Malcolm McLaren, the British artist & raconteur, passed away this morning in New York City after a battle with cancer. He was 64. Perhaps best known as the controversial manager of the Sex Pistols, McLaren was also a unique musical artist in his own right.
His 1983 debut album, Duck Rock, was an early example of the crossover potential of hip-hop, as demonstrated on the singles, “Buffalo Gals” and “Double Dutch.” The following year, he experimented with fusing opera with electronic pop, as on the KCRW favorite, “Madame Butterfly.” Over the years, he worked with a wide range of artists in boundary-pushing projects, from Bootsy Collins and Jeff Beck to Francoise Hardy and Yanni.
He dabbled in the worlds of fashion (his London boutique, SEX, helped establish the stereotypic look of the late 70s punk scene) and cinema (he co-produced the 2006 film, Fast Food Nation). He was an advocate of sampling (both literally and conceptually) as well as new musical genres, such as the 8-bit movement. Controversy followed him everywhere, sometimes seemingly courted. He was accused of many sins, and some people (especially former collaborators) found him to be a raging egotist at best and a heartless plagiarist at worst. But it is undeniable that he involved himself in many ground-breaking projects and that the results were always interesting and worth investigating.
The music industry has always benefitted from impresarios, whose enthusiasms are often contagious and bring attention to things that might otherwise fall through the cracks, and McLaren was one of the most infamous of this dying breed and will be missed.