As The Prodigy's theatrical frontman, Keith Flint converted millions of new fans to electronic music. We look back on some of his best moments.
Many people who saw the "Firestarter" video back then were too young or too far from rave culture's main hubs to have ever heard this kind of thing before. This track, and Flint's glaring mug, were our first hint of something that would come to dominate our taste in music, or in some cases, our lives. "Firestarter," indeed.
The Prodigy's music was brilliant and influential, thanks largely to the vision of the band's producer, Liam Howlett. But perhaps their biggest contribution to electronic music was the way they brought it to a mass audience. When the Criminal Justice Act squashed the free party scene in 1994, The Prodigy maneuvered out of the underground and into the mainstream. They won awards and broke records—Fat Of The Land, with 317,000 copies sold in its first week, was the fastest-selling dance album ever released. Dispensing with the tradition of the faceless electronic act, they starred in their own videos and played stages otherwise reserved for rock and pop acts, which worked thanks to their dancers and MCs—Maxim Reality, Leeroy Thurnhill and Flint. In 1996, The Prodigy played on the main stage of Phoenix Festival just before David Bowie. The next year, they became the first dance act to headline the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.
Far from diluting their rave culture roots, The Prodigy were outrageous and controversial throughout their meteoric rise. Flint was the embodiment of the band's outsider energy, which was for many their main draw, at least at first. With his snarls, gurns, and, yes, his haircut, Flint flew the freak flag for rave culture, scaring off some and beckoning in others, and making the band accessible to rock fans. If he hadn't leered at us from that train tunnel, many of us might have missed out completely.
Flint died this week at his home in England, where he was discovered Monday morning. To reflect on his legacy, we've put together a highlights reel that shows his power as an icon, one that changed electronic music and pop culture forever.
Years before Flint's freakish persona took shape, he embodied a more classic cornerstone of rave culture: the wacky, bantering prankster. These clips of his shenanigans, which appeared alongside live footage on a bootleg VHS called Electronic Punks, revealed the band to be utterly authentic examples of the rave culture from which they emerged, making them relatable while deepening their mystique.
"When they see us, they see four people that, ten minutes ago, were in the crowd, dancin' around and havin' a laugh," Flint said in this 1992 documentary on the Essex label Suburban Beats. "I think people like to see something that's close to home, something they can relate to."
This MTV special traces two parallel stories: The Prodigy's transformation from a rave act to something like a pop group, and Flint's metamorphosis from a shaggy-haired raver to an electrifying frontman.
The clips below show The Prodigy's evolution from 1991 to 2018, and Flint's personal metamorphosis in that time, from a relatively unskilled hype man (that's him in the top hat in Coventry) to a more outlandish and theatrical performer (rolling onstage in an inflated orb at Glastonbury '95), and finally onto the rock star he became with Fat Of The Land, a role he filled right up through the group's most recent performances, like this one from 2018. How many performers in electronic music can rile up a crowd like that?
Last but not least, the songs and videos where Flint grew from dancer to lyricist and MC, vaulting The Prodigy to international stardom.