Keith Flint And Me

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I will never ever forget the day I first encountered Keith Flint. It was a memory so vivid, so powerful at such a young age, that it will stay with me forever. I was around four, maybe five years old, when my mum had MTV on, and the music video for Breathe came on. She’d bought Fat of the Land around this time, and encouraged me to watch it, or at least listen. Being at that age where so much is impressionable on a young boy, that image of a demonic looking, and sounding Keith Flint, with the purple and green spikes adorned either side of his head, was absolutely terrifying. The video was played so regularly, it wouldn’t let me erase it from my mind. And like the best kind of hypnosis, after enough exposure, I started to like it. Instead of quivering in fear or leaving the room when it came on, I started to embrace it, and that state of alarm soon turned to joy every time it came back into rotation, the volume edging that bit louder every single time that beginning hook grumbled in.

God knows how many times I must’ve watched that music video, trying to analyse and break down all the imagery contained inside that dilapidated apartment. It’s truly a fascinating watch, not least because of Keith Flint’s flailing, and warped punk snarl, ensuring it became an everlasting memory, but it’s what became my gateway into The Prodigy.

Firestarter, of course, also left an impression on me too, that unmistakable nihilistic energy being translated by the innocence of a five year old child, who had no conceivable idea what anything Keith said meant, and the transformation of the chorus from arson into UFOs, sometimes flatulence, being one of my mum’s fondest memories of me as a child. Fat of The Land was always massively influential on me, even if I wasn’t really all that into music at the time. But for every new Prodigy song I discovered in that time, past and present, I always saw the music video for, and I’d always tried to copy how Keith danced, how they all danced for that matter, so if anything I’ll always owe him an indirect debt for any coherent ability I have for moving my body to a high-tempo rhythm. Out of Space and No Good especially. That was mostly in my infancy. A decade or so on, that connection got more personal.

Largely ignoring everything that happened with Always Outnumbered…, though not without its own merits, to date the only Prodigy album I actually own (although likely to change in the future) is Invaders Must Die. This album was on heavy rotation on my stereo after it came out, and came about a time when there was a lot of transitions in my life, namely finishing up high school and beginning to change things about my appearance, like hair colour, Keith being the very first person I ever saw with abnormal hair colour. Front to back this album was full of gems, and something always struck me about Run With The Wolves, not just because it’s solely Keith on vocal duty, and the drums recorded by Dave Grohl who may be my favourite human being ever, but there was this degree of authenticity amongst the anarchy. Keith’s sneer compliments the abrasive modular synths perfectly, the thunderous yet technical live drums propelling it far beyond album filler, and I fully believe this slice of electro-punk madness, no matter how iconic Firestarter and Breathe are, is his finest moment and the song he was meant to sing.

Going back to Breathe again for a moment, I was fortunate enough to see The Prodigy on two occasions. Their esteemed Warrior’s Dance Festival show at Milton Keynes Bowl in 2010, and at Sonisphere in 2014. For Warrior’s Dance Festival, my hair was dyed completely blue, in a bright UV yellow t-shirt, in a crowd of 65,000 people and I still managed to stand out. But in that moment of the opening notes of Breathe playing out into a sold-out ram packed amphitheatre, the rapture of being surrounded by tens of thousands bellowing out that chorus is unlike many experiences I’ve ever had before. It’s certainly the loudest I remember. I watched footage back of that moment recently and it gave me goosebumps. Hearing Keith’s snarls in the flesh resonates as strongly and vividly, as it did well over a decade ago on MTV. The Sonisphere performance is a lot more hazy in my recollection, but the MK Bowl show is without doubt one of my favourite live shows I have ever attended.

Since then, the new Prodigy releases always piqued my interest, and I lifted the songs I enjoyed from the two new albums since Invaders Must Die, some became songs I played in DJ sets, but I can’t deny I wasn’t as invested in them as heavily. I still haven’t worked out why to this day.

The day Keith Flint died, I was distraught. I cried a lot. I cried even more when his death was ruled a suicide. It didn’t make sense to me because I’ve always associated the music of The Prodigy to periods of elation in my life, and this year is already becoming one of my better years after the last 18 months of non-stop turbulence and uncertainties. The fact his irreplaceable voice, and larger than life stage persona no longer exists on this planet, nor will make any more appearances is a pill I’m struggling to swallow. Not to cast shadows on any other recent tragedies, but an illustration to give you an idea of how crushing an effect this has had on me; Chester Bennington’s death was like losing a best friend at one of the most difficult points of my life. The death of Keith Flint is like losing a close family member, someone whose presence has been felt consistently throughout my life, that their musical contributions have been so ingrained into who I was, and who I’ve become, from a very young age. This news hurt, it still hurts, and it feels like an important part of my soul was extinguished on that dreadful day.

