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The Danny Boyle Soundtrack: A Hypothetical Playlist

Writing: John Matsuya               Art: Ben Matsuya

If you’re a frequent reader of our site, you’ll note that each review begins and ends with a song that I think best incapsulates the tone of the piece. In our Mixtape Series, I will examine the soundtracks of a director’s filmography and piece together a playlist that reflects the director’s personality, music tastes and aural storytelling. For my first entry, we’ll look at director Danny Boyle - the director behind "Trainspotting", "28 Days Later", "Sunshine", "Slumdog Millionaire", "127 Hours", and "Steve Jobs." 

Danny Boyle is filmmaker as explorer.  Never wanting to be staked to a genre, he takes on science fiction thriller, children’s fantasy movie, Dickensian Bollywood film, or Romero-esque horror re-imagining equally with a showman’s gusto.  His pivots are quick and unpredictable; he tackles big challenges - each new film, genre, scene is new terrain.  

Always changing genres, making very different films is a good idea. It’s a way of making yourself feel vulnerable again, getting back to that innocence.
— Danny Boyle - (The Guardian)

Danny Boyle’s career (visual style, project choices, scenes, and music selections), can be distilled to these words: kinetic movement.  His films jump, elude, and mischievously buck conventions.  Whether it’s the all out ebullience of "Slumdog Millionaire" or the relative small space that he’s confined himself to in "Steve Jobs" and "127 Hours" (I see these as Houdini-esque experiments for Boyle to see what he can do with self-imposed restrictions), there’s a lyrical nature and perceptible momentum to his films.  A perfect example from "127 Hours" showcases a thirsty Aaron Ralston unable to move, stuck in a canyon, and lusting for a drink:

Effervescent like his films and his persona, Danny Boyle doesn't hesitate to use Brit rock ("Trainspotting"), world music ("Slumdog Millionaire", "Millions"), and gooey pop/techno ("127 Hours", "Trainspotting") to boldly announce a scene’s tone.  However, he has also mastered the use of the slow tension-building electronica to build moods in "28 Days Later", "Sunshine", and "Steve Jobs".  The melange of music he utilizes from the former colonies under the Union Jack banner (Australia, India, Ireland) creates a wonderful blend of fast and slow, ethnic and modern, urban and rural. 

Frequent Musical Collaborators:  

John Murphy: "Millions", "28 Days Later", and "Sunshine"
A.R. Rahman: "Slumdog Millionaire" and "127 Hours"

Frequently uses:

Brian Eno: "Trainspotting", "The Beach", "28 Days Later"

Defining Song:


The Danny Boyle Playlist

Soundtrack Listing:

"Salaam-E-Ishq" by Shankar Ehsaan Loy
Influence: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Bagpipes and Bollywood pay homage to the ebullient combination of Scotland and India.

"TV as Eyes" by Chrome
Influences: "Trainspotting"
A little dark at first listen, it's the rough acid punk of counter-culture and rebellion.

"Bankrobber" by The Clash
Influences: "The Beach", "Millions", "Slumdog Millionaire"
Imagine a Danny Boyle protagonist on a train on top of a train, hair in the breeze, sun on the skin, smile on the face.  This is the song that's playing. 

"Geneva" by Russian Circles
Influences: "28 Days Later", "Sunshine"
Either driving through quarantined London or rushing to correct the angle of the sun shield, this tune paces the danger you face when you’re on your own.  

"Red Light" by The Strokes
Influences: "28 Days Later", "127 Hours", "Trance", "Steve Jobs"
At first glance, this song fits least into a Boyle soundtrack in the strictest sense. However, this was actually the inspiration for a Danny Boyle soundtrack.

"Rain Dance" by The Very Best (feat. M.I.A.)
Influences: "Millions", "Slumdog Millionaire"
M.I.A.'s World Music is classic Danny Boyle.

"Ceremony" by the Appleseed Cast
Influences: "The Beach", "28 Days Later", "Sunshine"
The slow build of tension with minor key tonality and a electric reverb playing throughout.

"Bambino" by Plastic Bertrand
Influences: "Trainspotting", "28 Days Later", "127 Hours"
Just the kind of goofy euro-pop Boyle uses to puncture the tension, provide tonal relief, or deploy as irony to contrast a sequence.   

"Falling From the Sun" by The Album Leaf
Influences: "The Beach", "Millions", "Sunshine", "127 Hours"
Not only is the title apropos - this song encapsulates most of Boyle's protagonists - underdogs in over their heads swept up by fate in a moment of desperation far out of their control. 

"The Crystal Cat" by Dan Deacon 
Influences: "Trainspotting", "127 Hours"
This is the song that occurs during either a drug trip or dehydration induced hallucination. 

"Grizelda" by Yeasayer
Influences: "The Beach", "Millions"
Danny Boyle has a soft spot for some uplifting international pop, and Yeasayer's Electro-African-inspired track fits the mold. 

"The Sound of Sinners" by The Clash
Influences: "Trainspotting"
Not only a throwback to the London music scene, but also a reference to religious armageddon ("28 Days Later"), a religious genre in its gospel style ("Millions"), or the dangers of religious fervor ("Sunshine", "Slumdog Millionaire").

"Lump of Coal" by Quasi
Influences: "28 Days Later", "127 Hours Later"
The nihilisim of a post-apocalyptic countryside or the competing shrieks heard when cutting through a nerve. 

"Perro" by The Album Leaf
Influences: "A Life Less Ordinary", "The Beach", "28 Days Later", "Sunshine"
A solitary moment of reflection for our lead character - one of the frequent antagonists in Danny Boyle’s

"Up Through the Night" by Juno
Influences: "28 Days Later", "Sunshine"
Radio noise - real or imagined - is the background music for falling asleep in a Danny Boyle world.  Technology's presence or lack thereof is a Danny Boyle trope. 

"Ecstasy" by JJ
Influences: "Trainspotting", "The Beach", "Millions", "127 Hours"
A liquid serene calm, a natural adrenaline rush, or the fleeting euphoria of a narcotic. 

"Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur" by Sigur Ros
Influences: "Millions", "127 Hours"
Typifies the transcendent nature of Boyle's protagonists beating the impossible odds that they are caught up in.  An homage to one of my favorite Boyle selections - "Nirvana" by El Bosco.

"Open Your Eyes" by Salman Ahmad of Junoon (feat. Peter Gabriel, Alison Sudol and Samina Ahmad)
Influences: "Millions", "Slumdog Millionaire", "127 Hours"
The uplifting - if somewhat cheesy - finale (ie. "Nirvana" by El Bosco, "Peggy Sussed" by Underworld, "Jai Ho" by A.R. Rahman, and "If I Rise" by Dido and A.R. Rahman) that provides the audience with a triumphant exit over the credits.  

What would the hypothetical movie be to this hypothetical soundtrack? 

1,400 Miles
Directed by: Danny Boyle

I know, I know - we should technically use the metric system, but...

A down on his luck Grand Prix racer (played by Cillian Murphy) has always use the adrenaline of racing to escape others and responsibility.  Racing provides him with that momentary hit of fame and human interaction.  After learning that his ex-lover (Rosario Dawson) is engaged, he loads his Formula One car for a train to Monaco to win her back. 

But through the machinations of his arch-rival (played by Ewan MacGregor) his vehicle is instead sent the opposite direction to Turkey. If he is to race in the Grand Prix, he must race cross country through Europe to recover his stolen car and settle loose ends about his old relationship. 

Danny Boyle has built his career on giving himself over to a genre and forging new paths with one main standard: momentum. Always momentum.

John MatsuyaComment