Pioneers of the big beat genre, British punk rock dance act The Prodigy found mainstream popularity in the Nineties and Noughties, selling more than 25 million albums and growing beyond their rave beginnings. Yet, the first thing fans yell for when dancer and vocalist Keith Flint comes on stage? Firestarter
The phone just rings and rings and then there’s a pleasant enough “Hello” on the line.
“Can I speak to Keith Flint please?” I ask.
“Yes, that’s me,” is the polite reply.
I want to say: “No, where’s the twisted Firestarter?” But, that’s kind of obvious, innit? And from the polite tone of the interview I get the feeling that the Prodigy dancer and vocalist is asked the same questions over and over. A lot.
He’s on the way to a studio to prepare for their trip to South Africa, having just returned from Latin America where they played in Mexico, Chile and Argentina.
Some of those frequent questions seems to be: what are you going to play? What can people expect at the concert?
Turns out people always ask for the hits like Firestarter, Smack My Bitch Up and Breathe.
Just for the sake of sanity, though, the band mix things up when they play live.
“We play tracks from all the albums plus new stuff. It’s about what works, how to get a good flow to make it fun and powerful,” said Flint.
The 44-year-old – who loves travelling – says they spend a good part of the year touring the music festival circuit – up to 120 shows in a year – because it’s just easier to slot into an existing logistical framework, which makes tying in with the Synergy Festival in South Africa a bonus.
They play Synergy in Cape Town on November 30 and Joburg on December 1. After South Africa they do a couple of shows in London, and then it’s off to cities in Australia, Malaysia and Japan for a longer tour.
Sometimes the band members (composer/keyboardist James Howlett and vocalist/MC Maxim Reality round out the original band members) travel to new places a little earlier to catch bands they want to see, but usually they are 100 percent focused on their own performance, so chances of catching them slumming it at Synergy are slim.
However, Flint being a keen endurance motorcyclist with his own team (Team Traction Control races in Hottrax Endurance Events in the UK and won the Clubman 1000 Endurance category last year) has been invited by some friends to ride in a South African endurance race next month.
“I can’t ride because I can’t get insurance to ride and do shows. It’s unfair to put on a show and do something as dangerous as ride a bike in a race,” he explained.
Very responsible for a guy who is the face of a band that courted controversy over breakfast throughout the late 1990s because of explicit lyrics and the graphic content of their videos.
Flint started off as the dancer, but his darkly energetic vocals and the accompanying music video for Firestarter in 1996 changed his trajectory.
The Prodigy’s hard-edged 1990s sound, which encompassed big beats, industrial and even rock, culminated in their second album – Music for a Jilted Generation – receiving critical praise as well as approval from the rave and dance scene and new fans in general.
It was Flint’s new Firestarter punk look, though – complete with tattoos and piercings – that helped them break on to the US music scene and by the time third album – Fat of the Land – was released in 1997, it shot to No 1 on the UK and US charts.
Subsequently they have released another two albums and the much-anticipated sixth album – How to Steal a Jet Fighter – should be released early next year.
Fat of the Land is being re-released for the 15th anniversary at the beginning of next month with an extra cd of remixes featuring, among others, the Dutch electronic trio Noisia on Smack My Bitch Up, Zeds Dead on Breathe and Alvin Risk on Firestarter.
“We thought it was a nice idea to twist it up and give younger producers a chance to play with the music. It’s been an inspiration to a lot of people in dance music over the years,” he explained.
Their music may be great fun to remix, but it’s never going to be used on a Disney soundtrack.
“No, The Prodigy’s music was never made to be elevator music. It’s not fun.
“The thing is, the music itself isn’t aggressive, there’s a whole lot more aggressive forms of music. But The Prodigy have a very unique way of making it have funk and soul, which makes it really upfront and noisy and venomous.
“But at the same time it will move you, that’s what keeps it alive.”
“We are not a pop band. We’re just a band that likes to get on stage and cause a riot. We bring a lot of energy and a blend of dance music, punk and attitude.”
After so many years and so many performances, how does he keep up that aggressive energy and the anger?
“It’s my life, it’s what I do, it’s the reason I’m alive.
“When you find in life something you care about from the most inner part of your body, your soul, you just love it.
“Each crowd is different and the camaraderie of travelling around the world and getting to see other bands and see the best people perform, it fuels the whole thing. You don’t question it,”said Flint.
He says the best part about performing is “
standing on stage with the massive sound behind you, looking out at the crowd, watching everyone getting off and feeling that oneness, that everyone’s all in it together.”
Did he ever think as a kid growing up in east London and then Essex that he’d be a performing musician, adored by the masses?
“No, I never thought that was what I’d do. I thought I’d end up in prison. But I’ve never been,” comes the deadpan answer.