FAT25 · 2nd track: Breathe turned 26!
The Prodigy’s Breathe was just one of those tunes that just clicked with everyone… no particular reason why, it just did. The eponymous single came out on 11 November 1996 and instantly became one of the band’s most recognizable trademarks. We continue our series of entries celebrating The Fat Of The Land’s 25th anniversary: here we told the most complete story of the track and dug into some uncommon details behind its production! We also did not forget to go through all of the existing versions and remixes of this banger, and in addition, we shared some exclusive recreations of the rare tunes, carefully done by All Souvenirs…
‘Breathe’ is up close, in-your-face punk, only punk riding on electro-dance rhythms. It packed a huge punch and so did its unnerving accompanying video which came out in the fall of 1996. But the song’s history began almost exactly a year earlier, in the second half of 1995. Basically, it was written around the same time with ‘Firestarter’. Crackling with an abrasive tension, “Breathe” features the duelling microphones of Flint and Maxim, and an aural war between whipcracking beats and bass-driven melodies.
Liam Howlett for Addicted to Noise: We recorded that straight after “Firestarter.” And it was an instrumental for ages. We were playing it on stage and the guys were just dancing to it and stuff. It was just like an instrumental track. And I thought that it was so obvious to put a vocal on it and I think what happened is they came around and they knew the track anyway. They’d been listening to it for about three months. To tell you the truth, I think I wrote “Breathe” before I did “Firestarter.” I wrote the instrumental of “Breathe” about two months before “Firestarter.”
After that, for three or four months the rough draft of the track just waited for the right moment to get finally done. By the way, many people are racking their brains as to where Liam got that amazing intro. Loads of producers attempted to recreate this familiar riff from scratch on a synth or even dug through the movie soundtracks while trying to find the sample sources in James Bond or whatever. Actually Howlett just sampled a couple of notes from his bandmate’s guitar, and did some processing afterwards. While being interviewed by Addicted to Noise (8th August 1997), The Prodigy mastermind himself described the process in as much detail as possible.
Addicted to Noise: What about the guitar part that was the beginning of “Breathe”? Was that something you found or was that something that you played?
Liam Howlett: I made that. We had a guitarist called Jim Davies. I just got him into the studio and he played a couple of notes. I just took those single notes and basically put them through the sampler… If you knew the process… I constructed the riff, in other words. Everything you hear on the tracks is basically from my head, you know. All the riffs are mine. I’ve never sampled a whole riff of someone else’s stuff. A lot of people get confused ’cause they think when they hear “sampler,” all they can think about is sampling other people’s tracks, you know. It’s not like it used to be, like with “Pump Up The Volume,” when it was just built around someone else’s track, you know. This is actually rock music written on electronic equipment, you know? With “Breathe,” with that riff, it was just… I made the riff, you know.
Quite curious that even Jim Davies himself didn’t know that his guitar was actually sampled in the intro! While chatting with theprodi.gy back in the day,
Liam Howlett for Addicted to Noise: Literally for that track it was just like going in and experimenting with a couple of sounds. The first opening line is like a really twangy old guitar sound, really monotone sort of guitar sound. I made that and that was made about six months before we actually recorded the vocals. And it was just literally that, with a beat on it. And all I did was throw some loops down on a DAT. I basically just did that guitar part. [sings] That riff and just threw a beat on there. And just put it down as a loop onto DAT.
After a few months, Liam returned to the studio with some new ideas and the creative process went really fast.
Liam Howlett for Addicted to Noise: Basically, if I can’t get any tracks working, I just work on little vibes, like one sound and a beat and just put it into DAT for later. Just reference more than anything. And I was listening back to that part because I thought yeah, that works. It’s got a certain groove to it. And so I lifted it back off my tape and I restructured it again. And then five months later, after we actually put that down, I think we came back and started to build. I think I experimented with a few different beats and stuff and eventually got a good groove with that song and the bassline going. And it just all sort of pulled together really easily. [Then one day] I came around and literally set up a mic in the studio. I went into the lounge for about half an hour, watched telly, come back and they’d done the vocals. It was quite a quick sort of thing really. It was just a matter of sorting a couple of syllables out, getting them to fit in right with the beats and then it was just plain sailing, it was done.
Liam Howlett for VOX: I wanted to create beats using the punching sounds from kung fu films, but I tried it and it didn’t really work, so then I sampled the swords and made the rhythm up from that. I said to Maxim and Keith: “Here’s where the lyrics should go”, went into the lounge to watch Neighbours or something, came back half-an-hour later and they’d finished it.
According to LH, there was no really deep meaning behind the ‘Breathe’ lyrics and the tune itself. The guys just wanted to capture the confrontation between Maxim and Keith Flint. It’s basically like a full-on, almost punk dance track, and when The Prodigy do it on stage, that comes across really obviously. “I’m not gonna sit here and try and think of some deep meaning because it just hasn’t got one. ‘Firestarter’ has but ‘Breathe’ hasn’t”, said Liam while chatting with Addicted to Noise. Howlett also recalled that by the time The Prodigy came out with ‘Breathe’, they decided they “didn’t want to have a song that had vocals all the way through, without giving the music space to breathe”.
