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He doesn’t sing, he doesn’t dance and he looks awful. Youth corrupta Keith Flint explains to a cowering Peter Murphy exactly why The Prodigy have pulverized the opposition to get The Fat Of The Land to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic.
WITH THEIR third album The Fat Of The Land going in at No. 1 in 22 countries including America, with not so much a bullet as a scud missile, The Prodigy's metamorphosis from flagship for the jilted generation to hydra-headed rock monster is complete. Becoming an ever more formidable live act by dint of relentless touring, the band have warp-spasmed from techno pioneers into a hybrid of twisted metal and ripped sackcloth that has as much in common with Jane’s Addiction and The Sex Pistols as Underworld and The Chemical Brothers. Keith Flint’s function in The Prodigy is not easily definable —by his own admission neither a Bez-like dancer, songwriter nor lead vocalist, he is nevertheless the group's prime focal point. Sporting a devil’s haircut, a pierced septum and a dress sense cogged from any of the Smokers out of Waterworld, one imagines that in past lives he could've held down alternating jobs as The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a Marvel Comics Supervillain, Ralph Steadman’s worst nightmare or Freddy Krueger's kid brother.
However, there's more than a hint of burlesque behind all the last-of-the-mohicans diabollix. Something of the eternal adolescent always kicking against the real and imagined pricks, he is a figure-head for the unwaged teenaged - The Kids are his constituents, not the critics. For sure, The Prodigy are one English band who know the value of Noise, Spectacle and Fun. It’s no surprise that they should outstrip their contemporaries in the race to break America: Yank kids raised on White Zombie, Cypress Hill and Marilyn Manson have no problem getting a handle on the band's multicoloured cacophony of breakbeats, hardcore guitar and rebel MC-ing. So, if the fact that The Prodigy are currently in the process of going global makes for good copy, it also makes it extremely difficult to get an interview. My half-hour exchange with Keith was snatched through one of the few windows in the band’s schedule as the diminutive Firestarter dashed from train to pavement to taxi through London. This band’s hooves have barely touched the fat of the land over the last few weeks. Keith Flint, however, is mad for it. At a festival situation like the Trip To Tipp do The Prodigy get psyched up to destroy all the competition?
"We never turn up expecting to blow the other bands away and stuff,” he replies. “Y'know, I turn up excited to be playing with the other bands, to see them and to hang out with them just like a family vibe and stuff. Most of the bigger acts that I've read that are playing, I'm really excited about. We'll just get there, do our thing in the way that we do it, and hopefully do It well.”
You're something of an adrenaline junkie, given to snowboarding and bungee jumping and so on. Are these pursuits more intense than being onstage?
“Not really. Obviously jumping off the Empire State Building or something would probably give you a bit of a buzz, but playing live is addictive. I'm always straight when I play on stage. I know what I'm doing and I'm more in control and the buzz that I get off being onstage is better than any drugs I can take anyway. There’s no point in doing drugs and trying to get up there. In fact it spoils it instead of enhances it. There’s an hour afterwards where people come in and try to say ‘Well done with the show' and I really enjoyed that' and they can't understand why you're suddenly so mellow and trying to calm down from it all and your head’s in the clouds. But that’s just the way it is. I put everything into it. Everything. You don't want to come offstage with anything less. You drain yourself and obviously it takes an hour or so afterwards to get back to normal.” Is anger an integral part of your performance? “It can be. But not really aggression. I'm trying to describe what the aggression is all about in the music, but I don't walk around with a scowl on my face. I think it's more schizophrenic, a blend between buzzing and appearing to be off my head and then feeling angry or lost. I don't know what happens, it's all sort of natural and I don't really plan anything. I just get on with it.”
Have you ever gotten into an ugly situation as a result of your appearance or onstage conduct?
“Yeah, it all has its knock-on effects y’know, but I can handle all that! If you're an aggressive person onstage it's almost like being gunfighter in the old cowboy days isn’t? People want to challenge that, but I can handle it quite easily." Which one of The Prodigy would handle himself best in a scrap?
“Leeroy. Because he's got the biggest hands and the biggest legs.” Your role in the band has changed somewhat over the last couple of years? “No it hasn’t really. I know now I'm doing some vocals and stuff but it hasn't really changed as far as I'm concerned because I wasn't a dancer and now I’m not a singer. I'm there to buzz people up and be more of a description of the music than anything else."
Were you nervous about singing onstage at first?
“Oh, shitting myself. The feeling before I went onstage was like doing a parachute jump. Y'know, the count-down of the tunes - it was five tunes until I was on, and then four, three, two, one, boom! You’re out there, there’s no going back and that’s the same as jumping out of the airplane. No rehearsal, we never rehearse. It (‘Firestarter’) was written and at the next show I performed it and that's the way we work. DIY. Raw."
