Yesterday, the Nine Inch Nails Broken film — an oft-bootlegged, never officially released, snuff-style music video collection — was officially released for the first time on Vimeo after existing for two decades as an underground oddity. In just over two hours, Vimeo had deleted the video for its highly explicit depictions of violence, but the flood of attention from the video’s release and subsequent deletion certainly got the attention of the NIN organization. "I didn't expect it to be such a big deal since it's been on The Pirate Bay for years," NIN art director Rob Sheridan told The Verge. "But, I tend to forget that apparently not everyone seeks out snuff films on torrent sites."
"I tend to forget that apparently not everyone seeks out snuff films on torrent sites."
Indeed, Sheridan and the NIN team were hardly trying to shock the internet with Broken’s official release — he says that its release was just another step in his work trying to share as much of the band’s history online as possible. "I've realized that I'm so involved with NIN that I started to just assume everyone has seen everything that's been released, but that's not the case at all, especially when you have a band with a 25-year history," he said. NIN’s impending return this summer provided the impetus needed to reinvigorate the band’s online presence and to make classic and forgotten material readily available, with some of the content being quite rare and new to a younger generation of fans. "It's been fun to post old classics like Closure (a 1997 concert and music video collection originally released on VHS) on our Tumblr and Facebook and see the reaction from kids who didn't even know it existed," Sheridan said.
Of all the rare material at Sheridan’s disposal, there’s no doubt that the Broken video represents the pinnacle — a relic of a time when all of a band’s creative material wasn’t readily available on YouTube or BitTorrent. And despite the fact that the video’s content is undoubtedly disturbing, Broken’s swift deletion by Vimeo was still a bit of a surprise. "When you have mainstream ‘torture porn’ movies all over the place now, this just didn't feel as dangerous anymore," said Sheridan. He also hoped that Vimeo, which has a reputation for being a more artistic and creative version of YouTube, would be the right place for the video. "The music industry lawyers haven't figured out Vimeo yet and we can safely upload whatever we want over there," Sheridan notes — but Broken was still over the line.
"Maybe having it tucked away on a pirate site is the closest modern equivalent to finding a bootleg VHS copy at a head shop in the '90s."
The video’s deletion is something Sheridan appears to take some pride in — he has a fond appreciation for its underground status and was noncommittal at the thought of hosting the video on NIN’s official site, free from Vimeo’s terms of service. "Honestly, maybe this was never meant to be so easy to watch," he said. "Maybe having it tucked away on a pirate site is the closest modern equivalent to finding a bootleg VHS copy at a head shop in the '90s." Sheridan delved into that murky history in a post on his personal blog when the video was released yesterday. "When I was a teenager, this was a thing of forbidden wonder — the type of underground, alt culture urban legend that isn’t technically possible anymore," Sheridan wrote. "Kids today can’t possibly appreciate the feeling of tracking down a rare video artifact, because everything now is a mere Google search away."
"I just hope we never completely lose the dark crevices of the Internet."
It’s an interesting conflict for NIN — the band is well known for its openness online and its creative use of the internet to engage with fans, but there’s also a longing for a bygone age when artists and musicians were more of a mystery. "I think by and large music has benefited tremendously from the internet — but mystique has definitely suffered, says Sheridan. "Before the internet, you didn't know anything about your favorite bands except what you were able to gather from interviews in magazines or videos on MTV. Rock stars were mysterious and inaccessible. Now you know what they had for lunch every day."
While there’s little doubt that NIN will continue sharing and connecting with its fans through the internet when the band returns, Sheridan sounds content — even reassured — with the experience he had trying to get Broken out of the dark corners of the internet and its place a curiosity found on shady BitTorrent tracker sites. "I just hope we never completely lose the dark crevices of the internet — the weird, unsupervised, questionably-legal places where content like this can still live," he says "That's the Wild West internet I grew up with. It's quite fitting, really, that Broken should live there."