Keith Flint, vocalist and figurehead for UK dance greats the Prodigy, has died. The BBC reports that Flint was found dead in his home in the Essex town of Dunmow this morning. In a post on the Prodigy’s Instagram, Flint’s bandmate Liam Howlett writes, “I can’t believe I’m saying this but our brother Keith took his own life over the weekend.” Flint was 49.
Flint was born in London, and he moved to Essex as a child. Howlett and Flint met at a club called the Barn in 1989. Flint was a dancer, while Howlett had just started producing his own tracks. After hearing a mixtape of Howlett’s tracks, Flint suggested that they form a group, telling Howlett that he could DJ while Flint and fellow dancer Leroy Thornhill joined him onstage.
The Prodigy formed in 1990, and they released their first single, the rave hit “Charly” in 1991. Early Prodigy tracks, like other rave singles at the time, only featured sampled vocals. But the Prodigy soon became breakout stars in a scene that was’t even supposed to have stars, and Flint’s livewire onstage charisma had a lot to do with that. The Prodigy reached #3 on the UK singles charts with “Charly,” and they got to #2 later that year with “Everybody in the Place (Fairground Edit).” They released their debut album Experience a year later.
In 1994, the Prodigy beefed up their sound with industrial guitars and sweeping, dystopian concepts, releasing the monstrous album Music For The Jilted Generation. They were nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, and they built their mystique by refusing to appear on shows like Top Of The Pops. Then, in 1996, everything exploded. That’s when they released the single “Firestarter,” the first Prodigy track to feature Flint on lead vocals. In the song’s video, Flint cuts an unforgettable figure, screaming and mugging and punching himself in the head. Flint, with his dual mohawk and his multiple facial piercings, seemed like he’d been dropped from a futuristic action movie directly onto MTV, and he came across like a living avatar of what alternative culture might become after grunge died down.
“Firestarter” got to #1 in the UK, and so did the follow-up single “Breathe.” In the summer of 1997, the Prodigy headlined Glastonbury, and they also broke through in the US. The Fat Of The Land, their debut album, marked the unquestionable commercial peak of the much-hyped electronica movement. The album debuted at #1 on the US charts. That summer, I saw the Prodigy play their first post-“Firestarter” US show, playing last at a massive US radio-station festival at DC’s RFK Stadium, following Beck and Jamiroquai and the Cardigans and the reunited Blondie. That night, they seemed like the biggest thing in the world.
The Prodigy faced massive backlash over their Ultramagnetic MCs-sampling Fat Of The Land track “Smack My Bitch Up.” The song’s exploitative video would only air on late-night on MTV, and stores like Walmart pulled the album from their shelves. The Prodigy got into a brief feud with the Beastie Boys when both groups played the Reading Festival. The Beasties wanted the Prodigy to pull the song from their setlist, and the Prodigy refused.
It took years for the Prodigy to follow up The Fat Of The Land. Thornhill left the group in 1999, and they effectively went on hiatus, not coming back until the 2002 single “Baby’s Got A Temper” — which courted controversy when Flint chanted about the date-rape drug Rohypnol — and the 2004 album Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. The zeitgeist had moved on from the Prodigy by that point, but they continued to crank out records and tour for years afterward. In the UK, they remained popular for a while; their 2009 single “Omen” made it to #4. And when I saw them in New York some time in the mid-’00s, Flint’s onstage charisma remained massive.
Flint also worked with the side-project bands Flint and Clever Brains Fryin’. He also raced motorcycles and assembled and managed a racing team called Team Traction Control. The Prodigy’s final album was 2018’s No Tourists.
Below, watch some of the Prodigy’s videos: