This week, the music world was left stunned by the news of Keith Flint’s sudden and untimely death. The Prodigy’s iconic frontman is understood to have taken his own life at the age of 49. Upon hearing the tragic news, two things came into my head. Only last year, I was lucky enough to be present at Electric Picnic in Stradbally, when The Prodigy headlined the closing night of the festival. Thousands of revellers flocked to see one of the greatest and most influential dance acts of all time. And for a bunch of dads now in their 40s, they put on quite a show. I was never likely to forget it, but now, knowing that it was their last performance in Ireland with Flint at the helm, that gig has assumed an added significance and poignancy.
The second thing which occurred to me as I dwelled on all of this was the memory of a close relative of mine, who had studied in Trinity in the early Nineties, telling me about his experiences of Trinity Ball, and, in particular, the night The Prodigy blew the lid off the Campanile. Not long after the sad news broke about Flint, I sent a message asking him if he had any other memories on the matter. He responded by once again confirming that it was still, in his mind, the best and most important rave gig of that era in Dublin.
Sean, the relation in question who did not want to be identified, was a second year undergraduate student in Trinity in 1993, and it was his first time attending the Ball. He had been involved in Trinity Publications, and had somehow wangled some free tickets. Despite the fact that prices for such luxuries were significantly cheaper back then, there was all the usual ducking and diving of cash-strapped students plotting to somehow sneak in by hiding in secret corners of student apartments and lurking in the trees circling the cricket pitch. “Their set that night heralded the official arrival of underground British rave culture in Ireland.”
“Their set that night heralded the official arrival of underground British rave culture in Ireland.”
The Prodigy’s appearance on the main stage came at their early peak, a couple of years before songs like Firestarter and Breathe sky-rocketed them into the mainstream. Their set that night heralded the official arrival of underground British rave culture in Ireland. Sean admitted that they would certainly have been “an odd fit” for the Ball at the time, and whoever was in charge of booking them was an “absolute genius”. The “genius” in question was Hugh Murray, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Ents Officer for that particular academic year, who came in just after Trinity’s 400th year anniversary celebrations. A tough act to follow, but follow he did with a night that also featured London based ska band Bad Manners on the Marquee stage by the Arts Block, now known as the Dance Tent. Sean recalled the crowd being utterly stunned and enthralled by The Prodigy’s high energy show and that the band were clearly intent on “taking over”. As a spectacle it was nothing short of anarchic. They even had a few famously dissolute student “heads” join them on stage. Some people who had arrived in ball gowns and tuxedos soon ditched them for something more comfortable, in anticipation of the inevitable sweaty mayhem. Flint’s unique presence was felt even in these early days, as he tirelessly bounced and quick-stepped around the stage, sporting long hair and baggy trousers, to classics like Charly and Out Of Space. His startling later transformation into the snarling, spiky-haired and tongue-pierced dance demon of Firestarter was still ahead of him; that night in Front Square, he just looked like everyone else. And that was the point. From the beginning The Prodigy prided themselves on being genuinely anti-establishment, and to this day, they’ve continued in this vein. Bar one occasion where they recorded the ground-breaking soundtrack to the video game Wipeout, they have never been lured into selling their souls to corporates or having their principles compromised.
In the months and subsequent years following that famous night at the Trinity Ball, there was an explosion in the Dublin club scene. The Pod on Harcourt Street opened that year as did the Kitchen and The Temple of Sound, as well as another important venue known as The Ormond, on Ormond Quay, where the Dublin DJ Tony Walsh put on extravagant rave-cum-art installation all-nighters. After-club clubs like The Shaft on Ely Place and The Purple Onion allowed ravers to party until dawn, before having to somehow get themselves together to stumble into mandatory lectures or worse, part time jobs. This was the culture that thousands of young Irish adults at the time eagerly embraced, grew accustomed to, and turned into a way of life. “Many of the seeds of Ireland’s recent liberalisation, in social and political terms, were planted at that time.”
“Many of the seeds of Ireland’s recent liberalisation, in social and political terms, were planted at that time.”
Of course, there was no shortage of tragedy during this heady period. Though the traditional drinking culture was declining in the wake of acid and ecstacy, pop-up raves were organised all over the country, in towns like Stoneybatter and Dalkey, and in private houses in Louth and Wicklow, which sadly resulted in many people losing their lives in fatal road collisions while travelling to and from these small, spontaneous gatherings.
That being said, the Nineties was still an extraordinarily exciting time to be a student in Dublin. Young people from every walk of life, from both sides of the religious divide, and of every sexuality, met and mingled like they had never done before. Many of the seeds of Ireland’s recent liberalisation, in social and political terms, were planted at that time.
Despite the tragic passing of Keith Flint, The Prodigy will rightly continue to be celebrated as the godfathers of rave, the pioneers of big beat, and the premier dance act for the alternative masses. The year I was born, 1997, they became the first dance act to headline Glastonbury, a festival they were due to perform at again this year. Their shows and music have brought people together and blown crowds away for decades, and we can only hope that Liam Howlett, Maxim and co will one day return to a stage in Ireland, if not the Trinity Ball, and once again receive the adulation and gratitude of a rapturous Irish crowd.