Trainspotting 2 Soundtrack: Capturing a contemporary soundscape

In all honesty, I don’t even remember watching Trainspotting for the first time. After moving to Edinburgh, I thought that my friend’s place in one of the flats between Pleasance and Arthur’s Seat looked awfully similar to where Renton and Sick Boy shared their first needle.

I remember having lied about watching it in my high school years –  it would not have been cool to admit otherwise. For some reason it was a cult movie, even though none of us had anything to do with the life it portrayed, and the more universal coming-of-age problems were irrelevant to the society we were a part of.

Yet, somehow from the very first scenes of T2, I felt nostalgia.

This sentiment was actually accompanied by the first sounds of a legendary ‘Lust For Life’ remix by The Prodigy. Although it is a changed version of the opening song from the original movie soundtrack, it still captures the essence of Trainspotting. It gives the viewer a reference point straight away without getting stuck in the past, bringing one back to the iconic places and characters, but placing them in our current environment. The track defines the space and time for the action to begin – after all, the original Trainspotting did sound just like the 90s themselves.

So here is the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind: is it possible to create another time capsule that would today – just as back then – capture the contemporary soundscape?

To make a direct comparison between the two films would essentially mean reducing 20 years of changes that both cinema and the music scene have gone through. Without going into a full analysis, one thing is clear: the medium for music to reach the listener has changed completely with the digital age. As pure punk ceased to exist, so did our singular tastes. As we stopped hanging out with kids just from our neighbourhood and started chatting on social media, in a similar way our playlists expanded through generations and geographical locations.

Nevertheless, T2 manages to capture the positive aspects of these changes. The soundtrack is still predominantly a British list of tracks, with Edinburgh locals Young Fathers contributing most to the voice of the movie. They are balanced out by old school rock classics including ‘Radio Ga Ga’ or Blondie’s ‘Dreaming’. This contrast seems to be a pretty good description of the range of timescales we now fit in the soundtracks of our daily commutes.

Although music is not usually something that general audiences focus on in films, the role it plays in our perception of the film is massive. The two senses, of sight and sound, are inseparable with how we define reality, and film scores are examples of such: the effect of passing time achieved by the sound of a ticking clock or the size of a place by longer reverb time. However, these perceptions are usually much more sophisticated, and there would be no Psycho without Bernard Hermann or no Casablanca without Max Steiner.

Soundtracks are slightly different, but ultimately they play a similar role. Wolf Alice’s ‘Silk’ and Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ play at a moment of resolution towards the end of T2. As a result, they are just as responsible for the feeling of nostalgia as the faces of the well-known beloved heroes of the movie.

British music from the 90s is already a historical signature for the pace that both the book and the script reflected, and there is no possible way to bring that back. But, as the story of T2 develops, the humour, heart-warming friendships and ugliness of the reality, all become less serious when the right music is in the background. Following the spirit of the original film, T2 reflects an underlying lust for life.

Image Credit: Craig Duffy

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