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Keith Flint: The life of a firestarter

He was the twisted firestarter, the explosive frontman who brought the sound of British rave music to an audience of millions across the world.

Known as much for his punk aesthetic of fluorescent horned hair and black eyeliner as the pioneering music he made, his was the voice and style that propelled The Prodigy into the mainstream with number one tracks Breathe and Firestarter.

One of the most iconic British music stars of the 1990s, there was no one who could match Keith Flint‘s boundless and frenetic energy on stage.

Following hisĀ death at the age of 49, his bandmates Liam Howlett and Maxim paid tribute to their “brother and best friend”, describing Flint as a “true pioneer, innovator and legend”.

Born Keith Charles on 17 September 1969 in Redbridge, east London, Flint later moved to Essex as a child.

It was there that he met The Prodigy co-founder Liam Howlett at a club, bonding over their shared taste in harder club music.

The Prodigy was born.

Flint started out as a dancer, and the band had top 10 success in the early 1990s with singles including Charly, Everybody In The Place and Out Of Space, from their first album, Experience.

Known for their anti-establishment stance, The Prodigy were punk ravers, with a unique style fusing techno, dance, breakbeat and acid house.

Their second album, Music For A Jilted Generation, with singles including No Good (Start The Dance), Voodoo People and Poison, was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 1994.

But it was when Flint took over as vocalist for Firestarter in 1996 that the band’s popularity soared.

Flint’s jolty, headbanging performance in the video was deemed too scary for children, meaning many music TV stations would not play it until after 9pm.

The outcry only served to increase interest.

Firestarter featured on their third album, The Fat Of The Land, which was again nominated for the Mercury Prize.

The band were also named best British dance act at the Brits for two years in a row in 1997 and 1998, and Firestarter was nominated for an Ivor Novello award for best contemporary song.

The final single from the album, Smack My B*tch Up, attracted criticism for its lyrics and accompanying sex- and drug-fuelled video, and has been ranked among the most controversial songs of all time.

The band denied misogyny, pointing out that the song’s protagonist is revealed at the end of the video to be a woman.

While The Prodigy were contemporaries of other commercial dance acts out at the time, such as The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, they had a darker, more abrasive sound.

They were genre-defying, appealing to clubbers and hard metal fans alike.

Selling 30 million records worldwide, seven of their eight albums went to number one, including Their Law, a singles compilation in 2005, and last year’s No Tourists.

This matches icons including Sir Elton John, Coldplay and Sir Paul McCartney (as a solo artist and with Wings), each with seven number one records.

But despite being embraced by the mainstream, The Prodigy never changed their music or style to match passing fashions. They always had their own distinct sound.

They were vocal critics of the UK’s Criminal Justice And Public Order Act 1994, which banned raves popularised following the so-called second summer of love in 1988 and 1989.

As well as his music, Flint was also a keen motorcyclist, once riding 1,500 miles from Britain to southern Spain to attend the Spanish motorcycle grand prix in 2007.

His regular riding partner was Lee Thompson, of ska-punk band Madness.

He created his own racing team, Team Traction Control, which competes in the British Supersport Championship.

And in 2014 Flint bought and renovated The Leather Bottle pub in the Essex village of Pleshey.

He was said to have had a jar that customers had to put a pound into every time they made a “firestarter” joke when he lit the pub’s fire.

He was reported to have left the pub in 2017.

Flint was in a relationship with TV presenterĀ Gail Porter in the 1990s, before their split in 2000.

He subsequently married Mayumi Kai, a Japanese DJ.

His bandmates, Howlett and Maxim, say they have been left “heartbroken” by his death.

Thousands of fans and musicians who knew the star have paid tribute on social media, sharing their favourite Prodigy videos and memories of gigs.

‘A true pioneer, innovator and legend. He will be forever missed’ – The Prodigy

 

– Sky News

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