|NB: the article contains strong language|
He has explored the latest on-stage hardware and in-studio techniques and has been eager to use cyberspace to give his fans an all-encompassing multimedia experience. Its pinnacle was 2007's Year Zero project, an apocalyptic concept album about a futuristic US dystopia run by the military and populated by drug-controlled surveillance slaves. Initially, Year Zero sounded about as sci-fi as an Oyster card. Then fans began finding hidden website URLs imprinted into their promotional T-shirts and USB sticks of coded static left in toilets at NIN gigs. These clues led them to a labyrinth of websites for fictional organisations such as the Bureau of Morality and the First Evangelical Church of Plano, all part of an ultra-elaborate alternate reality game. For two months Year Zero lit up the web, turning from a cloak-and-dagger internet lark into a concerted effort to rally real-life political protest. Complete immersion.
Reznor has a track record for putting out some quite extreme promo clips, but also for looking beyond record labels for new digital forms of (self-)distribution:
Reznor's mellowing extends to his visuals. The video for the album's first single, Came Back Haunted, directed by David Lynch, is a miasma of indistinct menace and sea-monster deformity, but practically Rastamouse in comparison with some of the early promos. "There was a phase where it was 'let's see how far we can take it'. We did a compilation of videos for the Broken EP, the second record we put out, and me and [video director] Peter Christopherson were talking about snuff films. He said: 'Why don't we tie these videos together with this narrative as if it was a real snuff film?' I didn't hear anything for a while and then an unmarked paper bag with a VHS video tape arrives in the mail … I love extremity, and I thought let's not make it look fake, but we both agreed not to put it out. I mean I'm living in the fuckin' Sharon Tate house, it's enough."
What was in it? "Y'know some penis dismemberment, the basic stuff."If Reznor's interest in being rock's premier provocateur has waned, his hunger for new challenges and innovations certainly hasn't. He's become a virulent critic of major labels, ditching Interscope in 2007 to experiment with online DIY distribution, releasing free streaming and download packages of his two 2008 albums The Slip and Ghosts I-V. He talks at great length about a new streaming service called Daisy he's working on with Dr Dre's Beats and Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine, envisioning a more musician-friendly rival to Spotify ("There's a puzzle to solve in terms of what would be something that from a consumer's point of view brings joy and from a musician's point of view could put some cards back on the side of the table of the music content creator."). Yet Reznor has announced a truce with the industry of late by signing both How to Destroy Angels and NIN to Columbia. Why? "I found that when I was putting my own music out, with my Twitter feed as the pure marketing budget, I'm preaching to the choir," he says. "I'm trying to figure out how to keep my head above water."