As previously described, I was never into the dance scene, but it was a significant stream in the cultural waters in which I swam. What dance music represented shaped my generation. It was about so much more than just the dancing.
Keith Flint, the tattooed and studded, tongue-twirling frontman of The Prodigy took his own life last weekend. He was a few months older than me. In 1996, when Firestarter was released, I had just become a youth pastor and was thinking about how to connect the gospel with the dance generation. All us youth pastors back then were in love with the World Wide Message Tribe and their Firestarter parody/alternative Heatseeker. Better to be a street preacher than a punkin’ instigator, we told our youth groups.
If I need a burst of energy there is probably no track I would rather listen to than Firestarter. It has a drive that is infectious. And it was this kinetic effect that was the meaning behind the title: Firestarter didn’t refer to lighting literal fires but the energy produced in a crowd at a Prodigy show. Yet the lyrics reveal something of the nihilism the raves embodied – the drug-driven highs and accompanying lows.
This energy and despair was reflected in Flint’s own life: apparently having it all but then ending it all.
Most of my dancing peers have long-since abandoned the raves. They are too middle-aged now and more likely to be found on a Friday evening searching for a decent bottle of wine in Waitrose than dropping ecstasy on the dancefloor. But Generation X has passed on to our Millennial and i-Gen children our fear addicted, filth infatuated, intoxicated habits. Yeah.
I think what Flint and the ravers always wanted was a connection with the transcendent. Whether through the chest thumping energy of bass, the bliss of drugs, or – in Flint’s case – the buzz of motorcycle racing, we’re looking for connection. Connection to something bigger and more meaningful than ourselves. i-Gen are looking for this is much as were Gen X, and are still dancing and pill-popping; but now they have tinder and unlimited online porn added into the mix. God help them.
Connection is what we need. Connection to other people and connection to the author of all energy, rhythm and colour. Keith Flint sang, “I’m the pain you tasted. Fell intoxicated.” The message of the gospel is that there was one who tasted our pain and drank the cup of God’s wrath so that we could walk – dance – in freedom and grace.
Keith, I wish you’d found that.