Tuesday, March 31, 2015

McLaren and disco

Black Arabs wasn't just a one-off, a piss-take - Malcolm McLaren was, if briefly, taken with the idea of subverting the disco world from the inside. Perhaps recognising it as much bigger with the actual youth - working class youth - than rock music, the zone he infiltrated and detourned with the Sex Pistols.

For a while he was lined up to manage the Slits, and had a whole game plan - in utter disregard of the band's own musical impulses and interests - to turn them into a disco act. There was talk of them signing to Hansa, the "cheesy" German disco label. Then Island's Chris Blackwell took an interest and wanted McLaren to make a film around the Slits.

From The Sex Revolts:

    Compare the wildly inventive scams and schemes he dreamed up for the Sex
Pistols to his proposed ideas for the all-female group the Slits (he was
offered the chance to manage them after he lost control of the Pistols in
early 1978).  Talking to Melody Maker's Michael Watts in the summer of 1979,
he revealed that Chris Blackwell of Island Records offered him a hundred
thousand pounds to take on the Slits and make a film with them (with a
soundtrack produced by Eurodisco pioneer Giorgio Moroder).
According to Watts, 'McLaren worked out a plot which bears the
unmistakable influence of Russ Meyer [the American porn director who was
involved in the original unfinished Pistols movie, Who Killed Bambi].  They
would be four girls, sent to Mexico by a cheap London cabaret agency, who
discover that in effect they have been sold into slavery.  Their adventures
would be sensational.  McLaren still gets excited as he outlines his idea:
'The girls, you see, believe in the whole fabulous thing of a rock'n'roll
group going to Mexico and making an experience for themselves. But what I
wanted to prove was that when they arrived in Mexico, the only thing that
the Mexicans wanted to see was their ass and fanny; they would end up
strip-tease dancers, totally fed-up and worried and being fucked from one
end of Mexico to the other. Finally they are married to certain forces in
Mexico and become fabulous disco stars.'

Clearly McLaren was unable to conceive of a female rebellion or outrage equivalent to what he'd wreaked with the Sex Pistols.  He never even considered the Slits as agents, only as
pawns. Whereas he vicariously identified with the Pistols, McLaren's plans
for the Slits were purely exploitative.

Still, can't help wondering what might have happened in some alternate-world scenario where McLaren did manage the group and make this film and a record - Ari Up meets Giorgio Moroder, Bavaria meets the Tyrol -  in the electronic disco mold. 

When I interviewed Ari Up for Rip It Up she had this to say of the short-lived dalliance between McLaren and The Slits:

ARI: “We all liked Malcolm as a manager for the Pistols. He was really eager and excited—he thought, ‘yeah, the female Sex Pistols’.  Then he started coming more and more to our rehearsals and telling us how to play. That became a real issue, We were more bass-oriented, even before Cut we were doing tribal crazy shit. But he kept saying, ‘guitar’s where it’s at’. Malcolm was very male-oriented.  We were very female-orientated. He said the guitar needs to be upfront, not the bass.  I just wish we could’ve been more mature about trying to convince him otherwise and I wish he had been more tolerant. Because if he’d managed us, the Slits might have survived longer and done more commercially.”

SR: I read this amazing quote where McLaren is supposed to have said, “I want to work with you because you’re girls and you make music. I hate music and I hate girls. I thrive on hate”. That’s Viv Albertine’s recollection of what he said, if I remember correctly.

ARI: “That sounds like Malcolm! I would trust Viv with her recollections.”

SR: So McLaren was a bit of a sexist, then.

ARI: “He was also sexless. Not homosexual, not straight--nothing.”

SR: Perhaps the kind of things he’d later do with Bow Wow Wow is what he would have tried to do with the Slits. Exploitative, porno-tinged stuff.

ARI: “He is an exploiter! We wanted to fool around with him because he was very cunning in the way he tricked the system to get the Pistols big. But of course he ruined the Pistols with exploitation and he absolutely fucked over John Lydon."

Funny too that McLaren was paralleling Lydon's post-Pistols path with the interest in disco ("death disco", "disco is the only music around I like" etc)

I remember reading an interview where McLaren said he liked Donna Summer just like anybody else, he was susceptible to it. Adding "but that's not music, that's just something to soften the blow" - ie. escapist, emollient pop.

Later on McLaren made dance music, from "Buffalo Gals" to "Deep In Vogue" with its borrowings from ballroom culture.

Malcolm McLaren "Deep In Vogue (Extended)" from American Booze on Vimeo.

Indeed I have come across academic writings that position McLaren as a queer musician on account of this, which seems to suggest unawareness of the rest of his career. 

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