Keith Flint, The Prodigy and music that shook a stilted generation
In memory of one of the great hype men of modern times.
I feel like a lot of people have a similar 'origin story' when it comes to The Prodigy.
A television set was likely involved, and on this life-giving box a procession of images designed to unsettle and captivate in equal measure.
A derelict house with demons for company.
The point of view of a hedonistic soul embarking on a violent, drug and sex-fuelled night, only they're not quite what you think they are.
A lone figure, some kind of broken court jester that managed to escape Hell for a few precious minutes, beckoning and commanding in an endless tunnel.
That last image is the one that has already been adjudged to be the most iconic as a flood of tributes pour down.
Clip via The Prodigy
Hard to argue with. Though a relatively tame watch in 2019, the video for 'Firestarter' brimmed with moral panic provocation at the time.
Keith Flint was always going to be forever tied to it, his visage and movement combining for a fever dream that you don't shake off easily.
His death by suicide this week has reminded us all of an exceptional power and presence, one that terrified parents while gifting dextrous dance moves that only the most confident of Brylcreemed lads would dare attempt at the local teenage disco.
Flint and his Prodigy kin were products of their time while also being somewhat ahead of it.
They crafted, in their own words, music for a jilted generation. They gleefully took aim at authority. They encouraged the fervent contradiction of disruption and community.
Nobody sounded like them. Certainly not on the telly, anyway. Top of the Pops and Top 30 Hits felt like some kind of anarchist group had hacked in when they showed up all too briefly.
Everyone had a copy of Fat of the Land. A mate had managed to tape the uncut version of 'Smack My Bitch Up'. Your brother lost his mind at some festival nobody ever heard of.
The Prodigy boasted real power. They were dangerous, and Keith Flint was terrifying. A scream made flesh with eyes that pierced civilised society, he wasn't out to corrupt, but to find some class of unity within combatively propulsive - yet populist - dance music.
A kind of meaning.
His death at the age of 49 steals a little of that meaning away. The distressing bullet point of suicide sees Flint join a club of peers that feels less exclusive year on year.
The relationship between music and mental health is an extremely complex one, and it is of crucial importance to not presume, judge, and above all, condemn.
We only knew the iteration of Keith Flint that he wanted us to know, and those who understood his unique persona were rewarded.
You can't deny songs like 'Breathe', 'No Good', 'Their Law', 'Voodoo People', 'Poison' and 'One Love'. They feel like legitimate cultural touchstones. They retain kinetic energy and enviable defiance.
Yes, the strength and even contemporary relevance of The Prodigy waned in recent years.
This writer went in especially hard on 2015's The Day Is My Enemy, but even that yielded a brutally batshit stomper of a title track that anyone familiar with Over The Top Wrestling and The Kings of the North has a special fondness for.
The Prodigy @ Electric Picnic 2018 | Image via Ruth Medjber
Live, they remained imperious enough.
As one of 2018's Electric Picnic headliners, they delivered a fittingly chaotic Sunday sermon to bring the curtain down on Stradbally for another year.
At the heart of that set and hundreds of others across a three-decade-spanning career; the man born Keith Charles Flint.
He was the poster boy, the media menace, the general of distortion and disarray.
Hype men of Flint's conviction and commitment are rare gems. His unapologetic features enjoy permanent residence in the brain. His signature snarl, so deliberately unpretty, a clarion call for the misunderstood.
You cannot imagine The Prodigy, nor their future, without him.
Under tough circumstances, it is a tremendous pity that we must.