When London 2012’s Green and Pleasant opening ceremony takes place today, it will be a full circle turn for two of the edgier exponents of recent British culture. The audio-visual pairing of film director Danny Boyle and Electronic duo Underworld, is a dream ticket for many of my generation. But it’s a long way from where they both started…
In the early nineties Boyle cut his teeth in TV as a jobbing director on shows like Inspector Morse (1990-92) and Mr Wroe’s Virgins (1993). His full-length debut was psychological thriller Shallowgrave (1994); a story about three Edinburgh flatmates, a dead body and a suitcase full of money. It was an underground hit, but the follow-up would catapult Boyle towards iconic status in the UK film industry.
Two years later he released the all-encompassing phenomenon that was Trainspotting. Adapted from Irvine Welsh’s breakthrough novel about a bunch of Edinburgh heroin addicts, it permeated UK youth culture like no other film had done in my lifetime. The soundtrack was a bestseller and the black, white and orange movie posters were copied everywhere. Cast members such as Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlisle, Johnny Lee Miller, Kelly McDonald and Ewan Bremner soon went on to carve themselves careers in Hollywood.
The film’s release sparked controversy in several countries, including Britain, Australia and the United States, as to whether it promoted drug use or not. Some scenes featured vivid portrayals of people injecting themselves with heroin, not to mention the explicit violence and dead babies. US Senator Bob Dole even accused it of moral depravity and glorifying drug use during his 1996 presidential campaign (he later backtracked, admitting that he had not actually watched it).
Underworld’s part in Trainspotting was their track Born Slippy, which was used during various scenes of the film. It had first been released in January 1995 and only made it as far as number 52. Then a year after, riding on the wave of this new phenomenon, it was repackaged and went in at number two. It has since had several other remixes and re-releases and is still regularly played in UK nightclubs to this day.
Born Slippy is a big step away from the world of elite athletics and makes explicit references to drug use (“You’ve had chemicals boy”) and alcoholism (“Shouting lager lager lager”). The duo stated in a 2006 Guardian interview that the song is intended to sound like an alcoholic’s internal dialogue. Vocalist Karl Hyde admits to being a ‘functional alcoholic’ at the time of writing it.
In the years that have followed, both Boyle and Underworld have slowly but surely edged their way further towards the mainstream, but mainly on their own terms. Underworld have sold millions of albums, had a steady stream of chart hits and have headlined several times at Glastonbury Festival.
Danny Boyle has gone on to direct Hollywood icons like Cameron Diaz (A Life Less Ordinary) and Leonardo Di Caprio (The Beach). 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, the portrayal of a Mumbai Teen who won the jackpot on an Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, is considered by many to be his best work to date.
So we wait with interest to see what they both conjure up together for the big occasion. Plans for the ceremony have been intentionally kept secret. But the tabloid leaks have said we can expect real animals, fake rain, a mosh-pit tribute to Glastonbury and a ‘posh-pit’ summoning the spirit of the Last Night of the Proms.
Sounds like it should be a hit… but certainly not the kind of ‘hit’ the characters in Trainspotting would be after.
Nottingham Trent University