At Amsterdam Dance Event, the poet laureate of rave culture Irvine Welsh discusses his dance-music inspirations and gaining acceptance from the literary establishment, writes Saeed Saeed
Irvine Welsh says dance music is the rhythm behind his novels
Irvine Welsh is in his element at Amsterdam Dance Event. The Scottish novelist, who commands large crowds at major literature festivals, is addressing a group comprising aspiring DJs and producers in the Dutch capital, as part of the world’s largest dance-music gathering.
The 59-year-old revels in the atmosphere as he reminisces on the rave culture of the 1980s and 1990s, recollecting parties in fields and warehouses, in addition to rubbing shoulders with members of key bands from that era, such as Underworld and Primal Scream.
All those experiences, he says, came together when publishing his seminal 1993 debut Trainspotting, which became a cult classic film in 1996, and also received a successful movie sequel this year, T2 Trainspotting.
Welsh acknowledges that fans were patient while waiting for the much-anticipated sequel. “We have been talking about it for years,” he says. “But a lot of the time it was down to scheduling. A lot of the cast were locked into these punitive television contracts and they couldn’t do much while they were working on their series.
“But I am delighted with the ultimate result. With T2, I think it is more an emotional story as the characters now have fully transitioned to adulthood,” he adds.
With books such as 2002’s Porno (which loosely inspired T2 Trainspotting) and last year’s A Blade Artist focusing on some of the characters from Trainspotting and people he had met at all-night parties, Welsh says dance music and its surrounding culture remain a major influence on his work.
“When you are heavily involved in the scene then the weekend essentially becomes the main thing in your life. The rest of the week just became something you tolerate,” he says.
“But one thing which is important to state is the incredible sense of community the scene has. You would be in the bus or the Tube [London Underground] and you would spot someone by the way they dressed, and you would know they had been out this weekend, and strike up a conversation. That’s something you never [otherwise] do in public transport in London. The dance scene of that time created an almost invisible community of like-minded souls who live in a parallel universe to everybody else.”
So when he began writing Trainspotting, he quickly realised that shedding light on that community through standard prose wasn’t going to work. Instead, he constructed the book in a similar way he, as a sometime DJ, would compose a piece of dance music. “I wanted to capture the excitement about going to a club,” he says.
“I tried to write the first draft in standard English. While it is a great style because of how precise it is, it is not really a language that people speak. So to get to that living language that I was looking for, I started to think about all the people I would meet at the festivals and parties, and I realised there was a rhythm to the way they spoke. Now that, to me, can be considered the beat [of the song]. Now, you need effects on that beat, so I had words falling off the page in the book – a kind of collapsed language – which disturbed the beat but ultimately complemented it.”
Not everyone was dancing to Welsh’s rhythm, though. He recalls that the runaway success of Trainspotting shocked the British literary establishment. It is still coming to terms with the tall, shabbily dressed Scott.
“I was detested and despised. I was kind of seen as some sort of Neanderthal who sprung from the swamp, and they hoped that I would write my book and dissolve back into the swamp,” he said.
“A lot of that is because fiction, as cultural construct, is pretty much colonised by the middle and upper-middle class. Literary fiction was viewed as a gentleman of leisure’s pastime and it is supposed to represent the trials and tribulations of the leisured classes. And anything that talks about the lower class and youth is seen as a bit dodgy. It has changed a little bit now. I do have some literary credibility now from that chattering class.”
Amsterdam Dance Event finishes today. For details go to www.amsterdam-dance-event.nl/