Trent Reznor: The Chameleon


From his groundbreaking models of online music distribution to outspoken views on role of the artist in the modern music industry, Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails have set a precedent for innumerable indie bands attempting to flourish in a broken industry. Reznor has also displayed a tireless work ethic and devotion to his music-making, incorporating influences that extend as far as arty synth-dance, classic rock, and Queen.

Recently-released videos showcasing a collaboration between Reznor and former Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy demonstrate the extent of his diverse tastes and abilities. After the jump, we’ve collected some of Reznor’s most distinctive cross-genre performances (he has performed with people ranging from soulful Brooklynites TV On The Radio to metalheads Dilinger Escape Plan). Both Nine Inch Nails devotees and casual music fans should be surprised and impressed at the man’s range of collaborative expression.

1. Peter Murphy with Trent Reznor- “Nightclubbing”

Taken from a radio telecast in 2006, this just-released video shows Reznor and Murphy covering Iggy Pop’s scuzzy ode to Berlin nightlife in a stripped down, austere performance setting. (More videos of the session can be found here). Murphy nails the soulless, white-eyed croon and pained roars, while Reznor contributes monotone harmonies and pounding cabaret piano. A rolling train of drum static and guitar squeals suffocate the song just enough to make you feel like club smoke is pouring into your eyes.

2. David Bowie with Trent Reznor – “Hurt”

Fans of David Bowie are all-too-familiar with the icon’s tendency to skitter between styles, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Bowie toured with the roiling anger of Nine Inch Nails while coming out of his rubber soul ’80s phase. The pair went on to collaborate on drum n’ bass, industrial dance material, including the xenophobic anthem “I’m Afraid of Americans,” but this 1995 video shows Bowie contributing a strained theatricality and breathy falsetto to Reznor’s anguish, set over a unique arrangement featuring whirling guitar slides.

3. Gary Numan with Trent Reznor – “Metal”

The synthesized electronica of Gary Numan’s hits have greatly inspired varied artists like Reznor, Beck, and Basement Jaxx, and today his music can still be found in DJs hoping to fill the dancefloor with something a bit harder than typical electro-fluff. The music is foreboding while retaining the elements of dark dance-pop, and Reznor again adds cutting piano lines, slowly transitioning the banger into a club lullaby.

4. Street Sweeper Social Club with Trent Reznor – “Kick Out The Jams”

This MC-5 classic is technically the Rage Against the Machine version, but it adds Reznor wailing over Tom Morello’s guitar, battling with Boots Riley’s raps to perform the straightforward profane punk. The performance was part of the Wave Goodbye tour, which also yielded fruitful Reznor collaborations with Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction.

5. Saul Williams with Trent Reznor – “Banged and Blown Through”

Reznor has performed live with TV On The Radio and HEALTH, but a surprising collaboration was his writing and production work on punk poet Saul Williams concept album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! The title is an obvious reference to Ziggy Stardust, and the glam style and lyrical prowess of Williams was molded by Reznor into a haunting performance piece. Williams voice slips and slides behind tribal drums and high-pitched backing vocals.