28 years ago this July I was in a convoy of cars in the dead of night hurtling towards ‘Starlight’, no I wasn’t having an outer body experience I was on my way to a rave at Handsworth leisure centre in Birmingham. We decided late on going, we had no tickets, but we did have a huge irrational paranoia over our heads about being mugged, which was actually later proven rational. One half of our party went back to the car to fetch a lighter and was held up at knifepoint, but to the muggers disappointment these ‘muggees’ turned out to be more broke than he. On turning out his pockets one of our friends scraped together the princely sum of 23 pence exactly along with a crumpled five-rider bus ticket (void of course) and some fluffy denim pocket lint. The mugger rolled his eyes, put away his knife and then crashed them a cigarette. This was not just any mugger, this was a RAVER mugger. These days are often fondly looked back on with rose tinted glasses and recalled as a 24hr love in, which was clearly not always true, but true enough in parts. Our reality was we lived in a country in the aftermath of the first war with Iraq at a time of deep recession with no prospects of employment for 18-year-old hapless ‘muggees’ like us. All we had was each other to bounce off and at the ‘raves’ where we were accepted as equals like nowhere else during that period. Up until the likes of The Prodigy started breaking the mainstream chart our fashion, our music and even our lingo was a kind of underground secret society. If you walked past a car playing our music or you walked past another person wearing our kind of clothes automatically there was a connection between beings. We were of the same tribe and were brothers or sisters by default irrespective of the fact we were total strangers. Looking back it was quite civilised in a primitive and innocent kind of way. Just by a certain code and etiquette you would happily set off on a mad journey in some random persons car with no fear of abduction, vaginal or anal interference, involuntary liver harvesting or just plain robbery and abandonment on the northbound Knutsford motorway services at 8am on a Monday morning tripping your cohunes off coatless in January with no money trying to explain to a police officer why indeed you were attempting that thieves vault over the central reservation of the M6 (that never happened to me, although there were strong urban myths doing the rounds at the time including the one about liver harvesting).

We didn’t care about myths; we were invincible because WE WERE THE FUCKING LOVE GENERATION MATEY. We were a tribe of young people that would befriend the life out of you for a listen of the latest Sasha or Grooverider mixtape. We would turn the top level of a non descript multi story car park into an early morning after club at the drop of a hat and dance like zombies around a friend of a new found friend’s powder blue Vauxhall Chevette with snazzy but slightly blown 100watt Blaupunkt speakers on its bowed parcel shelf farting out Joey Beltram’s Energy Flash.

Quite often we look at our friends now that we shared those moments with quite wistfully when even the smallest nub of nostalgia comes our way. We even get together now and again for ‘reunions’ as we listen and dance again to those repetitive rhythms, shrieking synths and banging piano riffs to relive the spirit. It’s fair to say, it runs deep because this shit meant something to us, right? Our kids will never experience it or understand it (we hope, pray and think). To be fair, they fucking better not do!! We’ve carefully auto tuned the need for this kind of behaviour out of their lives probably more than our parents did because they aren’t getting eyes like saucers or shitting dog like shaking jaws past us are they?, oh no WE ARE EXPERTS IN THAT FIELD. With a greedy little grin on our mugs (like now) we selfishly recount moments reminiscent to the fall of the Roman Empire occurring every weekend in some grimy warehouse or some strip of muddy farmland as we revel in the fact that we got away with it and what a fucking time to be alive it was. Booyah!

So back to Starlight at Handsworth Leisure centre mid 1991. As we arrived we bumped into the PA (what we used to call the band performing). In a kind of ‘taxi tourettes’ style tick one of us asked ‘Are you the PA?’ ( we hadn’t even looked at the line up so didn’t know who they were ). Instead of looking at us blankly like Martians they actually indulged us in a bit of small talk. I can’t remember what they said, I can’t even remember their faces or who said what. What I can remember is that all of us just wanted to get inside and plunge deep into the heart of that crowd and absorb that amazing vibe we’d come here for. The only thing I can remember about their performance is that dirty filthy funky ass drum loop of CHARLY dropping. This was The Prodigy!

FFWD just a single month later we find ourselves at Perception, Cripps Barn Cirencester. Grooverider and Sasha being on the same bill meant a smattering of the old eclectic acid house spirit still clung on, but only just. The Prodigy was playing and they had made it big, Charly was massive and the banging piano rhythm of YOUR LOVE was the undisputed anthem of the summer of 91. But there was something different about The Prodigy from the month earlier; they had a more polished act like something almost from a West End show. I don’t mean that in a bad way, this shit was good! They literally lit up Perception that night. If I could pin point one single moment when I could say hand on heart it was the best moment of my life I would say this was up there. Standing in the middle of a giant circus tent in a field on the edge of the West Country in the middle of the night with my hands on my head absorbing the vibe of YOUR LOVE along with 15 thousand other young people feeding off the same energy. (I am getting tingles up my spine just recalling this now). In that moment, that freak moment, for 7 minutes I experienced a full and complete sense of harmony and freedom that has inspired me all my life ever since.

For me the whole rave scene didn’t really live up to that night again, perhaps I was somehow spoilt. I was always a house head at heart, me and rave and sadly me and the Prodigy really parted waves there. Don’t judge me here, I am sorry, this is going to sound right up my own rectum but I have to fess up now and state I wasn’t really into the Prodigy’s stuff beyond that. Not running it down, but it just wasn’t my bag from the release of the Outa Space EP onwards, I took a pass on it. ‘Rave’ music evolved from the eclectic policy to a more darker single genre affair, the crowd also with it and the DJ’s. By 1992 Sasha had disappeared from that scene. Along with the chart success of Charly all of a sudden our secret society and codes were exposed to the masses. Mixmag picked up on a disturbance in the force and ran a cover story a year later in 1992 titled DID CHARLY KILL RAVE? Of course the record didn’t kill it, in no way do I believe they set out to do that, but that track’s success was a game changer for sure. Good for some who found their entry point to the scene through it, bad for others who’d been there a while already and felt the incubator of our beloved sub-culture was terminally compromised.

