Caught by the River

Caught By The Reaper – Malcolm McLaren

9th April 2010

There’s a ton of reasons to say thank you Malcolm McLaren. Here’s one of ‘em:

As people working just to the left of the centre of the music industry coalface for the last few decades, McLaren’s shadow looms long over all of us here at Caught By The River. Let’s face it, he orchestrated the original caught on the river caper back in ’77 with the Pistols and a boat full of ready and willing prospective revolutionaries. We at Heavenly took to the high seas of the low Thames as a sort-of 20 year anniversary to that boat trip back in June ’97. Primal Scream played live and The Chemical Brothers spun discs. Every other drink was raised to Talcy Malcy. Everything else consumed paid similar tribute too.

Whatever your final take on the man, he turned up the colour controls on the world that we inhabit. As punk rock missionary John Robb said today, “What Mclaren brought to the table was all the OTHER STUFF.” Amen to that. We’ll be posting a proper story here next week, but, in the meantime, we’re liking Greg Wilson’s (2003) take on Malcolm’s life after punk rock.

Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Bronx

Malcolm McLaren masterminded the explosion of the Punk Rock scene and brought anarchy to the UK in the form of the notorious Sex Pistols who he managed and mentored. As a result, McLaren’s place in British music history is ensured. Countless words have been written (and will continue to be written) on the subject.
Yet, strangely, little is ever mentioned about McLaren’s later role, which was also hugely significant, for it was he who was ultimately responsible for bringing Hip Hop out of New York’s South Bronx and placing it squarely into the collective psyche of the British youth. The portal for this unlikely introduction to what would become the most influential cultural movement of the late 20th Century was a highly infectious and truly inspirational single called “Buffalo Gals”, which entered the UK Pop chart in December 1982 (exactly 6 years on from the Sex Pistols’ chart debut), climbing all the way into the top 10.
This was more than six months before Herbie Hancock’s Grammy winning “Rockit” was issued, giving the UK a head start when it came to our Hip Hop education, for it wasn’t until “Rockit” came along that the majority of people (even in most of the US) began to latch onto this vibrant and colourful New York subculture. Herbie Hancock, via Grandmixer D.ST, might have scratched the surface when introducing Hip Hop to a global audience, but “Buffalo Gals” had already brought the total package (inclusive of all four elements, not just scratching) to the British mainstream.

As often happens at these pivotal points in popular culture, it all came about by complete accident. McLaren, in New York looking for a support act for his current charges, Bow Wow Wow, was taken to see “something that couldn’t possibly have ever existed in England”. This “something” turned out to be an open-air party, where he was exposed to the full-force of the Hip Hop movement in the presence of none-other-than Afrika Bambaataa, the figurehead of the Bronx’ Zulu Nation (who laid the blueprint for the Electro genre via his hugely influential Kraftwerk-inspired monster cut, “Planet Rock”).
In the illuminating 1984 BBC documentary “Beat This! – A Hip Hop History”, McLaren (thankfully) gave a rare TV interview on his Hip Hop initiation, recounting his impressions of this first awe-inspiring encounter with what must have seemed like another world (especially when you consider he’d have been one of the few white people and possibly the only Englishman in attendance). Watching the DJs at work on the turntables he observed: “…it was extraordinary cos the sound coming out was totally inarticulate, it was a load of rough noises, noises that sounded a little like guitar, but had a sort of concrete chisel sound and the sound I realised was actually coming from the way they were messing around with their hands on the decks, moving records backwards and forwards…at one point or another people would move to the sides and a group of kids would start freaking out in the middle of doing all this incredible gymnastic dancing!”

Read the rest of the article here on Greg Wilson’s site.