Sex Pistols founder mixed exploitation with creativity

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 April, 2010, 12:00am

Malcolm McLaren would have been right at home with the exploitation, cynicism and manipulation of Hong Kong's music and entertainment industries. His uncanny ability to pick young men and women of minimal talent and repackage them for stage and studio would have made our music tycoons green with envy. That's where the similarities end; McLaren, who has died aged 64, was a genuine impresario in tune with the zeitgeist of his generation.

Like our local music executives, he was a calculating businessman. To this day, few people know who sang in one of his top hits, Madam Butterfly - based on the Puccini opera's most famous aria, Un bel di vedremo, and set to the beat of drum machines and synthesizers; she was given no credit on the album and was never mentioned by him anywhere else.

But McLaren was far more than a heartless exploiter. Out of the constant strikes, blackouts, piles of rotting rubbish and urban decay of late 1970s Britain he fashioned his greatest creation, the Sex Pistols. Thus was born the punk movement with which countless young people growing up in the West in the 1970s and 1980s came to identify. The Pistols' God Save the Queen - with its lyrics 'fascist regime' and 'no future, no future for you', became the anthem of disillusioned youth. A quarter of a century later, remnants of the punk movement were resurrected in the underground music scenes of decadent Shanghai and Beijing.

McLaren and his former partner Vivienne Westwood - one of the great fashion icons of the late 20th century - also pioneered punk fashion with chains and bondage gear. Ironically, the creator of punk did much to introduce a generation of young people to opera. In the 1980s, he started mixing famous arias with hip-hop and rap music, on albums and in TV commercials. That became a tedious advertising trend of the late 1980s and 1990s. Yet it also helped commercialise opera as much as the 'Three Tenors' - Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

We are not likely to see another person with such a blatant blend of the exploitative and the creative.