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The Magnificent Provocateur

by Pedro González on 10.04.2010

Malcolm McLaren the creator of the Punk label in the world of music and fashion has died at the age of 64. His anti-Establishment tendencies and his knack to get ideas from different sources (mainly the American music scene), repack them and sell them to the world as his own creation converted him into one of the most hated figures in the Thatcher early years with the fabrication of the Sex Pistols and the Punk scene. Malcolm McLaren was another important figure from the baby boom generation who would be a pivotal figure in pop music. In his case, it was not playing a guitar or being in a band what would eventually make him such an influential personna in pop music.

His talent was behind the scenes as a manager and catalyst of art expression. As an art student in the sixties he flirted with the avant garde ideas of hippies and post Marxists. He and his ex-wife (and partner in crime) fashion-designer, Vivienne Westwood, were advocates of the Situationist International in the late sixties. This was a group of philosophers, artists and social science theorists that showed their disdain for the Capitalist decay by manipulating reality. This could be possible by setting up environments through the use of mass media and advertising as described by French author Guy Debord in his work The Society of the Spectacle.

For sure, McLaren was an advanced student of this movement but his machiavellian pursues were more Warholian than of a fanatical social movement leader. He recognized the commercial impact of revolutionary ideas. The New York Dolls and the yunkie musical scene of the eastside of New York became the raw material for his genesis of Punk music. His Midas touch achievement was to make the unpleasant beautiful. Undoubtedly, England and, subsequently, the world was ready for his anti-social order in the days of high inflation, unemployment, rock megastars, and a No Future horizon after the happy shiny sixties. Later rock impresarios, such as Tony Wilson, also sharing McLaren situationist sympathies, followed his book in the creation of a musical scene that, again like his maestro, defined a place and a social environment. Manchester Factory was the magnificent art expression of the post industrial Manchester. McLaren himself, shamelessly, defined his role in the creation of the great Rock and Roll swindle in the film of the same name.

Punk was not his only achievement as he was a pivotal figure to sell (again another) American music scene to Europe: Hip Hop, and even making African music cool and modern with his own produced albums. As a visionary he occupies a fundamental place in the world of popular music but for many, he symbolizes the kick in the balls to the rock music complacency. Call it whatever, Punk, Rock and Roll, Garage Rock, Funk, Reggae, Raggamuffin, Hip Hop, Grunge, Riot Grrrl, Cyberpunk, Noise Rock, Industrial Rock, Hardcore, Mestizo or any kind of music with attitude that offers a new sound and aesthetics against the trivialisation and commodification of music. Even when these musics eventually become absorbed by the main stream, there are others that emerge with strength and as a threat to the self-complacent pop music of the moment. This is what is primary for the pop music to not become irrelevant and static. Today the influence of McLaren legacy can be seen around the world. Anarchy in the World!


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