Solutions Backwards Initiative
August 25, 2019 10:09 AM   Subscribe

It all started on Feb 12, 2007 with a t-shirt. Which led to a website. Which led to another website [Flash required, safe to use]. Which led to audio recordings and other websites and on Feb 14 My Violent Heart was "leaked" [Happy Valentine's Day!] and then on Feb 15 Survivalism was released... it was obvious we weren't dealing with anything ordinary.

On Feb 19, a USB stick was found in a bathroom stall at a NIN concert in Spain which contained Me, I'm Not. The thumb drive also contained an audio file which spectrographic analysis showed contained a phone number, at which this recording could be heard. At an associated website, this page could be found giving more context to the recorded message.

Feb 22, 2007, the Art Is Resistance website was discovered, which included a Resistance flag and pdf files for stickers and stencils. Later that day, a teaser video for the album was posted to the Year Zero website.

Year Zero is Nine Inch Nails' fifth studio album, and it is also the Alternate Reality Game which ran in conjunction with its release. Both the album and the ARG are set in a dystopian near-Future where terrorist attacks have led the US government to declare martial theocratic law, where mass medication of the population is taking place in order to enforce compliance, where soldiers overseas are being fed drugs to turn them into lethal machines, and where a mysterious Presence keeps being seen around the world. Each song on the album is from a different person's perspective in this conjectural future. A future which is, in the end, described in pretty good detail by the ARG. Think of the ARG as being the biggest, baddest gatefold album/CD booklet of all time.

Year Zero Side A:
Drugs for population control, drugs for counteracting those drugs, drugs that link sex and violence in such a way that soldiers are never allowed back home, and a new street drug with quasi-religious effects which has replaced all other street drugs.

Hyperpower!; The Beginning Of The End; Survivalism; The Good Soldier; Vessel; Me, I'm Not

Side B:
Theocratic US government, martial law, religious fascism, rampant capitalism

Capital G, My Violent Heart, The Warning, God Given, Meet Your Master

Side C:
The Presence, environmental degradation, impending apocalypse

The Greater Good, The Great Destroyer, Another Version Of The Truth, In This Twilight, Zero-Sum

This summary of the ARG and its plot is worth reading. [No, it's not a video game.] The original websites don't work anymore, but are mirrored here pretty well (index.html gets most pages to activate properly). The NIN Wiki has a lot of links about the ARG, including a glossary and a research page, with a lot of other paths to follow from there. Both NIN Wiki and Wikipedia have discovery timelines for the game.

NIN's astonishing Lights In The Sky tour was documented by fans, and download links for this are at This One Is On Us.
posted by hippybear (15 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
This was Nine Inch Nails' first non-autobiographical album, and it's quite a doozy. The extra-glitchy sound choices could be related to the distortion that the websites suffered when they were pushed back through time in an effort to save humanity from making bad choices. Perhaps the music was also pushed back from the future.

I have so much love for this particular era of NIN. The ARG was intense to live through, the album is just pure invention and amazement in sound, and the tour was mind-blowing in ways I'd never expected.
posted by hippybear at 10:12 AM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Finding NIN during the Fragile era, it took me a while to get into this album. But nowadays I love it.

I always read The Beginning of the End and The Great Destroyer as being from the same character's perspective. In both you have the paranoia, with the lines "I got my mark, see it in my eyes" and "The limitless potential living inside of me" implying it's the same person with illusions of grandeur or similar. And the second half of Great Destroyer is this person basically having some sort of extreme seizure while contemplating themselves to be a god of destruction.

Which is just my personal interpretation.

And I remember being slightly disappointed that the ARG had a much grittier, more horrifying feel than the album itself. Still love it though.
posted by Dee Grim at 10:50 AM on August 25, 2019

And the remix album is simply amazing!

Saul Williams!!
An almost funky version of God Given that still works somehow!
posted by Dee Grim at 10:57 AM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Bless you, hippybear. I LOVED this album as a teenager, still do.

