A chance encounter with a gangster drug dealer led to…
Malcolm McLaren was a unique force of nature whose font of creativity was matched by an impressive business wizardry. He spearheaded the punk movement with his management of The Sex Pistols, but it wasn’t just the sound. He fuelled and marketed the ethos and the attitude says Stewart Who?
Equally influential was McLaren’s stamp on fashion, spawned from his shop ‘Sex’ on the Kings Road, launched with his then partner, Vivienne Westwood. When you see Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Madonna or Cheryl Cole working fetish wear as high fashion, that’s down to Malc & Viv.
Gay Sex Gear
They took bondage, S&M, gay sex gear and all the shiny accoutrements and made them mainstream. On hear of McLaren’s death, Dame Vivienne Westwood said,
‘When we were young and I fell in love with Malcolm, I thought he was beautiful and still do. I thought he is a very charismatic, special and talented person. The thought of him being dead is very sad.’
Understandably, people focus on McLaren’s punk legacy, brilliantly buoyed by his pick ‘n’ mix Situationist philosophy gleaned from art school. Many who grew up as teens in the ‘80s, however, may remember McLaren proving as culturally impressive then, as he was for disaffected kids in the late ‘70s.
I remember going crazy to ‘C30, C60, C90, Go!’ in 1980. This was the first single by Bow Wow Wow, a band created by McLaren to promote and market his New Romantic fashion line. McLaren would spin a cross-marketing campaigns, ensuring anti-establishment cred, outrageous publicity and a range of clothes which are still adored today. Fashion aficionados go weak at the thought of a vintage Sex/Seditionaries t-shirt. You think that’ll happen with the fashion ranges of Lily Allen, Gwen Stefani or Mel B?
Breaking the rules
Producer and DJ Mark Moore remembers those heady days and how they came to work together:
“As a 15-year-old, I hung out in Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s Seditionaries shop in the Kings Rd. It was always a hive of creativity in there, an Aladdin’s cave, and no one seemed to mind some kid hanging around. Their conversations inspired me no end – Malcolm always encouraging people to be themselves and break the rules whenever possible.
“Years later, myself and William Orbit found ourselves working with Malcolm on a bunch of remixes from his ‘Waltz Darling’ album. Malcolm came to the studio to collaborate and on his arrival began recounting tales, both old and new, of the Sex Pistols and beyond. Me and William sat there like kids listening to an expert raconteur.
“After two days of this we had to order him out of the studio as we hadn’t actually started any work! We could easily have listened to more. The track ‘Deep In Vogue’ went to number one in the US Billboard Dance chart and along with ‘Something’s Jumpin’ In Your Shirt’ from the same sessions, they’re two of the remixes I’m most proud of. Malcolm continues to inspire me today and one couldn’t hope for a better teacher of subversion”.
Steve Swindells, musician and club promoter also remembers Malcolm fondly,
“He single-handedly invented the radical concept of Guerilla Advertising and helped make bread out of the dough that was punk (pun intended).
“Eminem even sampled him ‘(Buffalo girls go round the outside’)! He also created the first male, black supermodels. Truly, he was a renaissance man whose keen mind and unique flair will be sorely missed.”
In addition to giving us Bow Wow Wow and all the scandal that came with that (home taping uproar, underage sexploitation, full-scale fight with EMI and African cultural appropriation). In ’83, he released Duck Rock, which was profoundly ahead of its time. Fusing hip-hop and world music, it was the soundtrack on thousands of British playgrounds, as kids scrabbled to body pop and break-dance on broken up cardboard boxes.
The video for ‘Buffalo Girls’ gave us a taste of ‘80s NYC culture and for those who wanted to learn the moves, a VHS instruction manual, if you were quick enough to record it from Top of the Pops. Yup, ‘Street Dance’ might be a popular class at your local Fitness First today, but for many, this seemingly alien dance craze came courtesy of McLaren, nearly 30 years ago.
London’s wily, older club kids will remember Philip Sallon’s seminal Mud Club which opened in January 1983 at The Subway in Leicester Square with Jay Strongman and graphics wiz, Nick Egan on the decks. The night started with a barn dance class hosted by Malcolm McLaren, who drafted in a heap of professional barn dancers to teach the assembled rockabillies, trannies, punks and soul boys how to ‘do-si-doh’, while Boy George and Tasty Tim looked on.
His follow-up single, ‘Double Dutch’ delivered another teen fad that was initially more popular with girls than boys. This No. 3 record created yet another playground sensation as we tried to skip with not one, but two ropes.
Hot and hard
That summer, there was nothing hotter or harder than this sensation and only those who had really big back gardens could host Double Dutch skipping sessions.
Why was it hard? While you concentrated on getting the footwork down, the top rope would swing round and crack you on the side of the head. It looked easy. It wasn’t. To be cool in school in ‘83, you needed to body pop or Double Dutch. Or die, it was that important to us kids.
Of course, McLaren introduced many to opera, via his version of ‘Madame Butterfly’- which still sounds great today, as does the Stephen Hague produced album ‘Fans’. The fact that he squidged Puccini’s greatest opera into ten minutes of genius pop upset a few purists, but it’s regarded by many as his masterpiece.
It reduced me to tears aged 14 and led to me buying the shaped picture disc single, which I still have today. Oh, and that video with those blood-lipped supermodels wafting around a Sapphic Turkish bath was (a) soft porn (b) nothing to do with the song (c) surely an inspiration for Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’ one year later.
Madonna gets much credit for taking vogueing from the queer streets of Harlem and santising it for the mainstream. Okay, she did, but McLaren did it first, with the single ‘Deep in Vogue’ and album ‘Waltz Darling’. The ’89 release features deep house, funk-rock, guest spots from Dave Stewart, Jeff Beck and Bootsy Collins, oh, and a full orchestra.
That heady cocktail shouldn’t mix, but it does and the video for ‘Waltz Darling’ delivered for many people, their first glimpse of legendary choreographer and vogueing maestro, Willie Ninja. Jennie Livingston’s film about that scene, ‘Paris is Burning’ may be a cult classic now, but McLaren flagged up the Harlem Balls when they were still underground and dangerously gay. He took that subculture, refined its edges and added some polish without diluting or hiding the roots.
Al Pillay, agit-pop transsexual and actor recalls meeting McLaren in ’86 whilst riding high in the charts with ‘Pistol in My Pocket’. McClaren complimented Pillay on the record, who responded, ‘Some of my best friends are ginger’.
‘I’m no beer’, McLaren quipped, no stranger to either cockney rhyming slang or the banter of the gay scene. Princess Julia, fashion muse, punk pin up and DJ celebrated her 50th at the George & Dragon in Shoreditch. While sipping on a glass of red wine, she referred to McLaren as, ‘A maverick, I think that’s what they’d say. But he really did have an eloquent charm about him. I wish he’d been Mayor of London, he always had an interesting policy up his sleeve!’
David Hoyle, the UK’s most infamous punk-performance artiste, appreciated McLaren’s approach. Asked for an analysis, Hoyle opined, ‘Malcolm McLaren was the ultimate circus ring-master, a cultural-catalyst and artistic-anarchist. He was an exploiter and over-seer of youthful passions; freedom, frustration, the right to express and be heard, attempting individuality while within an un-sentimental, cruel machine. He understood the power and passion of music and the almost sacred spirit of a D.I.Y aesthetique.’
McLaren is survived by his girlfriend Young Kim and his and Westwood’s son Joseph Corre.
First Published 09/04/2010: The HospitalClub.com