Almost since day one, The Prodigy has had a profound impact on my life, and to be in the knowledge that its heart will never beat again, leaves me in perpetual sorrow.

Thank you Keith.

Rest in peace.

It’s OK to ask for help. If you want someone to talk to, or someone to listen, please call Samaritans, or seek your local mental health charity. There is always someone willing to hear you out. Never suffer in silence.

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Chester And Me

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I don’t take much pleasure in writing these sorts of things, but I feel that putting thoughts and feelings into words, can alleviate some of the gravity that Chester Bennington’s death has had on me personally. Honestly, I spent a good hour after glimpsing the headline, willing it, imploring for it not to be true, and someone had started some sick joke, like the occasional internet prankster will instigate fake death rumours of minor celebrities. I refused to believe it, outright defiantly unless it came from Linkin Park themselves. And an hour later my heart sank, as Mike Shinoda, a man whose craft I have respected for over 15 years, confirmed it was the truth.

I was very quiet that evening. Trying to process the disbelief and shock I’ve found myself in. 24 hours later and it still doesn’t seem real. I still don’t really know what to say. But I want to try and give you an idea. Even if it seems nothing but an incoherent stream of thought.

I became aware of Linkin Park’s existence around 2001, maybe 2002, when Kerrang was first available on my parents’ TV and my mum would play the In The End video whenever it came on. She loved that song so much, she bought it on single, in a time when singles from a plethora of musical talents came on CDs and were easily obtainable in the same capacity. I too grew to love the song, so much so that years later, I would perform Mike Shinoda’s rap parts in front of my high school class, with two other friends. I looked ridiculous in a short sleeve shirt with dragons on and spiked up hair, but whatever, I was only 12 years old. The deal was that for the performance, I would do the rapping parts, and my friends would sing Chester’s parts, and I complied with their request. Almost. The problem is the simplest words can be the most powerful, and the most catchy, and without trying to steal their spotlight too much, I couldn’t help myself. To this day, the vocals on that bridge are something I still aspire to mimic perfectly. Voice breaking aside, 16 years on I’d like to think I’m getting somewhere close. But I could say that for a lot of Linkin Park’s vocals. There are just some songs in their discography, that specific moments have a certain emotional frequency or delivery that I wish I could imitate. In The End. Somewhere I Belong. Paper Cut. Waiting For The End. From The Inside. Breaking The Habit. I can’t scream to save my life, but the contests I would have to try and hold that scream near the end on Given Up. Truly crazy.

The main contact, or true constant that Linkin Park really had on my life however, was in 2003, the year Meteora was released, and the year my parents’ marriage ended. That album was on repeat in my mum’s car to and from school, so in a sense, you could say that Meteora was the soundtrack to my parents’ divorce. I never truly saw it that way until recently when I listened to that album in full again a few months ago. It was never the most pleasant time in my life, I won’t lie, but I didn’t associate that album with bad memories, and I don’t now, having listened to it irrespective of that time period. I still think that album is incredible, quite honestly. Yet… With Chester’s passing, it does feel like it will eventually become another form of closure on that part of my life. I have grown so much and far beyond that 10 year-old boy I remember, that any lasting impact seems so superficial now, but the imprint of Meteora and the raw emotion in those vocals, it still has a connection to that time, and it does sting right now.

I have never claimed to be their biggest fan. Hell, I can’t stand Crawling and Numb by them. Conversely, I loved it when Jay-Z fused Encore with Numb, for some reason I enjoy it a lot more because of it. Numb has some truly powerful words in it, but there is a self-destructive anguish in it that is incredibly overbearing to me, and I find it hard to enjoy it for that reason. Yet whenever they were releasing a new album, especially after following Minutes To Midnight, I’d give the new single a chance. Results varied. I liked some of them. I didn’t like some of them. What I think matters more is I’ve always admired their guts to experiment with their sound despite the public reaction.

But even as I reach close to a quarter decade in age, Chester’s words, emotions and influence are still finding a way of speaking to me.

