Rosario Dawson in a scene from 'Trance' (Fox Searchlight )
AUSTIN, Texas — Of Danny Boyle and Rick Smith’s many musical collaborations, DJ'ing a party at South by Southwest should have been the simplest.
After all, the “Slumdog Millionaire” director and the producer-keyboardist from the English techno duo Underworld have worked together in the past on such ambitious and varied projects as the sprawling 2012 Olympics opening ceremonies in London and the grotesquely memorable toilet diving scene in “Trainspotting,” Boyle’s 1996 black comedy about heroin addicts.
But here they were, in a starkly decorated Austin nightclub called Swan Dive at 10:15 on a humid Saturday night in the city’s teeming 6th Street party district, anxiously flipping through a pile of CDs.
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“Wretch 32, African Head Charge, The Clash…,” Boyle was rattling off the eclectic list of bands they had brought to play, while Smith watched.
“We don’t care if they wanna hear old stuff, we’re gonna play it,” Smith said.
The pair were in Austin showing footage from their newest joint effort, “Trance,” Boyle’s art world-set thriller, which opens in theaters April 5. “Trance” stars James McAvoy as Simon, a fine art auctioneer who becomes mixed up with a criminal (Vincent Cassel) and seeks the help of a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson). Smith’s composition supplies a kind of electronic heartbeat for the story, which bounces between the worlds of reality and fantasy.
Though Smith has contributed music to Boyle’s movies “The Beach” and “Sunshine” as well as a 2011 Royal National Theatre production of “Frankenstein,” “Trance” is the British musician’s first full film score.
Asked about the secret of their 17-year-old creative partnership, Boyle said simply, “He’s cheap.”
Smith nodded his head — either to the comment or to the music, it wasn’t clear. “I chose to play music 'cause I don’t like to talk,” Smith said, apologetically.
The actual secret of their collaboration is a bit more nuanced — a combination of a shared appreciation for electronic music and a laissez-faire working style. Boyle doesn’t prescribe a sound for a scene, he said, but lets Smith follow his own instincts.
“When you go looking for music, it’s terrible,” Boyle said. “It’s got to be organic.”
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For the moment, at SXSW, they had outsourced the actual button-pushing work of DJ'ing to a professional. But Boyle and Smith had put great care into choosing their songs and seemed hopeful that the young Austin crowd would transition from chair dancing to actual dancing.
“It’s just about picking music that you love and hoping it connects to people,” Boyle said. At 56, he is past his clubbing days and said he relies on his daughters, ages 21 and 27, to keep him musically up to date. “You no longer know what’s going on,” Boyle said. “You get older and start to lose contact.”
Smith also seemed to want to manage expectations about their DJ set.
“When I get some downtime, that’s not really what I want to do is listen to music,” Smith said.
Eventually, a representative from Fox Searchlight, the studio releasing “Trance,” pulled Boyle and Smith away and pushed them up onto the DJ stage, where they stood behind 10 giant speakers and stared down at their stack of CDs.
As bartenders doled out stiff cocktails in Bell jars, and an Asian fusion food truck served beef tongue and tofu curry buns, the club slowly filled with partygoers drenched from a late-night thunderstorm.
While Smith pressed some buttons, Boyle, a pair of headphones half on his head and half off, bopped to a Michael Jackson song and surveyed the room.
Nearly everybody was dancing.
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