Courier Mail

Keith Flint agitates for some significance in music

KEITH Flint is so much the public face of his group The Prodigy, he's the first to admit he doesn't make the music.

The Prodigy's resident dancer and occasional vocalist cuts to the quick when describing his role beside the main man, DJ and producer Liam Howlett: "Listen – and this is fact, this is it, let's get this straight right now – I am a stage invader that one day jumped on the stage with The Prodigy and never got kicked off. That's it."

Even so, he garners much attention with the hair, the tattoos, piercings, the TV presenter ex-girlfriend's giant naked image projected on to the UK Houses of Parliament.

The Prodigy's Invaders Must Die last year marked the first album with the group's original line-up since 1997's landmark The Fat of the Land, one of the biggest-selling dance music albums. It also marked Flint's return to vocal duties.

But The Times in Britain sent a non-music journalist to interview him about the album – a journalist who sought details of Flint's restored Tudor home in Essex and his retreat from "drink and drugs hell" into country life. Flint must be over all this. Before our interview, a request filters through that the questions be about music and not "lifestyle".

The music? Howlett creates it. Flint is a sounding board, the one in the studio reacting viscerally and spraying raver's patois: "Man, that sounds bangin', that's wicked."

Live, Flint is a stage-lapping livewire who audiences latch on to as a cue for how they might react to the music. Take him as a punter's barometer. And there you'll see a yearning for the next big thing. The kind of popular music mind-shift that wipes out all that precedes it, as surely as Kurt Cobain dissolved the memory of Axl Rose.

In Australia, the artists with major label marketing heft who dominate radio airplay mine premasticated past lessons from other people's imaginative incursions across the tribal lines of dance, hip-hop and rock.

Bands such as The Prodigy made bold steps across these lines a decade-and-a-half ago and made their own convincing synthesis. But as a new decade begins, we're swimming in the hybrid half-measures of the herd. The same R&B-schooled female voices (Pink) and whiney, plaintive males (Rob Thomas, The Fray, The Script) are compressed till they're breathy. Real drummers are equalised so they sound like drum samples and guitar-strumming ballads sport a half-time backbeat in a soporific nod to hip-hop. As ever, guitar-slingers such as Kings Of Leon, once they've joined the arena circuit, sweeten their act with keyboards. These are the uncomfortable accommodations of patchwork pop.

Flint, 40, has been here before.

"It's kinda funny, right? I remember in the 80s, there was a point in time when there was nothing," he says. "Music to me seemed like cover versions and just this s--- that meant nothing to me. There was no band I could latch on to.

"I can only think out of that came the rave scene and really significant music. I hope that that's what will happen now."

Last month, The Prodigy were the public champions of a grassroots campaign to jam up Cowell's Christmas cash-in. It worked. Hordes marshalled through Facebook propelled Rage Against The Machine's Killing In The Name Of to No.1 ahead of an X Factor contestant who'd never heard the disobedience anthem.

Flint sees this as "very significant".

"The real people that are really into music are taking the music back from people that are trying to control it," he says.

Ironically, the Rage song was as old as the X Factor kid was (and Sony had released both). But Rage are still exemplary iconoclasts, self-directed and "very disestablishmentarianist", Flint notes with glee. Moreover, the process gives a clue as to what might come next.

"If you can use the internet to make a No.1, you can use it to make a new scene with its own DJs, its own music and out of that will come bands," he says.

Could the scene be set for the explosion of something as significant as say, 1976, the year punk broke? The suggestion floors Flint, who exults in the very possibility.

"God. I dream of that," he says. "I want something to be happening that I don't know about and I have to really fight to get in touch with."

The Prodigy headline the Future Music Festival at Brisbane's Doomben Racecourse on February 27.

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