The Prodigy have always pushed every boundary going. From winding up parents with their provocative antics, to the iconic moment that the group’s Keith Flint terrified impressionable youngsters around the UK during one notorious appearance on Top of the Pops, they’re a band that embody brilliant, unchained chaos; everything that dance music should be.
The band’s mohawked dancer, frontman, troublemaker and music video menace Keith Flint has sadly passed away at the age of 49. As we remember and pay tribute to a true icon of dance culture, these visuals show the group – and Keith himself – in the most fearsome form.
Shot in a spooky abandoned London tube station (Aldwych, to be precise) The Prodigy’s video for ‘Firestarter’ terrified thousands watching Top of the Pops in ‘96. Several channels banned the song altogether after concerned parents complained that scary Keith Flint was causing their darling children to cower in fear behind the sofa. The video also broke an impressive record: achieving the highest number of complaints ever received by the BBC. Meanwhile The Mail on Sunday ran with the headline “Ban this sick fire record”
Taking centre stage in the intense visual, ‘Firestarter’ marks Flint’s first track as a vocalist for The Prodigy. An intense, physical performer, he sprints on the spot and hangs menacingly from a spider’s web; spitting each line with brash venom. It’s captivating, apocalyptic brilliance. And yes, also quite frightening.
Many of these same cowering children now credit the song as being their gateway to rave music; perhaps that explains the fretting mums?
Riffing off a 1970s short film for children – which originally warned against the dangers of talking to strangers – The Prodigy’s ‘Charly’ infamously samples the film’s line “Charly says, Always tell your mummy before you go off somewhere”. The music video, meanwhile, parodies the original information cartoon in flickering, psychedelic style . The poor cat looks a little bit hungover in The Prodigy’s own version; clutching a gutted fish bone, his pained meows punctuate frantic live footage. ‘Charly’ came alongside a whole host of other children’s TV sampling dance hits; ranging from ‘Sesame’s Treet’ by Smart E’s, toMark Summers’ The Magic Roundabout-nodding hit ‘Summers Magic’
‘Out of Space’
A 1992 classic, ‘Out of Space’ samples the reggae track ‘Chase the Devil’ by Max Romeo, and is accompanied by one of The Prodigy’s surrealist videos. Splicing colour-negative live footage, stampeding ostriches, and a rural farm being taken over by shuffling ravers, the star of the video is surely Keith Flint. Dressed in a white boiler suit and gas mask, he menaces the camera man, and sniffs the pungent but virtually harmless cough remedy Vicks Vaporub as those ostriches carry on pecking at the screen. It’s The Prodigy – and Flint – at their chaotic finest.
‘Smack my Bitch Up’
Filmed from the first person perspective, the video for ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ sends viewers on a mad one across London. In this case things get very curly: when the video’s female antagonist isn’t racking up giant lines of coke, and smashing fellow club-goers over the head with a chair, she’s downing drink after drink in Soho strip clubs, and stumbling around the city with trippy tunnel vision. An unedited version also features a sex scene, heroin use, a hit and run incident, and sexual harassment towards women. The track was even debated in parliament.
The song was soon banned by the BBC, too, while MTV pulled the video from their late night rotation. Some people criticised the visual for incorporating misogyny, and the video became notoriously controversial. Meanwhile, The Prodigy told Louder Sound that “it was tongue-in-cheek but I think we changed the meaning of [‘Smack My Bitch Up’]. We adopted the phrase as more of a fist-in the-air statement of, ‘Let’s fucking go!’ Then you get the trainspotters who jump on the literal meaning of the lyrics and get upset about it.”
Once the track had been banned from multiple radio stations, the band decided to go all in on the video – they didn’t have much to lose. “The track wasn’t getting any airplay and then we decided it was important to push all censorship laws, which is why we made the video really full on,” said Howlett. “I was always into discovering where the boundaries really are – that’s the way excitement happens. There are a million bands who are happy just to make nice tunes but we’re not one of them. We wanted to push people’s emotions and thoughts.”
If ‘Firestarter’ left a bunch of kids quaking in their boots, ‘Breathe’ most likely scared their parents witless. With his face dramatically lit as if he’s about to tell a ghost story round a campfire, Keith Flint appears with his trademark twin mohawks dyed purple and green. Along with fellow Prodigy member Maxim, Flint dances through a series of phobias – ranging from alligators to cockroaches – in a decrepit building.
Starring a glockenspiel-clutching girl with plaits – imagine if Wednesday Addams was really into rave, and you get the picture – the video for The Prodigy’s 2009 smasher ‘Omen’ blends The Shining vibes with the hedonism of their live show. Not only is the song an absolute smasher, it’s also proof that almost 30 years after their 1990 formation, the group were still on searing form.
Along with his Prodigy bandmates Keith Flint performs in the ‘Omen’ video, goading the leaping room into action, and grabbing the camera with both hands to yell the song’s main refrain. It’s the late frontman at his very best.
Watch an old NME interview with The Prodigy below.