In the studio

David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels wrote and recorded demos for the Omikron: The Nomad Soul game in London and Paris, and in the spring of 1999 began recording at Seaview Studios in Bermuda.

A first version of ‘Survive’ was cut at Mute Records Studio in 1998. More recording took place the following year at Looking Glass and Chung King studios later in the year.

That was one of my favourite songs and it was a nice vibe to play bass on that, and I think I did some keyboards too, the Mellotron part. So it was a nice turn stylistically because I hadn’t really done a song like that with him yet. That was cool to do that kind of thing.
Mark Plati
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

The drummer on ‘Survive’ was Mike Levesque. His parts were combined with programmed drum loops.

It’s a sign of the time – the loops are providing the swing and the acoustic drums are providing the rock. I think the drums might have been recorded to two-inch tape, which is really odd, and then flown into the Pro Tools. So that’s more of an old-school classic rock drum sound, which is nice.
Mike Levesque, drummer
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

The release

‘Survive’ was the third song on David Bowie’s ‘hours…’ album, released on 4 October 1999.

It was released as a single on 24 January 2000, and reached number 28 in the UK. It was the third single to be taken from ‘hours…’. The promotional video was directed by Walter Stern.

There were two UK CD singles, and two international ones. The first UK CD contained ‘Survive’ (Marius De Vries mix), ‘Survive’ (Album version), ‘The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell’ (Stigmata soundtrack version), and the ‘Survive’ video.

The second UK CD contained live versions of ‘Survive’, ‘Thursday’s Child’, and ‘Seven’, plus the video of the ‘Survive’ performance. They were taken from Bowie’s show at the Paris Elysée Montmartre on 13 October 1999, and were later released on Something In The Air (Live Paris 99).

The first International CD contained the Marius De Vries mix and the album version of ‘Survive’, while the second featured the same tracks, plus live versions of ‘Thursday’s Child’ and ‘Seven’.

Marius De Vries’ mix of ‘Survive’ was included on the 2014 compilation Nothing Has Changed. The single edit also appeared in the soundtrack of the computer game Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

It’s probably my favourite track on the record. To me it’s very epic in a late-1960s kind of way, both in its composition and in how the production builds and peaks.
Mark Plati
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Live performances

David Bowie performed ‘Survive’ regularly at his concerts in 1999 and 2000. The first was on 23 August 1999 at the Manhattan Center in New York, for an edition of VH1 Storytellers which was later released as an album.

Recordings from 14 October and 19 November 1999 were released on, respectively, Something In The Air (Live Paris 99) and At The Kit Kat Klub (Live New York 99).

On 27 June 2000, Bowie gave a performance at the BBC Radio Theatre in London, which included a version of ‘Survive’. The concert was included as a bonus CD with initial copies of Bowie At The Beeb, and in 2021 as part of the box set Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001).

‘Survive’ is probably my favourite, one of the two favourite new songs from the ‘hours…’ album. There’s something that I really find authentically early Seventies about the writing structure of ‘Survive’, and it’s a joy to sing on stage. It’s probably one of the favourite of the new songs to actually perform.
David Bowie
Top Of The Pops 2, 1999

On 18 September 2002 Bowie performed a broadcast show before fewer than 100 people at London’s Maida Vale Studios. ‘Survive’ was the only ‘hours…’ song in the setlist.

His final performance of the song was on 12 October 2002 at St Ann’s Warehouse in New York, during the Heathen Tour.

Previous song: ‘Something In The Air’
Next song: ‘If I’m Dreaming My Life’