I was hanging out with Fab Five Freddy and Freddy was telling me, ‘Oh, there is this thing called breakdancing. He actually hipped me to that and I went out trying to find it. I eventually found it, found kids who were doing it, and got more and more involved in it. I started bringing these kids to perform at the Mudd Club and different clubs downtown, and became like a small time entrepreneur, hustler, impresario. Stan Peskett, my friend, who is also quite a sub-culturalist, if you will, introduced me to Malcolm McLaren who at this point was promoting Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant, and this whole romantic scene. I remember we were at a party together at this club in Union Square. Stan introduced me to Malcolm McLaren, who is still somebody I think quite highly of and who was always fascinated with his own role in popular sub-culture, the punk movement etc. Stan said this is the guy, me, who is in touch with this new thing.
Again, hip-hop was not a term that was being thrown around at the time. Malcolm always had a nose for the new thing and warmed up to me and said, ‘Hey, show me what this is about,’ so I said sure. A couple of days later I knew that there was going to be a big throwdown in the Bronx River Community Center up in West Bronx, thrown by Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay and a few other people. So I said, ‘Malcolm, let’s go up to this. I’m gonna show you something really amazing, you are going to get to see a new sub-culture emerging. So we planned to meet and we went up there in a gypsy cab. He was dressed a propos the whole pirate movement – which was kind of like, in America at that time, he looked like a clown. Which was kind of funny. I was thinking, Oh my God, we will never get out of this place alive! The way he is dressed, you know, big wide stripes and the whole pirate look!
We went up to the Bronx and we got to the centre of this giant projects pavilion and in the centre of this place and it was at night. Bambaataa had set up a turntable and he is playing his records, DJ Jazzy Jay who was his right hand man at the time was scratching and spinning records and one of his in-house MC’s was occasionally getting on the mic. Frankly this was a time in hip-hop’s history that MC’s weren’t that big a deal, nobody was paying attention to MC’s. I’m exaggerating a bit but MC’s weren’t that important, it was the DJ and a couple of kids were dancing. It was a big dance but it wasn’t a big B-boy breakdancing scene. It was mainly the DJing and the music and kids partying, but true to the Bronx, it was like an incredible melee of insanity. I mean people were having fights here and fights there, glass bottles were being thrown out of windows, it was chaos and I’d got Malcolm, this lily-white guy, and Roy Johnson from RCA Records, who was hanging out with us. I got them behind the ropes to be with Bambaataa and to experience this whole thing with the scratching, DJing and whatnot. You know, he was this petrified looking around at this incredible chaos of urban insanity. I don’t know how you would describe it – young kids just letting steam off and literally having fights and basically it was quite frightening – it really was quite frightening. But I was telling Malcolm, take a look at what the DJ is doing. Malcolm was like, ‘Michael, we have got to get out of here, we have got to get out – this is really dangerous.’ I was saying, ‘Malcolm, there is no way we are going to get out of here in one piece without their escort, so let’s just chill, wait and watch what this guy is doing. Watch what this guy DJ Jazzy Jay is doing.’
Bambaataa wasn’t a special effects DJ, Jazzy Jay was. Bambaataa would take really interesting soundtracks and create these amazing things from TV shows, Kraftwerk, etc. Jazzy Jay was a special mix DJ. And when Malcolm saw Jazzy Jay quick-cutting, and I believe there might have been a few breakdancers at the time doing something there, he was like – ‘Oh my god! What is this? This is really… this really is something new and really different.’ Malcolm had a great nose for this. So we eventually got out of there in one piece with escorts from the Zulu Nation, who put us in a cab. Malcolm was so jazzed by the whole thing, he was really, really turned on to it, and he really saw something big coming. He asked me at that point, ‘Michael, would you put together something to open up for Bow Wow Wow at the Ritz?’ I believe was late 1980. And I did. Actually, I had already at this point filmed the first breakdance film, a short film called “Catch a Beat” I had just finished it. I went and got the Rock Steady Crew, who I knew actually met through Fab Five Freddy, Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay and their MC, and put together this revue, if you will, this Bronx thing. This new sub-culture. I won’t bet my life on this, but it could have been the first collective hip-hop revue ever, where all these things came under one roof. So I am proud to say that and I thank Malcolm for giving me that opportunity.
With thanks to David Upshal