When you underwent the makeover that transformed you from the Ditch Monster to a kind of Sid Vicious on acid, did you start scaring little kids on the street?
“No, not really. I just scared people with insecurities who had pre-conceived ideas about how someone would look. ‘Oh, he looks like a punk, he’s going to rob me or beat me up or spit on me or do something’. That’s all part of what I enjoy. If your own paranoia will wind you up, I will play on that until you’re in bits. I always have and always will. To me that’s good fun. At the end of the day I’ll entertain anyone, young or old, black, white, pink, wherever, whatever, y’know what I mean? But I’m not really there to entertain kids and stuff. When I’m on stage I’m not thinking about being child-friendly, I don’t think you can bring your ten-year-old daughter to our show and really feel confident in the fact that she’s not going to be scared by it. I’m there to entertain adults.”
Do you feel like a sex symbol?
“I love being attractive through being unattractive. At the end of the day I’m not frightened to express myself. I’ve got a personality and I express it, I live, and there’s a lot of people who come and go in the very short amount of time which is called life, and they haven’t lived the moment. People that strive to be married by the age of 20 with kids and a nice middle-of-the-range Ford car. I walk around explaining to people in a visual way live. I’ll tell you what, I get loads of old girls coming up to me – I don’t dye my hair colours anymore, I’ve given it up – but when I used to have the colour in it people would say ‘That looks fantastic! Good on ya! You get out there, you do it, you do what you want to do!’ They look at you and they think, ‘God, if only…’ Okay, it’s not about your hair or what clothes you wear, but it is about doing what you want to do and not letting society or other people’s jealousy stop you. Just because I want to put metal things in me face and put me hair up, that’s what I wanna do. I’ve got the balls to do that. Other people who haven’t got the balls will pass away having not fulfilled themselves, whereas I will pass away with a smile on my face.”
Keith Flint argues that it’s part of The Prodigy’s mission to emancipate people.
“Oh absolutely. You get crowds full of people, hardcore punks, street kids, skaters, surfers, even people who are into music and don't have a particular style – I will target those people and I will make sure they're as sweaty as the next, shirts ripped open and jumping and doing whatever. It’s a challenge. You get people who look slightly different to the run-of-the-mill Prodigy fan and you target them. As you get more popular people try and change you, but we don't 'ave it, it's not going on. Just 'cos we’ve sold quite a few records in America doesn't mean that we've conquered it. It would be nice to go over there and play for the kids that we wanna play to and not the stuck-up muso crowds who just go ‘C’mon then, impress me, let's see what this is all about’.
“We want to reach street kids who are into what we're into. Although it's got to be aggressive and angry and stuff, it’s also got to be entertainment for people. You don't want theatrics and stuff, it’s not Marilyn Manson, people don’t want to be scared witless, you’ve got to stir people up. Once people come and see The Prodigy they know what it's about, there’s no more explaining to do 'cos it’s so honest and so open. Playing live is what I do, I don't wanna do anything else. It's like a trial. Living out of suitcases and flying through three different time zones in four days or what have you is mental. It's more confusing than any drugs I've ever done, but fuck it. I get a massive reward when I stand on stage and you get the North Sea kick up in front of you, waves and waves of people, that’s my reward, that's my payback. That’s cool.
"You taste it. It's like when we used to go to the raves and stuff, and you knew it was gonna be a good one because you could taste the vibe, you could taste it in the air. Knebworth (with Oasis) was great because it was big, but I've done a thousand-capacity venue and it’s been exactly the same. A thousand or a hundred thousand, when it's right, it’s right.”
How did you feel about being parodied on the Lucozade ad?
“I haven’t seen it. I’ve heard about it of course, but at the end of the day I don’t to talk about it, y’know. Fuck ‘em! And that’s the end of it. They’ve been very clever because they’ve gotten a lot of press about it, but at the end of the day I don’t wanna talk about it.”
There’s been a lot of talk about ‘The New Electronica’ in America. Are you wary of getting roped into that?
“Yeah, they were after a sort of British techno revolution which we’re not a part of. I mean, even when we were doing the parties and they were still good, people were saying ‘The Prodigy – Techno Gods’ and we were saying ‘No, we don’t want it’. Most people would’ve loved that sort of title, to be the head of the biggest youth culture for many years, but we said, ‘No, keep it, we don’t want it. You keep your titles and we’ll keep our style’.”
With song titles like ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, do you expect any flak with censorship and stickering and all that Moral Majority stuff?
“Oh absolutely, but we won't be changing any of the lyrics."
Do you consider yourselves an anti-authority act?
