The Legacy of Public Image Ltd

If seventies punk was the barks and snarls of a disenfranchised youth criticising the world around them: politics, music, class struggles and the establishment, then early eighties post punk was the internal frustration that took the same anger but pointed it inwards; criticising the individual and the limitations put on them not only by society but by the universal laws of existence. It was more intelligent, more experimental and even more frustrated with the world. Two incredibly important movements in music history occurring back to back and it is no surprise to find that both were fronted by one very outspoken, very innovative and often controversial, Mister John Lydon.

Lydon formed Public Image Ltd (PiL) in 1978 following the breakup of his previous band, punk pioneers the Sex Pistols, taking on Jah Wobble, Keith Levene and Jim Walker as bassist, guitarist and drummer respectively- although the band would go through numerous line up changes throughout their career. The band was notable for experimenting with reggae dub, German krautrock and American funk, infusing these sounds with the already established punk aesthetic and emotion; this amalgamation of sounds and experimentation would go on to become the basis for the broader post punk genre.

Although other bands adopting the post punk label were coming to fruition throughout the late seventies- most notably Magazine, The Pop Group and Wire- none were more successful in creating a foundation for the genre as Public Image Ltd, who subsequently went on to become the inspiration for an almost infinite catalogue of bands to follow.  Warsaw famously formed after the members witnessed the Sex Pistols play Manchester in 1976. The band began to incorporate elements from krautrock and dub music, adopting the new moniker Joy Division. There are obvious influences in the band’s work from a myriad of genres but Lydon’s work with both the Sex Pistols and PiL is ever apparent: from the internal anger and frustration of Ian Curtis’ lyrics and delivery to the droning, bass-heavy sounds and post production experimentation.

Joy Division inarguably put their stamp on music history with a sound that was widely unique and experimental and is seen as such even to this day, resulting in everyone from Suede and Pulp to Radiohead and The Killers citing them as influences. But a band as experimental as Joy Division could only have existed through the breakdown of the musical landscape via the Sex Pistols and the post punk foundations set by PiL.

However, Joy Division are just one example- PiL’s influence is evident throughout recent music history. Sonic Youth, The Stone Roses and Talking Heads have all cited them as a heavy  influence, with U2’s The Edge attributing his guitar style to Keith Levene, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers claiming to have formed their funk-rock sound based on early PiL work. With a band so deeply rooted in the formation of many of our favourite artists, Public Image Ltd are a band always worth rediscovering.

Max Barker

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