Irvine Welsh once claimed that if it hadn’t been for The Clash or the Sex Pistols, there would be no Trainspotting. The acclaimed writer has often pointed out the sheer brilliance of Danny Boyle’s soundtrack in regards to Boyle’s 1996 adaptation of his book, which is brimming with Britpop and house music, as well as featuring Beatles callbacks and Lou Reed references as it intertwines music with narrative, the result being something of a time capsule to the mid-90s.
While Welsh understood the inclusion of artists like Lou Reed, he was mystified by the need to include Britpop in the film’s musical arsenal. “Primal Scream and Damon Albarn were friends,” explained once Welsh, “And I knew Jarvis Cocker, but I didn’t really see the Britpop involvement.” Although Welsh didn’t see it at the time, he later called Boyle’s insistence that the soundtrack needed a contemporary feel “a masterstroke”.
Primal Scream’s ‘Trainspotting’, Pulp’s ‘Mile End’ and Damon Albarn’s ‘Closet Romantic’ all feature on the soundtrack, which Welsh says was genius “because Britpop was kind of the last strand of British youth culture, and it helped to position the film as being the last movie of British youth culture”.
As Welsh told Vice, he came into his own when it got down to selecting the soundtrack. “Because I knew a lot of the musicians personally, I was able to put them in touch directly so [the filmmakers] could circumvent the process of having to pay massive bucks that they couldn’t afford to get the music cleared,” he said.
These artists were incredibly keen to be involved with the subversive film, so much so that they’d often ask their record companies if they could afford to let one song go just to be included.
“That helped us secure the rights for a low cost, and sometimes no cost,” said Welsh. “There is no way we’d have been able to get such a soundtrack normally. Danny [Boyle] had worked with Leftfield on Shallow Grave, and I think he knew New Order from Manchester as well. There was such a great vibe about it that it spread to these musicians too, who gave us a bunch of stuff that would have normally cost us a fortune.”
The result was a timeless soundtrack that captured the unrelenting gaze of the book into squalor and drug-induced misery. “It cuts through that anaesthetizing effect of modern life,” said Boyle. “We tried to capture that same spirit in the film via music, voiceover, costume, and boldness. Babies on the ceiling. Scenes in toilets. Writing a sign declaring: ‘You’re now in the worst toilet in Scotland.’ The film was like a Jackson Pollock; you could throw all these things at it.”