Gesticulating frantically in a cloud of cigarette smoke, the ringleader of the punk revolution is relying on body language to convey his musical visions to a crowded Beijing studio. Malcolm McLaren, who detonated the confrontational and outrageous Sex Pistols on a staid British rock scene in the mid-1970s, is trying to hatch another musical master-plan in China. But this time anger and anarchy will give way to smiles and sweetness. Conducting chaos by digital tracker, McLaren, 57, tugs four 20-year-old girls playfully by the hair to jostle them into line. As he barks orders to a translator, he laughs and says: 'These girls have obviously never been in a recording studio before.' McLaren says he has been 'seduced' by the mainland girls, who make up the Beijing-based all-girl rock band the Wild Strawberries. The band, who describe themselves as an Oriental version of Irish outfit The Cranberries, or at least its female component, have been playing in clubs and bars across China for a few months. But McLaren has grander ideas and now wants to make the Strawberries a household name in Europe and the United States. In the studio, polite and giggly, the girls finally understand McLaren wants them to start playing. They appear timid and tense but then belt out an uplifting poppy sound that carries a grungy edge. More cute than sexy, they cut an endearing image as they hit harmonies with a backdrop of crashing guitar and keyboards. 'This is fantastic,' McLaren says, 'I've been craving something new.' The music industry is stale, unadventurous, corporate and over-burdened with hi-fi sounds, he says. These girls, on the other hand, are part of a new global movement that represents 'the low-fi, bastard blues, bastard rock, post-karaoke, rock 'n' roll, Gameboy generation'. McLaren is best known as the manager of two of the most influential bands in the history of punk: the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols. He took over the management of the glam-rock New York Dolls in 1974 and, at the height of the cold war, ensured they hit the headlines by adorning their gigs with Communist insignia. But record companies considered the outfit too hot to handle and McLaren eventually returned to his native London, where he opened fetish-fashion boutique Sex with his girlfriend, designer Vivienne Westwood. In 1975 he brought together four disgruntled, disenfranchised, low-income youths he thought had an ability to affront the world. With their bad skin, aggression, dyed hair, safety pins and all-round anti-social behaviour, the Sex Pistols became the loudest voice to usher in the era of punk rock. McLaren, dubbed the Godfather of Punk, stoked their notoriety in the mainstream media and ensured Johnny Rotten and company, and later Sid Vicious, became a legendary subcultural force. The band stunned television audiences with their obnoxious conduct and expletive-filled interviews; shops refused to stock their records, radio and TV stations banned them and venues cancelled their concerts. That didn't stop hits such as Anarchy In The UK and God Save The Queen. The band imploded acrimoniously in 1978 amid allegations of fraud against McLaren and a flurry of legal cases. McLaren went on to promote Bow Wow Wow, featuring 14-year-old singer Annabella Lwin from Myanmar, and helped galvanise the careers of British 80s icons Adam Ant and Boy George, who later fronted respective bands Adam and the Ants and Culture Club. McLaren eventually took to making his own records, issuing the album Duck Rock in 1983, a release that anticipated a global phenomenon by drawing on world music and urban sounds. To his own record company's amazement he made a big impression on the charts with Double Dutch and Buffalo Girls, a track that plucked hip hop from US ghettos and introduced it to the mainstream. He even flirted with politics by standing for election as the mayor of London in May 2000. With no political experience he ran as an independent, saying the position should be held by someone free from party links. He proposed legalised brothels and marijuana, and suggested pubs be permitted to stay open around the clock and libraries licensed to sell alcohol. McLaren's central platform was to rid the city of 'cappuccino-bar culture' and bring the punk spirit back to life. Announcing his decision to stand he claimed credit for the 70s pop explosion, saying: 'My effect on London was to create the best and most profound statement of useful protest since the end of the last war. I think it inspired a generation. I don't think today you would have as many artists living in London if it had not been for punk rock.' With bookmakers rating his chances of landing the job at 5,000 to one, he pulled out and instead backed Ken Livingstone, who went on to win. McLaren returned to familiar terrain, figuring out what young people would want to listen to in subsequent months and years. To identify the next big trend he relies largely on instinct, and says: 'Just keep your eyes and ears open and go with the gut feeling.' Hyperactive, he talks passionately about his work, but punctuates his speech with rattling belly laughs when touching on the ironic or bizarre. He dresses conservatively, seems in relatively good shape and shows few signs of having been part of a nihilistic movement that shocked the world ... although vanity obliges him to wear sunglasses for photographs to conceal the deepening lines around his eyes. McLaren's affairs are now largely managed by Kim Young, his amiable 32-year-old Korean-American girlfriend, whom he met at a party in New York five years ago. They live in homes in Paris or New York when they are not on the road working on various projects. MCLAREN MADE THE WILD TRAWBERRIE' acquaintance via an international advertising agency, which brought them together to work on a project for one of its clients. An all-girl Oriental outfit was required and the Strawberries fitted the bill. A short video clip was enough to entice McLaren to Beijing last month to produce a track with them; he says he was lured to the East in search of something 'raw and real and rude and crude'. The seven long days McLaren and the Strawberries are to spend in the studio bring unusual challenges. 'Getting them to sing English songs for the first time is a wild experience. They are singing these racy lyrics but it's clear they haven't got the faintest idea what they are about,' McLaren says, as the girls belt out suggestive lines wearing plastered-on girl-next-door smiles. Their lack of comprehension is evident the first time they attempt the lyrics, when they mistakenly sing the words 'verse two' and 'verse three'. But he believes they have something the world wants: an ability to paint a picture of modern China. 'They will shine a light on Beijing in a way people will not anticipate,' he says. 