On hearing the very sad news of Keith Flint passing away this week a wall of melancholia has hit me personally regarding my life in the early nineties in general. Regrettably as I say I had largely been indifferent to The Prodigy’s work past really what was their seminal moment. But I have thought back to what my witnessing The Prodigy at the zeitgeist of their success meant to me and what I have discovered within me this week is a validation that they were absolutely instrumental to the best summer of my life, FACT! For that, I now lament herein. I understood where Keith came from now, he was one of our own up on that stage in uncertain times and was very much part of the cultural glue that held us together. I have seen and read an incredible outpouring of emotion this week about Keith’s passing. What strikes me the most is that the nature of the commentary being more genuine than the usual courteous and typical remarks from the entertainment industry on the sad passing of someone famous. This actually is a real cultural moment in history and in the lives of Generation X (This jilted generation). I have read scores of genuine anecdotes from unexpected people, such as James Blunt and Brian May who had totally no reason or obvious motivation on the face of it other than a genuine personal sadness at the loss of someone they held in high regard. I think this is the greatest accolade to Keith’s memory, because lets face it the music industry behind its polished veneer can be a bit of a shark tank. Their beautiful tributes are incredible insights to the kind of person Keith must have been. Who knew that beyond his anarchic stage persona he was privately such a lovely, generous and magnanimous individual? It’s clear to me now that this is not just a loss of an artist, this is the loss of a bona fide cultural icon, a rare hybrid who was one of those lifeblood characters in music culture, a real national treasure similar I suppose in many ways to Bez from the Happy Mondays. Keith by definition was unique and indeed a FIRESTARTER and his passing is a catharsises of our own very distant youth when we were the love generation.

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It not known why Keith took his own life and quite frankly it’s none of our business. I don’t want to know the details because I don’t need to know the specific reason. One thing is sure is that it’s a really painful moment for his close friends and family and for that we must show our respect. There’s been speculation that mental health issues may have contributed. Whether this is the case or not it has triggered a much-needed discussion around the subject.

The majority of lucky ones amongst us hadn’t experienced much of the shit that our adult life would fling at us when we were first experiencing the Prodigy’s music. 334 months have elapsed since that rave I attended that rave in Handsworth. That’s 28 summers, 28 winters, 28 Birthdays, 28 Christmas’s. In that time we’ve loved, we’ve won, we’ve lost and we have cried, oh yes big boys and girls we have cried haven’t we! Just like a fingerprint everyone’s journey is different with its own complexities and hurdles, some hurdles we’ve overcome and some we just face planted. Just like 1991 again we find ourselves in troubled times politically and socially. This time the problems we face as a society have cruelly divided the closest of circles, families even. We work longer hours, we spend less time together, health services are at breaking point, the cost of living is rocketing way beyond the living wage, teenagers are stabbing each other, homelessness is growing, even working families are turning to food banks, the wealth gap is ridiculous and whatever your persuasion is we are staring down the barrel of an economic abyss over the uncertainty of dare I say it, (Gollum voice) BREXIT… Etc etc.. you get the point right, it’s a bit shit right now on the whole. Technological advances were meant to ease the burden but instead it has entrapped us and given us more time to do more work and more things to worry about putting us on the end of a leash where we’re always switched on. That black screen you are staring into even now consumes your mind with extraneous and spurious bollox, that combined with all the worries of modern life inside your noodle keeps you awake night after night like slow dripping water on your forehead. (You just switched your devise to standby to check the screen was black didn’t you?? No? I bet you are itching to do it now though, hey?) There are no warning lights on top of our heads that signal mental fatigue. Anxiety and depression is something that can crash down upon us like a rogue wave. Sometimes we can shake it off and snap out of it, other times it grips us hard and pulls down under into a very very dark and lonely under current. For those of us in our middle age now the elapse of time from our teenage years has seen us go through our own unique personal battles and a lot of people amongst us have been through nothing short of wars. Some of it makes us stronger but other parts of it leave us with painful invisible scars nobody can see and sometime we try hard to conceal.

There are a variety of things that can trigger pathological problems of course but what doesn’t help is that the path society is currently on, pushing us further down a funnel where mental health is becoming an occupational hazard of merely just living and breathing. Deterioration of mental health is not something that only affects the vulnerable, or the poor or indeed the lonely. It creeps upon even the strong and popular. It can catch out even those considered to have the toughest of outward appearances. The biggest thing we need to dispel is that mental health is by no means a sign of weakness and we should not be ashamed to offer help or to indeed ask for it.

During the 2011 summer riots the youth smashed up symbols of capitalism and looted to express their frustration. WE THE UNDERSIGNED LOVE GENERATION, what did we do 20 years earlier? yep, us rebels, we fucking hugged it the shit out like big hippy bastards and perhaps it worked for us. Who did it better? That’s a matter of opinion. What we truly experienced was something that was a miracle, something the more jaded in society may argue the establishment hate even more than those 2011 riots. We joined hands, we put aside our differences, we treated each other with respect like brothers and sisters, created a tribe and together we got through the shit storm that was life at that time and The Prodigy provided the sound track. Keith Flint’s iconic visual signature as a legacy will always remind us of that very magical time which was a freakonomic anomaly where unprompted by our parents generation we found some sort of magical golden thread that if we take the time to search the fabric of each others hearts one more time we’ll find its still very much there.

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