◼︎ TWO UNEXPECTED RECENT VIDEOS have acquired poignant new life in the wake of Malcolm McLaren’s death, Svengali of punk that he was. Few people could have guessed that the soundtrack to one of last month’s Paris ready-to-wear fashion shows would be McLaren’s final creative achievement.
With his death following only a month later, it suddenly becomes his own impressive and affecting requiem. The extended post-punk mash-up of music is entirely nostalgic and marries several influences we have long associated with him. It was created after his diagnosis of cancer and possibly in acceptance of his own mortality.
Eclectic to the last, McLaren took as its basis Bernard Herrmann’s romantic orchestral Love Suite from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 movie Vertigo. He then layered in some louty shouty beer-goggle philosophy from the Mekons’ vocal track The Building (from their 2004 album Punk Rock).
He also stirred into the 13-minute mash-up some random overheard badinage from the Roxy club, London’s 70s punk venue, plus In Love, a gloriously unpolished Raincoats song from 1979, and finally the controversial “Burundi Beat” he is said to have imported from East Africa.
McLaren explained his mix: “The juxtaposition of both punk vocal and Hitchcockian theme suddenly makes the material feel completely contemporary.” The unadulterated Raincoats provide “truly a heartfelt moment for me and those that know this classic, cult track”.
What seduces the listener is the overwhelming melancholy McLaren evokes, all the more emphatic when heard in the context for which it was commissioned by Dries Van Noten – to set a deliberately discomfiting mood for his runway show amid the gilded opulence of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris on March 3. McLaren was responding to preliminary images of the Van Noten women’s ready-to-wear collection for autumn-winter 2010. The ambient but edited seven-minute video of the show [above] echoes with the models’ footsteps on the polished parquet floor of the chandeliered Salle des Fêtes.
After McLaren’s funeral, his partner Young Kim described the piece to Shapersofthe80s as “quintessential Malcolm McLaren – an entirely original and powerful, elegant but punk collage”. The music can be heard to better advantage in the longer audio file below, where it opens up further in the climactic second half.
Malcolm McLaren’s Requiem to Myself
Hear the full 13-minute Dries Van Noten soundtrack in clean mp3 format, complete with Vertigo, Mekons, Roxy, Raincoats and Burundi Beat. [With permission © Malcolm McLaren]
Van Noten’s retro-chic collection won praise for its edgy masculinity. Like the music, it mashed textures with neutral colours, punk with couture. Vogue Daily noted: “All the Dries-isms were there – somewhat slouchy masculine tailoring, prints, as in abstracted silk florals, Indian embroideries – mixed up with layers of khaki sweatshirts and tees and the occasional overcoat, and pants that tapered thanks to a row of punky D-ring-fastened straps above the ankle or had zippers running up the backs of the legs.”
The designer was seeking “not aggression”, according to makeup artist Peter Philips, “but a little bit of anger in the eyes”… while echoing through the Hôtel de Ville what everybody heard was Mekon Jon Langford despairing that “we’re innocent until we’re proven guilty, but we hide and we worry and we look away”.
McLaren on how to fail brilliantly
in this ‘karaoke world’
◼︎ “THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN TODAY is no more than a karaoke world, an ersatz society, which provides us with only the opportunity to revel in our stupidity… A karaoke world is one in which life is lived by proxy.” So said Malcolm McLaren last October, only days before he discovered he was unwell.
He was presenting a keynote speech to 1,000 delegates in London at the Handheld Learning Conference 2009 about the future of learning and education. The talk gave a rare glimpse of a generally unknown side of McLaren as he discussed his own life and tutors who teach students how to fail fearlessly and brilliantly.
“I was born in a culture of necessity, just after the war,” he said, “and today we live far more in a culture of desires – desire to become famous overnight, not to learn, to gain experience or skills, not to spend time struggling on anything like that, but to simply desire instant success. Hence, what the UK has done in popular cultural terms is invent the talent show…”
➢➢ View video of McLaren’s 48-minute Reflections on Learning keynote speech, presented at the Handheld Learning Conference 2009, London
2011: Return from the culture of desires to the culture of necessity
◼︎ BBC 6 MUSIC’S McLaren in His Own Words repackages a lengthy 2008 radio interview in which McLaren observes how children reared on computer games can access any kind of music from the internet and reinvent its entire history as cut-up “bastard pop”. This fragment of the broadcast briefly introduces his own story of “greed, power and malevolence” moving on to examples of recent musical collages, including About Her for the film Kill Bill. Click to play the audio: