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The story of ‘Insomnia’

Twenty years on, we talked to Maxi, Sister Bliss and even the elusive Rollo to get the story behind Faithless’ mega-hit

  • Dave Jenkins
  • 25 November 2015
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With their first single out (and doing well, hitting No 30 in the UK chart), their debut album 'Reverence' was well underway, written in a garden shed studio in Islington. There was just one thing missing: a second banger for the album to balance the heady pizzicato grandeur of 'Salva Mea'.

"'Reverence' covered it all," says Bliss. "From r'n'b to blues to hip hop with electronic and acoustic instruments. The album was in two parts and we felt needed a club track for the second part of the album. I was DJing most nights of the week, so when we decided to write the track I said 'right, it's going to be called 'Insomnia', 'cause I can't get no sleep'."

Then the light above their heads went bang: Rollo called Maxi who turned around his most famous lyrics within minutes.

"About twenty minutes after putting the phone down," he admits. "A sketch, almost. Then twenty more minutes the following evening in the studio. Then twenty-five minutes in the booth, putting it down. Then home."

"That's the magic of Maxi," grins Bliss, who is equally as casual about the music. "I laid the chords down, worked out the bassline, Rollo added the strings and it came together quick enough for us to spend the afternoon record shopping."

That's easy for her to say. A multi-instrumentalist who's played the piano since the age of five, Bliss describes the musical process as though it's as simple as making a brew. What she's far more passionate about is the inspiration of the track, Rollo's arrangement and the track's eventual mixdown.

"'Insomnia' is actually a tribute to Detroit," she explains. "The 'Moody Mix', which was the first mix we made, is a dedication to Carl Craig. Underworld, too. They showed the world that you can run and run things, building it very slowly. It doesn't have to be 'crash bang wallop'. It's about tension and release. Like good sex. Who wants 'wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am' when you can have that lovely build and a nice bit of foreplay!"

And you wouldn't want long and lusty love-makery on a crappy cheap mattress, either. Location is key: they wrote in a garden shed but they recorded and mixed in London's long-gone Swanyard Studio, a high-tech complex where pop giants like Suede, Pulp and The Petshop Boys recorded during the day, and night sessions were a fraction of the price.

"US house and techno records had a real edge on UK music at the time because they were all recorded in the big studios at night," explains Bliss. "That's why the production sounds so crisp on those US records. So we did the same; it was important to have the sonic expansiveness and use mixing desks like an SSL. It's the difference between cooking on a camping stove or an Aga."


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