“Not really, no. I mean Rage Against The Machine are the kind of guys that do that kind of thing. Yes, we are because of the sort of people we are, but we certainly don’t try and get that across in our music. I think the fact that we turn everything up as loud as it goes, and we're very aggressive and are able to stir people up is in itself quite militant in a way.”
Speaking of The Establishment, how’s your anti-Air UK campaign going? (Keith was recently marched off an Air UK flight at gunpoint after telling a steward to “Fuck off”. The steward, he claims, had apparently goaded him into it, accusing him of being “hyperactive”.)
“I’m not doing an anti-Air UK thing. At the end of the day I’m a little bit older and wiser now. There’s no point in bearing grudges and sitting there all angry, waking up in the morning wanting to kill. The guy will have known his mistake and his karma will pay him back in due time. I’m not gonna carry a burning torch, we’ll fly where we want and when we want. We never used to use them, only every now and again when it was the right place at the right time. It's not as if they were our major airline and now we've got to find another! Fuck it. And they've just been bought out by KLM anyway. I was the last person to be thrown off an Air UK flight. I'm quite proud of that!"
Of all the band, you were the one who was most gung-ho about doing U2's PopMart tour. Why?
“Just because I’m a human being and I have to take myself out of the band situation sometimes, and to think that I could’ve gone on a nine-month tour with such a big machine - what kind of an experience could that be? Obviously we’ve made the right decision not to do it and I'm happy with it. But it would've been nice to do it as an experience.”
Would you ever foresee The Prodigy doing a tour on that scale?
“No, it’s not the responsibility, it’s just that I’ve been a punter ¬– still am – and I know that when I’m at the back at Wembley and I can see nothing and it doesn’t really sound or look that good, I know what that feels like. It’s always got to be intense. If you go and play all the big, big arenas, people never see you again. They’ve lost contact even when they come and see you live.”
With the success of the The Fat Of The Land, can you see everything going mental before your eyes?
“No! No! It’s so hard to explain that we are all so grounder that although people tell you this you don’t listen to it. You just get on with it, you do what you do and just chill. Otherwise it could all become very hard work. Record sales and stuff – I don’t really listen to it. There’s no point. It doesn’t mean the next show’s going to be any better. As I keep saying, when you do them shows, that is such a payback. For someone to ring up and go ‘It’s number one in Brazil’ – fuck it! I’ll go there and then I’ll see how good that is!”
That almost seems a bit blasé, as if you don’t even care!
“Well, yes, I do care, thank you, that is nice, but when I see you from the stage in the crowd, that’s when I’ll care.
“I mean, we went to the former Yugoslavia, through all the old lorries and shooting and bombing and stuff and we were the first people to do any form of entertainment there in six years. Now that’s a buzz. These people were hungry for something. And we went there and we ripped it up. That to me… what a reward! If someone had said to me ‘You went straight in at number one in the former Yugoslavia’ I would’ve said ‘Oh, that’s nice’. But when you go there after all those years and all those people go mad – that’s what it’s all about!”
You’ve always been enamoured with punk and hardcore as much as dance music. Would you ever consider going out with a live band, bass-player, drummer, the works?
“No, never, never, never. My punk element is nothing to do with the piercings and the hair, but the fact that I just got up on stage, grabbed a mic and started shouting. That and the fact that it was born out of a youth culture. We got guitarist Giz, who is fantastic, but we brought him on board because he’s as much as a performer as anyone else, not because of his technical guitar abilities. It’s all about live, it really is. Touring taught us all about each other so much. We all rely upon each other and trust each other and we’re one big family, so the harder things get the closer we get, and that is very unusual in a band situation. Usually, it’s arguments, financial disagreements and everything else, but this is like the lads going on holiday every time we go away.”
It’s been suggested that if you arrived on the scene fully-formed today, you’d be dismissed as the new Sigue Sigue Sputnik.
“How can you answer that? That’s not what happened. See you later!”
But before the enfant terrible disembarks from his cab he can’t resist a few sweet-nothings to the nation:
“Believe me, every time I come to Ireland I love it. I really do look forward to coming, and that’s as genuine as it comes. You live! You live! You know what I’m saying about living? The Irish live! And that’s what I like!”
Side bar: Keith Flint’s Top Ten Job Descriptions:
He wasn’t a dancer and now he’s not a singer. What exactly does he do? Well, quite a lot if his contributions to Prodigy lyrics are anything to go by. Here’s a list of the skills Keith Flint might submit on his application form down the job centre if the ol’ rock’n’roll doesn’t work out.
1. Firestarta. Er, twisted Firestarta.
2. Serial Thrilla.
3. Serious Killa.
4. Crowd Disrupta.
5. Youth Corrupta.
6. Damage Destructa.
7. Mainlina. (Big Tom impression optional)
9. The Bitch You Hated.
10. Danger Illustrated.