Are y'all familiar with the NIN remix site? People create and post their own remixes of songs from Year Zero and The Slip (and a few others). They provide multitracks of the songs for free, there was a ton of awesome stuff there last I checked. My favorite for a while was Beyond This Twilight, an orchestral remix of In This Twilight that feels hopeful and uplifting and gives me feelings.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 11:58 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow! I remember looking at some of the ARG websites back in the day, but I couldn't find them many years later because the original ones don't exist any more. Thanks so much for bringing this all together!
posted by CompanionCube at 12:31 PM on August 25, 2019

CompanionCube: the CD Booklet link in the main post is a pdf of all the pages of all the websites sorted by 24.x.x number system. It's a remarkable document to experience, really. It's also very long, like 390 pages or something.
posted by hippybear at 12:33 PM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

I read it that the Solutions Backward Initiative worked and the Presence was the human perception's understanding of watching parts of the world be erased, since the world that exists in Year Zero never came to be thanks to the SBI's efforts.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:11 PM on August 25, 2019

I started a NIN fan site back in 1995, when Jason Patterson's was the pinnacle of fan sites, definitely for NIN, and arguably one of the biggest band fan sites on the internet at the time. He ran a subdomain,, which kept me up to date on what was going on with the band - later Evan Moore came out with SeemsLikeSalvation NIN News, and I thought: Good for those guys, I'll never do a NIN News site. Way too much work.

And then weird shit started appearing on the web in advance of The Fragile in mid-1999, and SLS News just wasn't keeping up, so I enlisted the help of a couple of IRC friends and started "the ninetynine hotline" - it was definitely too much work, I was right about that - but a lot of people pitched in, and it was really cool. It felt like we could handle anything that came at us. It was a pretty robust site (100% static assets) so it could take the occasional Slashdotting it got without even a hiccup. At one point we had over a dozen contributing reporters - and of course, The Meathead Perspective, our weekly humor column - funny enough on its own, but the more you knew about the band & crew, the better it got. We would sometimes get details about what was going on with NIN before people in "the NIN camp" did.

Then the Year Zero ARG happened.

The depth was beyond the format of what our site (which was in effect a blog) could absorb and regurgitate. I still don't know if I followed every single lead and made every single connection. Another whole group of fans went to work adapting Mediawiki to create the NIN Wiki, which primarily focused on being a repository for the ARG, but evolved to have a broader focus on the band in general. It's difficult to convey just how overwhelming all of this felt at the time!

The album was right up my alley. It was good to hear Trent focus on something external, and I really dug the focus on electronics. Obviously, NIN's always had a heavy electronic element, but it also gets overstated by the press.

Good post, hippybear! Hard to believe that was over a decade ago.
posted by Leviathant at 2:06 PM on August 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Given the developments of the last 12 years, the notion of initiating a media campaign with randomly dropped flash drives truly seems like something of a bygone era
posted by hwestiii at 5:39 PM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Given the developments of the last 12 years, the notion of initiating a media campaign with randomly dropped flash drives truly seems like something of a bygone era

At one point I felt as if I was living in the future, and now even that time has past...
posted by The Power Nap at 5:48 PM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's difficult to convey just how overwhelming all of this felt at the time!

I wasn't running a website but I was using YOUR website, Leviathant, as I experienced the entire ARG, basically in real time from the night the shirt was first posted and things started opening up.

The level of peculiar overlay on normal life this game created was fascinating. Like, I still had to go to work at my blue collar warehouse job and do things like a normal person, even while details about Red Horse were being sorted out or whatever. It was so peculiar and interactive even while I didn't really leave my real life. I wasn't finding thumb drives or being given cell phones to get secret messages or whatever... I was just along for the ride. But I did help solve a couple of puzzles somehow, I remember, and the whole thing was just thrilling.

*sigh* Anyway, it was fun at the time. I don't know if anyone could even try such a thing these days.
posted by hippybear at 7:40 PM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

That t-shirt....

Tilburg, Netherlands ...
Amsterdam, Holland...

posted by Pendragon at 1:59 AM on August 26, 2019

That t-shirt....

Tilburg, Netherlands ...
Amsterdam, Holland...


NIN did a European tour in the summer of 2007.

I assume they needed those words there in order to create the first code. Holland has a necessary O that Netherlands does not.
posted by hippybear at 5:51 PM on August 26, 2019

Yeah, it's just a pet peeve of mine :-) It's the Netherlands, dammit, not Holland!
posted by Pendragon at 6:54 AM on August 28, 2019

Maybe they should have done a gig in Rotterdam :-)
posted by Pendragon at 6:55 AM on August 28, 2019

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