Not even a month ago I trudged out to West Auckland's Trusts Arena to see the Prodigy perform live. I knew they'd be good, like many I'd seen them live before, but I wasn't prepared for just how damn good they were and I'm definitely not prepared to now write that it would be Keith Flint's final show.

This is what I wrote the next morning in my review.

"Live, The Prodigy just make so much sense. Vital, urgent, and brutal as heck. They started the set turned up to 11 and then just went up from there. No lulls, no quiet moments, no mucking about. Just pure energy and big waves of hyped up grooves attacking you from the get go."

This morning I rolled over, grabbed my phone and scrolled down to the news that Keith Flint, the Firestarter, was dead.

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"Away from the rave," I wrote in that same review, "vocalist Keith Flint snarled his way through their new punk anthem Champions of London before burning down the house with a killer run through of their mid-90s smash Firestarter."

"Mid-90s smash" is an understatement, a disservice really. In my defense I was ferociously hungover when I wrote the review.

The Prodigy (from left) Maxim, Keith Flint and Liam Howlett
The Prodigy (from left) Maxim, Keith Flint and Liam Howlett

If Nirvana captured the smell of teen spirit, it was the Prodigy and Firestarter which seized its pent-up energy, that foolhardy, intoxicating, need to shock, destroy and burn it all down.

And no one represented that intangible feeling better than Flint.

The music itself eggs you on. It's a tightrope of tense, highly strung synths and agitating samples that play out over a punched fist of a bass line and a chaotic jungle groove.

It's great, no arguing, but it'd be forgotten by now without Flint's vocals. He took a solid choone and turned it into a global phenomenon that rocked dance clubs, stadiums, and the establishment.

"If I'm ever going to do any lyrics, I'm going to do it to this tune," is what Keith Flint told the Prodigy's main songwriter Liam Howlett after hearing the finished instrumental for the first time.

Up until that point Flint had been the Prodigy's dancer, a band position that never really took off outside of England's dance culture. Playing raves he and the Prodigy's other two dancers Maxim and Leeroy had the job of amping up the crowd, which they did by pulling off moves like the Running Man, wild quick-stepping and the loose limbed Leeroy shuffle.

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But as Howlett's production moved further from rave and began cultivating a harder edge those amped up, smiley dance moves no longer fit. The music was getting menacing and pulling influence from punk and rock and guitars. The dancer role began morphing. The shuffle was out, stalking the crowd was in.

"I'm the trouble starter," are the first words Flint sneers on Firestarter, and there can be no doubt as to their validity. "I'm the fear addicted, a danger illustrated."

For many concerned parents around the world he was. The Prodigy's hard fusion of dance culture and punk elements troubled many. Firestarter had a thoroughly new unique sound and resembled nothing people over a certain age had heard before.

It was loud and angry and there was a bloody lunatic shouting that he was the "twisted firestarter" over the top.

We all knew he was a lunatic because we'd all seen the music video for Firestarter. Shot in grainy black and white and filmed in a tunnel it was the world's introduction to Flint.

His iconic look in the video - yes, iconic because even now over 20 years later this image is the first thing you think of when you think Prodigy - sees a wild-eyed, mascara wearing Flint sporting a reverse Mohawk, bull-style nose ring, chunky neck chain and a clearly ironic Stars and Stripes jumper.

In the height of the tally-ho, Brit-Pop era the jumper was both an FU to all the chirpy flag waving going on in his UK home and a visible threat to conservative America.

Spitting his lyrics down the camera, he's seen violently and repeatedly shaking the demons from his head, head butting the air and throwing his arms up in triumphant victory. He comes across as both a genuine terror and an unhinged, escaped asylum patient.

With a flint being a traditional fire starter, Flint thought of the song as autobiographical. Talking to Q Magazine in 2008 he recounted a phone call Howlett had with the head of their record label.

"He said, 'Do you think these words describe Keith: Twisted? Self Inflicted? Yes, very much so.'," Flint said before offering a now-troubling hint.

"The lyrics were about being onstage: this is what I am. Some of it is a bit deeper than it seems."

On their last record, the smashing No Tourists, Flint snatches the spotlight for the absolutely stonking, high energy, punkish anthem Champions of London.

As sirens wail, and an aggro bass riff slams up against the clattering, hard-hitting drum beat, a pitched-up vocal sample of the former dancer turned vocalist turned public enemy turned culture icon repeats over and over, "Watch the rhythm like a champion, done".

The fire's gone out. Watch the rhythm like a champion.

Done.


WHERE TO GET HELP:

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:

0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
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• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202