'People in the West won't expect this. Generally when they think of Chinese pop music they think of synthetic, over-produced Canto-pop, which has no integrity.' The one track already recorded will be kept under wraps until later this year, but McLaren says he is hooked and wants more. 'These girls can be great. They have style and are all able to play their instruments. To be honest, they have little or no technique, but I consider that a good thing,' he says. The band's lead vocals will be in English but the girls will weave Putonghua lyrics into the songs to give them a unique flavour. These rock 'n' rollers are more demure young ladies than the rude and crude merchants McLaren sought, but he senses a latent attitude that will filter through as they develop confidence. 'We live in such a virtual world that people share a desire for something authentic,' he says. 'The Wild Strawberries represent a new generation that is anti- the over-produced, old-fashioned music that comes out of Taiwan and Hong Kong.' McLaren claims the renaissance of garage-band punk in North America, which has spawned bands such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the White Stripes and the Strokes, is a sign that young CD buyers have started to move away from electronic and synthesised sounds and are gravitating back to the roots of rock. 'The Nintendo generation worldwide now thinks a guitar is a novel instrument. They believe it is sexy, somehow,' says McLaren. 'I'm sure the Wild Strawberries will be part of this raw and energetic movement. These girls have an authenticity about them and a desire to [combine] the origins of pop, blues and rock 'n' roll with their Chinese origins.' The buzz and sense of anticipation around Beijing makes it the perfect launching pad for a new band, he claims. 'This place is a real Gotham City - piping, fuming, polluted skies - definitely a Batman city,' he enthuses. 'Beijing makes New York feel antiquated.' The Strawberries, meanwhile, don't quite know what has hit them. None had heard of McLaren before and the Sex Pistols was a band they were only vaguely aware of. The Strawberries current line-up was brought together in May by Fu Shuming, known as Ming Ming, the impish guitarist and lead singer from Shenyang. Her parents divorced when she was 12 and she ran away from home at 16, picking up a guitar at about the same time. 'I was sad and confused sometimes but then I got inspiration from Nirvana, and when I listened to the song Where Did You Sleep Last Night? I knew I wanted to play guitar and sing. I wanted to form a band that would represent my generation.' In March 2000 she decided to form China's first all-girl group but soon discovered others had beaten her to it. 'But I still thought it was good for the band's image to have all girls. You stand out more,' she declares. The next problem was finding enough female musicians to complete the group, so after settling on her friend Zhang Na from Beijing as the bass player, she enlisted two men to play the drums and keyboards. They performed sporadically during the next three years but Ming Ming remained determined to have a girls-only outfit. 'After a while I told the two guys they could stay in the band if they cut their bits off,' she says. 'They decided to leave.' In May this year Ming Ming and Zhang were joined by two girls they had met at concerts: Huang Dongmei, a drummer and drama-school student from Inner Mongolia, and Chen Chen, a keyboard player and jazz-piano student from Shandong. When the Strawberries first met McLaren they were sceptical. 'We wondered what this old guy could teach us,' says Zhang. 'But his energy and creativity were amazing. He kept experimenting with different sounds and pushing us harder and harder.' Ming Ming describes him as a 'brilliant, crazy guy' and says the only problems they encountered during the studio session were language related. The girls are not yet earning any money from their music, however, and are supported by relatives. They have no manager and do not know what they will be paid for their initial work with McLaren. 'The contract was not very clear about things like that. We will be getting paid something but we don't know how much,' Ming Ming says. 'We must get paid.' Asked if they have ever been abroad, the girls erupt into laughter and reply in unison: 'Of course not!' The most distant place they have been is Shenzhen, where they played in bars. But McLaren wants to take them to Manchester next month to unveil them on the international stage. He would like them to play at a concert with acts from around Europe, at which, if all goes according to plan, they will perform a mixture of their old songs and new material. Armed with that new material, McLaren will try to secure them a record deal. 'We really can't believe it,' says a giggling Ming Ming. But McLaren believes it, and is convinced the girls will soon have a global hit on their hands with the 'top secret' track now in the can. THE WILD STRAWBERRIES IS not the first all-girl Oriental project McLaren has tried to export to the West. Five years ago he attempted to foist Jungk on a dubious record industry. Jungk were five handpicked Asian glamour girls: models and martial-arts experts who spat out a shrill, staccato-style Mando-rap that McLaren says the world wasn't ready for. Ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, they had never met before the band was formed. They recorded several tracks and played a handful of concerts, but scurried back to their catwalks after running up against widespread indifference from record companies. 'Looking back, I launched Jungk too early for a xenophobic music industry,' says McLaren. 'They couldn't understand why anyone would appreciate these strange Chinese voices.' But now he thinks the West can be won. 'I've dug out the old Jungk recordings, dusted them down and spruced them up.' He plans to re-release them at the same time the Wild Strawberries hit the market, even though he has not been in contact with the Jungk girls for years. 'They could have had a hundred babies by now for all I know,' he says, but if their songs receive a warmer reception second time round he will track then down and talk about reforming the group. 'Mark my words,' he says. 'The Eastern invasion is coming.' Armed with the Wild Strawberries and Jungk, McLaren intends to lead the charge. He does not think there is big money to be made from the records, but believes the spin-offs could be legion. 'Everything from image rights to computer games can generate money once you've got a hit on your hands,' he says. 'That's when it starts to get really interesting.' In 1996, the remaining Sex Pistols reformed for a reunion tour. When Johnny Rotten, now known as John Lydon, was asked if the band still hated each other, he famously replied: 'Yes, with a vengeance, but we share a common cause, and it's your money.' Always looking for signs in the popular-culture crystal ball, it is a cause McLaren continues to champion.