Breathe turned 27 • Music video story

On 11th November 1996 the legendary Breathe was released through XL Recordings. To celebrate the release date, we decided to share the story behind the music video! It caused quite a stir at the time: it was directed by Walter Stern — and some of you may remember that Howlett’s initial ideas to Walter were really weird. ‘It’s got to have animals in it’, declared Liam. ‘Maybe a hippo or something’.

Photo by Lou Smith /

The band began collaborating with the renowned Walter Stern in 1994. That spring, The Prodigy’s second album, Music For The Jilted Generation, was preparing to be released, marking a departure from the preceding rave anthems toward a darker and weightier sound. With the sound change came the need for a visual transformation.

Walter Stern for Homesick Magazine: The Prodigy was my first relationship. I had actually dropped out of music videos for a few years. I made a return to a music video production company that had made some videos for The Prodigy. The Prodigy at the time were wanting to make a change in the type of videos that they were making and had set up a new relationship with a director. That relationship split for some reason so they came back to this production company that I had joined asking if they could help. I was put forward. We had an informal meeting at Liam’s house, discussed ideas and they let me get on with it. This was for the track ‘No Good’. I was struck about how they did not pander to the usual music videos clichés such as needing to see lip synch or instrumentation. I think this spurred me on to try and make something less conventional. Some people did not even know they were in it.

The close collaboration between the director and the band lasted just 3 years: amazingly, in such a short period of time, Walter Stern’s team created some of the most recognisable videos of The Prodigy’s entire career: No Good, Voodoo People, Poison, Firestarter and, of course, Breathe. Filming took place in October 1996, and as always, the director spent a lot of time with Liam and his bandmates before the shoot, talking for hours about the video. After the groundbreaking Firestarter shoot, the video for the second single from then-forthcoming The Fat Of The Land had to maintain the same level of insanity and dynamism, but without falling into the trap of merely repeating itself. At the time, the band were trying to do something unique at every turn, and they succeeded brilliantly!

Photo by Lou Smith /

Walter Stern for MTV: I did have a basic understanding of what they were about. I think by the time we did ‘Breathe’ they’d refined their acts quite a lot. So they all had very specific characters.

Maxim: The whole idea with the ‘Breathe’ video was for me and Keith to be confrontational, getting at each other without actually making contact. That concept is very similar to how the track feels on stage the tension and energy between us is electric. When we play ‘Breathe’ in the set it just sparks something off. It’s a combination of the audience, the sound, the track, it’s incredible. We tried to capture that in the video but it’s very hard. As with all our videos, I imagined I was performing the song live, you feel it much more that way, but even then it is so hard to recreate that live atmosphere. Performing ‘Breathe’ live is ten times more powerful and overwhelming.

via The Fat Of The Land (Official Book)

Check out the definitive story
behind the Breathe music production:

Indeed, the confrontation between Keith and Maxim, as opposed to the more detached Liam and Leeroy, was superbly portrayed, while the alligator that appeared in the frame took the already ominous atmosphere to supersonic speeds. Actually, it was not Liam’s most craziest concept: he had originally wanted to use a baby hippopotamus! Fortunately, or unfortunately, the boys managed to talk Howlett out of this idea.

Screengrabs from ‘Trainspotting’, February 1996

Among other things, the video’s setting is a clear reference to the legendary Trainspotting, which was shot just six months before Breathe: the rooms in which the video takes place are strikingly similar to the drug den where Mark Renton and his mates spent most of their time. The same broken walls, the same shades of brown colours, the same morbid atmosphere of an abandoned, decaying chamber with a wooden floor. A dirt chamber, if you wish.

The brilliantly captured Trainspotting vibe was recreated in some London studio, and the filming itself, according to Liam’s MTV Videography interview, involved 2 or 3 sets. Chatting with All Souvenirs, Lou Smith, then assistant art director and photographer on the Breathe shoot, grinned that they actually built the decaying rooms sets based on the dilapidated housing they all lived in at the time. He worked on the hair growing through the wall scene as well!

Walter Stern for MTV: We talked it through and then… I know that [Maxim] wanted to have some kind of tattoos across his chest and Keith wanted to be a maniac, and I guess my stuff was more, you know, kind of like giving it a setting and playing the two off against each other in different rooms.

The crew had two camera vehicle tracking at different speeds. One scene had Maxim on using these two camera vehicles. ‘It’s nice that you can bring Maxim into the picture or move him out’, notes Walter. ‘But at the same time the whole picture was moving because we were constantly tracking [the vehicles] and it gave me the feeling that he was kind of coming into the lens, you know, and it’s people’s living rooms. I guess the idea was to, you know, scare little children’.

YouTube comment from 14 April 2019

Walter Stern for MTV: It was made up a lot in the edit and you need as much variety as possible. So it was really just [about] getting [everything] as wild as possible. I was pushing to the nth degree. And also there was a little tension on the set in between, you know, they didn’t like waiting around too much, so Keith was getting a bit pissed off I guess, having to hang around… So that might have added [something] to his performance.

Speaking of the edit, actually there are at least two cuts of the video! Some sort of official rough cut leaked out a few years ago — it was posted on the website of Tony Kearns, the video’s editor.

Director: Walter Stern
Production Company: Limelight
Asst Art Director: Lou Smith
Producer: John Payne
Editor: Tony Kearns
VFX & Design: The Mill
Alligator via Amazing Animals
Backstage: Mark Reynolds

The rough cut differs from the final version in the unretouched scenery and slightly different scenes. This did not affect the overall length of the video. This is most likely one of the intermediate working versions of the video. For example, at 2:31 the scenery is not cut off here (the jump scene). Check the video comparison below.

‘Big respect goes out to Walter Stern, he’s the only person that makes videos that make everybody look good’, Maxim said onstage at the 1997 Europe Music Awards. That night, the “Breathe” video won MTV’s Best Video award, and the band was also honoured in the Best Dance and Best Alternative categories.

Of course, The Prodigy had been MTV favourites for years, but in 1997 the recognition was taken to a new level when, a few of months before the aforementioned EMA, Chris Rock did a rather amusing spoof of Breathe to promote the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards in September. It’s pretty nice that the MTV editors seem to have loved the whole single, as they often ran another promo for the same awards that used The Trick, one of the B-sides of Breathe, as the soundtrack.

By the way, there have been dozens of rumours in the fan community for many years that the notorious Mark Reynolds, the author of the unreleased Mutant Dog movie with The Prodigy, has the complete backstage footage from the filming of Breathe in his attic! As well as confirming the existence of the footage in numerous conversations with fans, Mark has also posted screenshots of the footage on his Facebook and Instagram numerous times. Let’s hope that this priceless stuff will be released sooner or later.

Extremely rare screengrabs from making of ‘Breathe’.
Via Mark Reynolds’ Facebook Page. Shot in October 1996.

Incidentally, The Prodigy crew loved Lou Smith’s photos from the video shoot so much that they chose one of his images to design the band’s legendary third album, The Fat Of The Land — forever capturing this unique video in the history of electronic music.

Photo by Lou Smith /

Lou Smith for All Souvenirs: The band themselves invited me to take the stills that got used for the tray image, but the deal for its use and all that happened when I was blissfully unaware somewhere in the Orinoco river basin.

Headmaster: SPLIT, SIXSHOT
Additional thanks to: Lou Smith


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OPEN COMMENTS | 2 thoughts on • Breathe turned 27 • Music video story
  1. P says:

    Yeah. As always a great great article.
    Thanks ✌️

  2. Ickis says:

    Never seen this photos before. Great stuff!

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