The Sequel to the Gritty and '90s-Defining 'Trainspotting' Stirs Memories

Steven Zeitchik
Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The sequel T2 Trainspotting is in theaters, and with it comes a glut of memories from Boyle’s original.

NEW YORK — The past is a funny place. It’s the only spot all of us have been to but can never return.

Unless you’re Danny Boyle and the cast of “Trainspotting.”

Then you can go back. … Well, at least just enough to realize how far away it is.

The sequel “T2 Trainspotting” is in theaters, and with it comes a glut of memories from Boyle’s original. The 1996 film about addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland, painted a contradictory picture of desperation and glamour, of comedy and sadness, all with the adrenalized edits and buzzy style Boyle would become known for.

As he and screenwriter John Hodge return to the characters, they stir nostalgic thoughts — not least because the movie includes the kind of references to and even scenes from the original that can be downright time-warping.

“It’s that telescope thing, isn’t it?” said the director. “You look at it through one end, and it seems like another galaxy, then you turn it around, and it’s right there in front of your face.”

The filmmaker was at lunch with three of his principal actors — Ewan McGregor as Mark Renton, Jonny Lee Miller as Simon/Sick Boy and Ewen Bremner as Spud — during a blizzardy day here recently. The city-paralyzing March snow was a reminder, like the events of the movie, of how easily life’s plans can go askew.

Basked in a melancholic glow, “T2 Trainspotting” follows the gang as they converge after a crisis prompts Renton to leave his life in Amsterdam and head back to Edinburgh. He subsequently must avoid the machinations of Robert Carlyle’s Begbie, hellbent on revenge for Renton’s betrayal two decades earlier.

But those are just plot points. Really “T2” is about memory, masculinity and middle age, not to mention the fact that getting back together — with people from your past, but also with the past itself — can be both a beautiful and awkward thing.

“It’s just nostalgia,” Simon laments to Renton as the latter tries to drag him back to a place of decades-old significance. “You’re a tourist in your own youth.”

Full disclosure, on the subject of youth: I was a college student when the original “Trainspotting” came out. It had the kind of effect on me that great cinema at that life moment can have. First, from the “Lust for Life” street-chase opening to the “colonized by wankers” monologue to the “Born Slippy” closing act of betrayal, came the wonder-struck thought of “Wait, you can actually do that in movies?”

This was followed by a more personal reaction: These guys weren’t just distant strangers, fun to watch and easy to forget about. They were me and my friends, even though I knew from heroin-grimy Scotland like “Trainspotting” author Irvine Welsh knew from my Aunt Harriet.

I was hardly alone. “Trainspotting” was a Gen-X touchstone. And like all generational touchstones, it conjures memories not only of itself but of who we were when we experienced it. Nearly every film fan my age could probably give you some rich detail about the first time they saw “Trainspotting,” just as baby boomers could do for “The Graduate” and millennials for “Garden State.”

Equally full disclosure: A milestone school reunion is coming up. So this piece may contend more than most with questions of nostalgia and memory. But if a “Trainspotting” character catch-up 20 years later won’t put you in a reflective mood, what will?

“It’s not that I want to go back and do stuff again. Because I’m sure if you went back you wouldn’t be particularly happy,” Miller said about the memories his own reunion jarred loose. “But everything does come into focus about your past when you reach a certain age, in a way that allows you to have an affectionate appreciation of those experiences.”

A healthy attitude, Sick Boy. But easier said than done. More dispiriting reminders abound too.

“I was driving around on set with an actor and I had Oasis on,” McGregor said. “And the actor, she knew Oasis. But it hit me how different a relationship she had with it. I had to keep reminding myself she had that different relationship, that it meant something different to her (just) because of when she happened to be born.”

OK, so he’s wrong about the elemental ‘90s band. (It was Pearl Jam, Obi-Wan.) But fair enough on the larger point. It’s impossible to move through this world, especially this entertainment- and technology-saturated world, without constant reminders of when one came into it.

More than most sequels, “T2” is preoccupied with time’s passage, and its disorienting nature. We’d all like to think the pathways from the past to the present are straight and marked. But more often we walk around confused about how we got here, let alone if this was where we’d always wanted to be.

“Don’t know how it all got started / I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives,” sang Bob Dylan about the unknown post-breakup trajectories of old flames, and it’s hard to watch a movie like “T2 Trainspotting” without similarly fatalistic questions about the characters on-screen.

Could Simon only but end up as a coke-fueled hustler? Spud as a sad heroin addict with a secret creative streak? Renton as a bougie expat in crisis? Seeing them in “T2” make the leap from there to here, I felt the way we tend to when running into school friends after so many years: “Well, now that I see what you’ve become, it makes sense. But I’m not sure I would have predicted it years ago.”

A life lived forwards but understood only backwards, as a thinker almost as wise as Dylan, Soren Kier-kegaard, once remarked.

“I wasn’t from an arty family and wouldn’t have predicted back then I’d have done anything that was prestigious, that would sustain,” Boyle said. “And, some things didn’t sustain, like ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ or ‘Trance.’ There was just a lot of naivete at the time we made ‘Trainspotting.’”

And he was 40 when that movie came out.

But maybe that’s what’s most shocking about growing older and looking back — the realization that naivete and confusion don’t simply end at a certain point, that the feeling of being young can persist even as the presence of so many (actual) young people suggest otherwise.

“Maybe it’s Peter Pan complex, but I still feel like it’s all ahead of me. Like ‘one day, I’m going to do all of those things,’” said Miller, who, like his costars, is now in his 40s.

It’s what makes school and movie reunions alike so sobering. The realization, really, that this adulthood we’ve allegedly attained is not about becoming new beings in the impossibly faraway place of our childhood imagination. Where was the land of grown-ups that once seemed so distant, so exotic, that would transform us so existentially? This is all still just us, with maybe a few more gray hairs and experiences to show for it.

Reunions are eerie, in the end, because they’re reminders that the line between youth and old age, between birth and death, is far less distinct than we’d like.

Encountering artifacts from our childhood — whether photos of our teenage selves or images of actors we saw as teenagers — can have a paradoxical effect. Does a new scene of a young Renton and Spud highlight the distance to the past or bridge it? Are reminders of Flatbush High School and the Whatsapp group that have been seeping into my day with reenactments of teenage dynamics an uncomfortable reminder of time gone by? Or simply a chance to bring us closer to who we once were?

“Audiences will see this film and think about us as characters and actors,” noted Bremner. “‘These people aren’t kids,’ they’ll say. And then they’ll realize they’re not kids. For some that will be cathartic, and for others it will make them threatened; they’ll see the reality of age and want to step back from it.

“It all depends on how you want to look at it.”

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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