Evening with Malcolm McLaren
BEAST Exclusive by Paul Fallon
I had a key to the city of Buffalo, I would have presented
it to Malcolm McLaren on his visit to town last week. His
‘80s hit “Buffalo Girls” alone should be enough to forever
endear him to us. Still, McLaren is much more than that.
This is the guy who brought us the Sex Pistols, ushered
in punk fashion and played a hand in giving us the New York
Dolls, Bow Wow Wow, and Adam Ant. When the impresario responsible
for unleashing the Pistols comes to Buffalo it should be
a big deal. It was for me. The BEAST was there.
was Wednesday, October 26th, about 2 P.M. I was
tending to my usual tasks at BEAST headquarters—begging
advertisers for business—when I received an interesting
call. The caller said he was a friend of Malcolm McLaren,
that the punk icon would be in Buffalo that very evening,
and asked if we might like to check it out. “The
Malcolm McLaren?” I asked incredulously. “The manager of
the Sex Pistols?”
he said, would be touching down at The Saturn Club, one
of Buffalo’s exclusive social preserves, to give a presentation
about a new record company he was putting together. After
the presentation there would be a small get-together at
Prespa on Delaware. I assumed the posture of a professional
journalist, and pumped him for times.
asked one last, important question: “Who are you?”
name is Giles Kavanaugh—Kavanaugh with a ‘K’.”
said he thought we’d met previously and mentioned he really
liked The BEAST. I thanked him for the invite, assured him
we’d be there and hung up the phone. Then I ran around looking
for someone with whom I could share the news.
night, BEAST Editor Al Uthman and I headed to The Saturn
Club. We arrived early and managed to gain entry without
being turned away as unworthy scum. The presentation hadn’t
started, but McLaren, glass of red wine in hand, was already
passionately expounding on his projects and ideas. McLaren
was talking about putting the soundtrack together for a
movie, filmed in Austin—get this—a dramatic rendering of
Fast Food Nation, directed by Richard Linklater.
people arrived. The presentation was briefly delayed so
that Malcolm could procure a refill.
lastest “punk” venture is something called 8-bit chip music,
or “bit-pop.” Much of it is produced by tapping into sound
chips of old videogame and computer consoles, and manipulating
the sounds programmed therein. It’s not exactly new, and
McLaren wrote an article about it two years ago for Wired
the gathering was a pitch, to raise starter money for a
new record label. McLaren spoke enthusiastically about the
new music to the small crowd of about 50 presumably rich
people. “I think mostly that it’s really quite brilliant.”
the use of special cartridges designed by enthusiasts and
produced in small batches, young musicians around the world
are turning Game Boys into 8-bit musical instruments, producing
“all the sounds that we once remembered when we first played
Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Pac Man
and a host of others.” Those early video games, Mclaren
insisted, formed the first part of a new interactive pop
culture, and a new music genre that rose unpredicted: “How
stupid and cynical as human beings we are,” he chided, “not
to realize in fact that today, such sounds are coveted by
this new generation.”
played some baroque classical music made by a French teenager
using this retro technology, to illustrate “that this is
not some cheap gimmick. That it has, as a genre, immeasurable
depth and importance.” Other tracks utilized the 8-bit sound
in different styles, most commonly reminiscent of techno
or new wave. One standout track, a wild dance club version
of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” was recorded by The Wild
Strawberries, an all-girl Chinese band McLaren’s promoting.
The group, he said, was “greeted as this unusual and particular
thing in China—what they know as kind of ‘post-karaoke’
culture.” The Strawberries took karaoke records they had
been raised by their parents to perform to, “you know in
their little party frocks every few weeks at some local
karaoke lounge, singing those dreadful songs by Elton John
or some other.”
was pitching his new record label, but he said it was about
more than his personal plans. “We need to put our focus
into what is really powerful in this generation [of kids],
one that is unquestionably better informed than any generation…that
has come before us.” Music and fashion, he says are two
tiny, but vital parts of what “will inevitably lead this
generation into a far better understanding of what is going
on in this planet.” McLaren believes that this music is
going to change culture—in a good way. Rebellion, he says,
is the essence of the music’s popularity.
is obsessed with the idea of karaoke culture. We can’t conceive
of growing up in China and being forced to mimic songs,
in English, from Western pop culture. He’s adamant, however
that doesn’t mean this is an Asian phenomenon. McLaren sees
arcane copyright laws as interfering with the progress of
the sampling, file-sharing phenomena. He sees the karaoke
culture as averse to change and taking risks, averse to
the authentic, and the same phenomenon can be observed everywhere.
It’s what has caused commercial music, fashion, commentary
and culture to become homogeneous and safe. McLaren sees
the potential of tapping into the basic human need to be
different and recognizing what this implies for shaping
new universal cultural phenomena.
talk lasted a little over an hour and we heard a number
of interesting sounds from some of his favorite artists.
An irredeemable punk, McLaren complained continually about
the lousy sound system and our prehistoric confines. Regardless,
the drinks were plentiful and the sashimi tuna was superb.
Hey, even punks can enjoy haute cuisine on occasion.
the time came to move on to Prespa, the voluble McLaren
had to be dragged out, so engrossed was he in conversation
with us. At Prespa, there were people who had missed the
presentation, many of whom apparently opted to attend a
Kevin Helfer event. Go figure. Nevertheless, McLaren made
the rounds amiably, accessible to all who were eager for
was a heartening experience. The man’s an innovator, pure
and simple, and whether it’s punk or 8-bit, he knows it’s
about a lot more than just music and fashion. It’s about
not being afraid to challenge the status quo and recognizing
new movements at their inception.
it was just a few drinks with another aging punk who’s not
yet willing to go quietly into the sunset. Either way, it
was an excellent time.