The bridge of Somewhere I Belong currently feels like words to live by right now, as I try to make a better life for myself. Leave Out All The Rest has always been a song I have considered for my funeral, and nowadays does make me cry. Lord knows I might be in hysterics when I hear it next. The beginning of Faint I truly consider to be one of the greatest song openings ever in terms of immediate impact and hook. Points of Authority will always be a staple of DJ sets for me. And as far as trying to match his vocals goes, nothing will stop me from trying. Maybe one day I’ll be able to nail them, but it just goes to show how deep his presence has been through out my life, and perhaps why this latest loss in not only the rockstar realm, but in the battle against depression and mental health issues, cuts far deeper than I realised.

Another extraordinary talent, that seemingly succumbed to his demons.

Rest in peace, Chester.

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Bowie And Me

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Credit: Vanilla Underground/Amplified

To clarify from the outset, I never had the opportunity to meet David Bowie and I don’t think I could the handle the opportunity if I did. I probably would’ve melted in the presence of his aura. As long as somebody poured me into a glass so I could live the rest of my life in there, that would’ve been grand in that scenario. Or a fish bowl, so at least I’d have a little food. Anyway, this isn’t going to be an obituary or tribute of sorts, as plenty of people would’ve been doing that already and probably better than I would. And by all accounts, I’m not the biggest Bowie fan on the planet. But what I am is a fan of music, and a person who appreciates David Bowie’s music, the importance it had and his legacy.

Fun fact for you folks: 1 January 2015. I’m on the bill DJing a New Year’s Eve event in Quake Nightclub in Woking. The evening winds down rapidly at around 20 to two in the morning, and I’m the only DJ and person left in the entire nightclub. So to fill those twenty minutes before the place closes, what did I do? Played the greatest hits of the 80’s. I didn’t give a shit and nobody else did, because nobody was there. So I spin a couple of tracks, Blondie, The Clash I seem to remember, then I have one last song to play before I try and find someone to sort the mess out, and instinct only told me to play David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes. It seemed more poignant that night, as Quake was only open for one more evening, and I had the pleasure of playing the last ever song in there. Well, I did, right until Quake posthumously reopened later that year and I lost that privilege. I’m still rather upset about that.

 

 

For me, Ashes To Ashes is quite possibly one of my favourite songs ever, period. To me, it epitomises what the perfect pop song sounds like, and balances being unforgettable and rapturous, just as well as being melancholic and haunting. I own David Bowie’s Low, which according to NME is a perfect album from beginning to end, and while I don’t agree with the vast majority of things I see or read from NME, they’re spot on with this. People point to Sound And Vision from that album, when in reality, there’s such a strong collection of songs to be found, it’s a pity that it gets overlooked so often, despite being part of the Berlin trilogy. Another fun fact: Joy Division were originally called Warsaw, after Warszawa from this album.

 

 

He has an incredible back catalogue of songs, my parents can certainly attest to that. Although they are no longer together, they are huge Bowie fans, and I know they haven’t taken his departure from this world to the next particularly well. In a sense, I have grown up with Bowie, kinda like a family pet that’s always been there. But now he’s gone, it feels like somebody has hoisted my soul from my body, trampled all over it and returned it to me afterwards. His loss, as a fan of music and a fan of his own work, to me, can only be described as spiritually devastating. This is going to sound very overdramatic, but had David Bowie not made music at all, my parents may have never had that mutual connection through his music. Of course there are many other factors involved here, but had a mutual love of Bowie not been part of that, there could have been a distant chance I may never could’ve been conceived, could never have been born and could never been alive.

Quite frankly, if David Bowie didn’t make music, then there may have been a remote chance I wouldn’t exist.

Like I said, overdramatic, but in a weird way, that’s sort of the thanks I can give to David Bowie. Thanks for helping me to exist. I’m sure there’s a generation of young people such as myself who could say the same thing if they wanted to, but that would largely depend on whether they work on an abstract and undeniably bizarre level of thinking. Or the thought doesn’t freak them out or anything. You know what I mean. The kinda thinking that makes you want to go get an Aladdin Sane thunderbolt tattooed somewhere because his death actually has more importance than you realised. Not on my face obviously, somewhere sensible.

Bowie always thought to challenge others with his art and his music, and that’s one of the reasons why he is revered as such.

Farewell David Bowie. Artist. Chameleon. Pioneer. Genius. Icon.

I’ll leave you with a song I’m not seeing often enough in the Bowie media flurry. This isn’t a reflection of how I feel, but perhaps how others may feel and perhaps how the planet should feel without him.

 

 

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