1995 · Premiere
‘Breathe’ premiere took its place in Belgrade, Serbia, on 8 December 1995, 11 months prior to its official release. Right after this performance it even became something of a freedom anthem for Serbia’s urban youth! The Prodigy became the first major international act to perform in Belgrade since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and came shortly after UN sanctions were partially lifted. Maxim introduced the track with some trepidation: “We gonna do something you’ve never heard before. When I say “you’ve never heard before” I mean this is the first time it is ever been played…”
In fact, in ’95, an early beta version was premiered without pre-recorded vocals, the band played this mix for quite a long time. The premiere of the final version with “come play my game” vocals took place only half a year later, in July ’96. Perhaps this is what Liam had in mind when he said ‘And it was an instrumental for ages. We were playing it on stage and the guys were just dancing to it and stuff’ in an above-mentioned interview. ‘Breathe’ had never been performed before the Serbian gig.
According to rumors, the first title of ‘Breathe’ as of late 1995 was Psychosomatic, but this assumption can be neither confirmed or disproven since there are no live setlists from late 1995. Besides, along with the debut of ‘Breathe’, another track, The Trick was played for the first time on the same dates. At that time, it was nothing but a really raw demo which consisted of the piano sample from ‘Searching for Youngblood & Rommel’ as an intro for the live show.
We made the reconstruction of Breathe (Beta Version) – sounds great!
1996 · Single
In fact, at first ‘The Trick’ wasn’t considered as a b-side for the ‘Breathe’ single: Liam thought of Blow Ya Mind as a potential b-side – it was an early version of ‘Diesel Power’ which was frequently played live before the release without full vocals, with the only chorus by Kool Keith.
Before ‘Breathe’ was released Midi Management reported the tracklisting to be the following:
- Poison (Live)
- Their Law (Live)
- Blow Your Mind
But eventually, Liam managed to finish ‘The Trick’ by autumn of 1996, so a collaboration with Kool Keith was saved for the then-forthcoming album. Our assumption is that the single was put together in a hurry, so Liam submitted what he had ready at the time. The final single compilation is quite unique: for the first time, a release contained no remix of the main track and featured live recordings of two tracks from the previous album. It’s also worth noting that the vinyl edition had an instrumental of ‘Breathe’ instead of one of the live recordings.
As we said before, single ‘Breathe’ is quite unique: for the first time, a single contained no remix of the main track. It worth mentioning that ‘Breathe’ stood apart for a long time: no remixes were produced. One can say that remixing ‘Breathe’ was some kind of taboo, with the exception of a light semi-official re-edit for DJs which came out on a side-release later that year.
This rule was broken only 16 years later. In 2012, XL Recordings put out the 15th Anniversary re-issue of ‘The Fat of the Land’, which contained a bonus CD with some remixes of the album singles. Two remixes of Breathe produced by Zeds Dead and The Glitch Mob ended up on the release. May sound harsh enough, but both mixes are awful!
It’s also worth noticing that in 2003, a snipped of an unidentified version of ‘Breathe’
Eventually, the dub-mixes trend of the late 90s died out but was resurrected 10 years later and manifested itself in a relevant and heavy sounding. A new genre, dubstep, gained large popularity across the world and, of course, couldn’t pass The Prodigy by. Putting aside dubstep remixes produced by other artists, the first dubstep track made by Liam was a 2008 remix of ‘Breathe’. The title of it spoke for itself: Breathe (dbstp). Said remix has never been officially released and was performed only live as a short filler for one year.
Live setlist from 2009 w/ ‘Breathe (dbstp)’
Exactly 10 years later, another short ‘breathe’ filler appeared in the band’s live set list – Breathe Beatz Fill. As it turned out later, it was a teaser of a full-length ‘Breathe’ remix produced by Liam and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan.
Live setlist from 2018 w/ ‘Breathe Beatz Fill’
We did the reconstruction of this filler last year as well. Check it out!
Officially, the remix was released only in 2021 as part of the official soundtrack of Fast & Furious 9: The Fast Saga. By the way, a few years prior, the ‘Breathe’ remix produced by The Glitch Mob was included in the ‘Fast & Furious 6’ OST, but the collaboration with RZA was released exclusively on the soundtrack.
Liam once said that during the early stage of production he had submitted
A year later, the remix was released on vinyl with the only 300 copies pressed. Apart from the main remix with RZA, the vinyl also contains an instrumental mix of it and a drum ‘n’ bass version produced by René LaVice.
These remixes were not the last ones. Just a couple of weeks ago, another drum ‘n’ bass remix by Mefjus & Camo & Krooked was released as part of the 25th anniversary of ‘The Fat of the Land’. As of now, the remix has been released via streaming services and we think it’s not going to be the last ‘Breathe’ remix either.
After a long ‘Breathe’ remix-abstention of the 90s and 2000s, the unspoken ‘taboo’ seems to have been broken. This means that new remixes of ‘Breathe’ will be released annually in the next few years…
You may also check out our last year article about ‘Breathe’ video. The next one is ‘Smack My Bitch Up’. Stay tuned and keep following us on social media!
Headmasters: SPLIT, SIXSHOT
Additional thanks to: Canyon Hill, Juge L