Proclaiming London’s punk scene dead at the turn of the millennium, Malcolm McLaren, the former manager of the Sex Pistols, declared he would enter the race for mayor of the capital, with a manifesto that promised to legalise brothels and sell alcohol in libraries.
Seventeen years may have passed but the cause has, once again, been picked up by his son, Joe Corré. On Saturday, he will set fire to £5m worth of rare punk memorabilia in a protest, saying that punk has become nothing more than a “McDonald’s brand … owned by the state, establishment and corporations”.
According to Corré, “it’s time we threw it all on the fire and started again” – and he believes his father would find the ceremonial burning “hilarious”.
The valuable items that will be set alight include rare Sex Pistols recordings, clothing belonging to Johnny Rotten and Corré’s mother, Vivienne Westwood, and a Sid Vicious doll embossed with a swastika.
Corré said: “I think this is the right opportunity to say: you know what? Punk is dead. Stop conning a younger generation that it somehow has any currency to deal with the issues that they face or has any currency to create the way out of the issues that they face. It’s not and it’s time to think about something else.”
There are three possible locations for the blaze – Chelsea, Camden or Brixton – but the final choice will not be announced until Saturday morning to prevent fans and collectors trying to save the artefacts from the pyre.
In a move that signals her approval of her son’s plans, Westwood will also be present and will make a statement before they strike a match.
Corré, who founded underwear brand Agent Provocateur in 1994, announced his intention to set light to the artefacts in response to the Punk London event, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Sex Pistols’ debut single Anarchy in the UK through a series of exhibitions. Corré claims the event is supported by the Queen and is proof that “the establishment” has “privatised, packaged and castrated” punk.
He said McClaren, had he still been alive, “would have taken this opportunity to say something … about punk rock now being owned by the corporate sector. Whether or not he would have agreed with burning all the stuff – and I think he probably would have done – I think he’d think it was kind of hilarious.”
When he was raising funds to start Agent Provocateur, Corré sold off much of his collection and channelled the proceeds into the business. When he later sold the business, he bought most of it back.
However, asked to address the contention he financially benefited from the “corporatisation of punk”, Corré denied he was a hypocrite. “It could be argued, but you’d have to be an idiot. It’s not like I’ve put on some exhibition or tried to put myself up as some sort of expert or big authority on punk. I sold what I had, I sold my car as well, I sold anything I could to make that money.”
Corré also disputed that punk bands today had a “real voice”. “Name me any one of them [that] has done anything that has been a challenge to the status quo,” he said. However, he then conceded that all-female Russian punk band Pussy Riotdid still embody what he saw as the original spirit of punk.
Corré also said he did not mind that John Lydon, known as Johnny Rotten when he fronted the Sex Pistols, had called him a “selfish fucking lingerie expert” over the stunt. “I don’t think he’s had anything relevant to say for the past 10 or 20 years,” Corré hit back.
Many, including Lydon, have suggested that rather than burning the £5m collection, Corré should just sell it and give the proceeds to charity. Corré has replied that “the job of the state is now taken up by the charity sector. We have charities where people are earning £250,000 a year to sit on the board, these things are becoming corporations in their own right”.
He also rebuffed another suggestion that he should use the proceeds to buy 28,000 guitars and give them to young people to restart the punk movement. “Punk rock to me is not about music,” said Corré. “I don’t know what 28,000 guitars would really do.”
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