T2 Trainspotting: The Sound of 2017?

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This may be cliché, but it’s true – Trainspotting defined a generation. Since it’s unofficial screening at Cannes (the film was reportedly rejected by the festival due to its subject matter) the Edinburgh-based heroin-flick has garnered a significant cult following for its heartfelt performances, surreal dark humour, and innovative camerawork. It is safe to say that Trainspotting is one of the best-loved films of all time. So, when director Danny Boyle announced he was planning a sequel, 20 years later, people were understandably worried.

One thing integral to the original Trainspotting’s success was the soundtrack – by including everything from Iggy Pop to Brian Eno, the soundtrack’s eclecticism perfectly matched the film’s unpredictable free spirit. It combined 70s hits, 80s cheese and euphoric 90s dance – all music which will have defined the characters growing up. The film’s audiences will have been familiar with the songs, offering them a sliver of familiarity in the film’s chaotic, depraved, underground world. In 1996, the filmgoer’s own nostalgia may account for the soundtrack’s effectiveness. In 2017, there is no doubt it accounts for the hype surrounding the sequel.

Precise music selection is an invaluable part of the original Trainspotting formula. So, when evaluating the success of the sequel, the second soundtrack deserves significant attention in its own right.

Blondie and Queen bring us back to that same era. The Clash revive the anarchic energy of the original. Wolf Alice, Young Fathers and other modern bands remind us occasionally of how much time has passed. Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ returns, but this time remixed by The Prodigy. Seemingly, the soundtrack tries to replicate the feel of the original without copying it completely. The film opens with ‘Shotgun Mouthwash’ by High Contrast, a song which sounds like the kind of lo-fi grunge Nirvana were putting out in the early ‘90s, despite being released in 2017.

A question often asked about the film and its soundtrack is ‘will it be as iconic as the original’? In truth, we can’t know the answer until enough years have passed.

The film certainly succeeds in its aims – confronting the inevitability of good times passing, of ageing, and exploring the difficulties of truly recapturing youth – and the soundtrack plays a major part in this success. Whereas previously eclecticism helped produce an authentic and era-defining sound, here the mix of old and new serves to alienate one era from another. The music can remind us of the original, but can’t transport us back there. Trainspotting was famously book-ended by ‘Lust for Life’ and ‘Born Slippy’, both of which reappear in T2, but in distorted forms. Some may find this thrilling, others upsetting. Whether or not the film will become iconic depends on how people respond to the its bittersweet messages.

Sick Boy puts it best when he says “You’re a tourist in your own youth”, something which applies to T2’s characters just as much as its viewers.


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