In the immediate wake of The Sex Pistols' dramatic 1978 breakup, John Lydon shed his "Johnny Rotten" persona and emerged with Public Image Ltd., a new band whose dark, strange sound defined the new direction the U.K. music scene would soon pursue. Post-punk — less a genre than a loose and eclectic coalition of arty, angry and cerebral aesthetic impulses — viewed the scorched-earth sonic violence of the 1977 punk explosion as fertile breeding ground for new sounds (a direct inversion of the Pistols' "no future" ethos).
On early albums like First Issue and Metal Box, PiL crafted a singular style of droning, avant-garde guitar rock, heavily informed by the atmospheric production of Jamaican dub reggae, the repetitive rhythms of disco and the studio experimentation of '70s krautrock. Lydon's jagged rants and wails provided the emotional and intellectual core of a sound that proved massively influential, and remains potent to this day. The band continued recording into the early '90s, undergoing countless personnel shifts as Lydon remained PiL's only constant member.
After a 17-year hiatus, Lydon reformed the group for a brief live stint in 2009. The new lineup, featuring late-'80s PiL vets and new members, proved a success, and in the last few years Lydon and company have toured extensively — and even returned to the recording studio. Earlier this spring, they released their first new full-length album in nearly two decades, This Is PiL, on their own label PiL Official.
- Photos/Video: Nate Ryan
- Audio: Michael DeMark