially a colloquial synonym for making their sound more intense, “Smack My Bitch Up” became so ubiquitous that combined with the prior songs launched The Prodigy to the top of both the US and UK charts. Even leading to The Prodigy being the headlining act for the (at the time) prestigious for the festival circuit, Lollapalooza.
The common thread these songs share? Yes, correct. They were all written by Keith Flint.
The Prodigy would certainly go on to create other works as the years pressed on, but this article is not about their entire discography. It is meant to be an epitaph to the album and the front man that changed it all.
What matters most as a lasting legacy is that Flint’s vocals and composition broke down all of our preconceived notions about what a dance song is or could be. Unlike any other band of their genre before them, and in many ways since, The Prodigy challenged you to pay attention to what your listening to while dancing. It utilized its unrelenting sound to not only fill your body with energy while also not relieving you entirely from modern terror.
In that, as time pressed on to where we are today, Flint became an old lion in new, unrecognizable Serengeti, and we won’t have a replica. Artists like Flint are almost impossible to duplicate, so it is of the utmost importance that as the news cycle moves at breakneck speed, and all pleasures and sounds are as fleeting as a winter sunset, we don’t forget the legacy of Keith Flint: the man who truly brought us to the dance.