New Zealand Herald

Prodigy, Keith Flint front up for Big Day Out By STEPHEN DOWLING

On stage, Keith Flint is the human species' nearest approximation to the Warner Bros Cartoons' Tasmanian Devil; a constantly on-the-go, whirlygigging explosion of mascara, dyed hair, facial piercings and bondage trousers.

The last thing you expect, when ringing chez Flint for a late evening chat about the Prodigy's upcoming Big Day Out gigs, is to hear him politely ask if it's at all possible you might ring back in half-an-hour?

Not because the tattooist hasn't finished inscribing a screaming skull on his buttocks. Not because a man in an Italian suit and dark shades has arrived with a credit card and a plastic bag full of what looks suspiciously like talcum powder. No, Flint has become hooked on the thirtysomething British comedy drama Cold Feet.

"I know it's a bit anal, but it's the final episode" he says pleadingly.

Half an hour later, and Flint has unstuck himself from the box and is back in the world of post-techno, hip-hop flavoured rock'n'roll. He's ebullient. The Prodigy are finally back on the road (they hit the tail-end of the summer festival circuit in August) after two years cooped up in studios, and with rumblings around them that the group that hit the top spot in 24 countries with 1997's enormous The Fat Of The Land might not finish their next album with a full complement.

In fact, it looked like being the Flint and Liam Howlett show for a few months last year.

Since the Prodigy's rise to being one of the biggest bands of the 90s, some speed wobbles have hit the Essex collective. First, dancer Leeroy left the band in an amicable split suggesting the amiable dancer was bored with gyrating along to Howlett's music. His music, dubby trip-hop under the brand name Flightcrank, proved it. Then a few months later rapper Maxim came out with a solo album that, had it been an enormous worldwide hit, might have been another major crack in the Prodigy's structure.

But the Prodigy minus Leeroy are still here, and preparing for their third album some four-and-a-half years after Fat Of The Land. Their Big Day Out gigs won't be preceded by any singles - a risky situation for a band travelling to the other side of the world, if it wasn't for the Prodigy's tradition for blistering live shows. There's still no clear idea of which songs Howlett has been labouring over will make it on to the record (and the LP was originally supposed to have been released in the northern summer).

"It is darker, it's Prodigy and always will be, it's got elements of old school and hip hop put in the Prodigy blender," Flint offers. "There must be eight or 10 tracks, but you can't call it done. It's all cool. We've got quite a few together. But to be honest, we want it to be right so badly. Those 10 tracks could have been out already. The fact that they haven't means the 10 that do come out have to be absolutely perfect. That's what time does, it does not work in your favour."

Last time, of course, the group that once declared themselves "everybody's dark side" managed a level of public controversy unrivalled since the Sex Pistols with the pyromaniac tendencies of Firestarter, the video and sentiment of Smack My Bitch Up. Surely they can't top that? Can they?

Maybe, Flint says, though he bristles at the thought that the group's invective was so blueprinted. "Those things were not planned. If you released something called Smack My Bitch Up, you know that a few people are going to get upset, but you don't think 'cool bit of publicity', you just think no compromise. Rather than do it to cause controversy. Some of my lyrics this time round are more controversial than ever. "

Quite what they say, he's not quite going into. "My views on life are sound enough not to offend the average cool man or woman. It's not that I've got anything nasty in me. "

It seems the wait to hear just what Flint and company are getting their teeth into may be a long one. Howlett certainly has a reputation for cutting deadlines fine; there are stories in the British music industry of the band's leader putting the finishing touches to The Fat Of The Land as a bike courier paced his lounge ready to take the tapes to the pressing plant. His perfectionist principles are still in effect, it seems.

But in the meantime, the show must hit the road. The dervish-like Flint is approaching a New Year Down Under with some glee, especially as the Big Day Out is their first major trip for over two years.

"If you haven't had something you love for two years you're welcome to get back there. I'm going to stay with a couple of friends, maybe go a bit early and stay with some friends over New Year. I've got a friend over in New Zealand. I'm going to ride some motorbikes down in Wellington and see the country, and I'm well looking forward to that cos I love New Zealand. "

The owners of the country's adrenaline sports venues may see a bit of him; Flint indeed has the reputation for being partial to the delights of all things speedy and extreme - he spent much of last year riding Ducati superbikes alongside pro racers, and has a motocross track built around his garden at the palatial Essex pile he calls home.

"I'm not Mr Rad, I just like things that give you a buzz, like motorbikes. It also involves my friends and a lot of what I'm about. "

In the past two years Flint has taken more interest in the music the Prodigy are making - by his own admission he's not exactly the lynchpin in the studio. Having started guitar lessons, however, he's taking much more interest in the band's six-string accompaniments, now performed live by new guitarist Alli MacInnes. While Flint laughs at the thought of taking to the guitar onstage or even releasing any of his own music, he comes over positively foam-mouthed over his new-found guitar skills.

"I've got a live room in the house. I just love to drink absinthe, come in and turn on the massive PA and play.

"Got drums, bass and keyboards and we just go in there and jam. I record it. But I'm not releasing it.

"I've had it pumping in there. I've had to get the damn thing soundproofed, and I'm out in the sticks. "

Aha. From a night on the couch in front of the telly to absinthe-fuelled ear-bashing guitar histrionics in an old house in the country. That's more like it.

* The Prodigy, Blue stage, 9. 15 pm.

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