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Why Sex Pistols singer John Lydon loves vinyl above all else


John Lydon has always defied expectations. From appearing on reality TV shows to using butter advertisements to fund his Public Image Ltd tour, the one-time frontman of the Sex Pistols refuses to be pigeonholed. His continually evolving worldview has made him incredibly difficult to pin down, but what is clear is that he loves music – and specifically vinyl – above all else.

“My record collection is extensive,” Lydon began in an interview held back in 2015. “It’s spread out over three different countries. It’s so big that it got to the point where the friends that used to look after our house in London called to say we’d damaged the ceiling of the room below with the weight of the vinyl. But it’s my reference library. I find I can go back to records, years later, and find something new and exciting from them.”

It may come as something as a surprise to hear that Rotten, despite being an icon of the ferociously single-minded punk movement, has wide and eclectic taste. “I think if you show no interest in other people’s work, you can hardly be achieving anything of your own,” he said. “You’ve got to take inspiration from somewhere. I’ll immerse myself in an artist. Then I get my takeaways from that, and I’ll move on to somebody else”.

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It was this approach that saw Rotten distil the vaudevillian theatrics of Alice Cooper with the raw, unrestrained energy of Iggy & The Stooges, transplanting elements of these uniquely American artists into a grim post-industrial British context. But, alongside proto-punk Iggy Pop, Lydon also has a soft spot for records such as Cliff Richard’s Move It, as well the distinctly un-punk prog meanderings of Pink Floyd.

“One of the most expensive things I ever bought was a turntable,” Lydon continued, explaining his incredible audio set-up. “It was a Gyrodec. I went all in. It’s fantastic just looking at it, all clear perspex with brass rings. And my amplifier? The word is transparent. I make sure that there’s no electrical hum of any kind, so that exactly as the record was made is what you’re hearing. You can get the quality level up there on a CD, but for me, ultimately: vinyl. There’s something about the spaciousness to the sound. It’s not digitally compressed. There’s that sense of movement of air, too”.

Whatever Lydon is listening to, it has to be played at precisely the right volume to allow the spectrum of frequencies to flow into one another, a surprising tactic for a man who spent his career blasting the eardrums of his audiences. “I go for big old speakers. My favourite choice of speaker are English, from B&W. They’re whopping monsters and powerful, but my God you don’t need to turn the volume up. You can hear anything at any level. You can hear an ant fart in the corner of the studio! I like that.”

Clearly, Lydon is the ultimate vinyl fanatic.