It’s genuinely impressive how far fans will go to decode, decipher and discuss the many aspects of a band’s lore. From picking through HTML codes, to rewatching old music videos for easter eggs and using fan forums to share clues, hours and hours go into piecing together these theories to give a band’s music a deeper meaning.
And – of course – we have to give props to the bands that decide to create tangled, complex webs and worlds for their music to live within in the first place. Following in the footsteps of Green Day, My Chemical Romance and Pink Floyd (and many more, obviously) before them, Twenty One Pilots are one of these bands.
The lead-up to Twenty One Pilots’ upcoming album, Trench, has been littered with mysterious bread crumbs and clues and a bunch of fans have taken it upon themselves to decode – or theorise – as much as possible about what it all means on Reddit. Bandmembers Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun haven’t said too much about it at all, aside from Josh referencing DEMA directly at the APMAs last year (at 2:01 minutes).
It’s a wild ride so… strap yourself in, we’re gonna catch you up as best we can. Take it all with a grain of salt, but this is what’s being said.
How’d it all start?
Basically, fans noticed that on the band’s merch store under the Vessel tab, a new video appeared with some strange imagery. The end of the video quickly flashes some text, which was soon deciphered to be this http://dmaorg.info/ website.
The website ended up hosting a bunch of strange letters, images and “error codes”, many of which referred to something/someone called the DEMA and a man named Clancy. They were all taken down shortly after, but not before Twenty One Pilots fans went to town saving and screenshotting them – and also checking up on their source codes.
Now, you’ll notice that the “404 Error” text that’s on the website currently features a couple of supposedly random letter capitalisations… but they come together to spell out “EAST IS UP”.
Wait, what is this DEMA thing?
No one’s really sure, but DEMA seems to refer to a set of high security towers led by nine oppressive bishops – perhaps a metaphor of negativity, insecurity and destructive thinking. Fans reckon this is where Clancy’s trying to escape from. Others have pointed out that the map of DEMA also resembles a brain, maybe telling us that Clancy is trying to escape from his own self, fighting for positivity to escape from the negativity. Another theory refers to the towers resembling Towers Of Silence, an ancient Zoroastrian tradition of building tall towers to let dead bodies decay and get picked apart by birds (heavy, we know, but this might also explain the vulture on the Trench album cover). The word “silence” was also teased on the band’s Twitter page last year, so these Towers Of Silence may well have been the band’s inspiration.
Then, eagle-eyed Redditors discovered that if you apply the rule “EAST IS UP” to the circular map here, it actually corresponds with the Blurryface album cover.
What’s more, they think each bishop’s name corresponds to a song on Blurryface, with their names derived from Blurryface song lyrics.
YouTuber Jimmy Bolland also found that the name Nico is the only name that doesn’t correspond to a lyric – BUT corresponds with the band’s biggest single, Stressed Out, which is the first song referencing Blurryface (the character) by name. He reckons Nico = Blurryface… and Tyler perhaps = Clancy.
Other apparent easter eggs include there being 21 bodies in the image of the people on the cliff, a reference to a “failed perimeter escape” and well, you can decode the letters from Clancy for hours.
Where does Clancy come in?
Fans reckon Clancy’s leading the rebellion who are trying to escape the clutches of DEMA, having been imprisoned at the end of the Blurryface portion of the storyline. During Blurryface, it’s theorised that Tyler/Clancy had to battle the insecurities that the Blurryface character would inflict on him – he fights back, but is ultimately locked up in the DEMA, or the Towers Of Silence. Hence, Twenty One Pilots’ hiatus starting in June 2017 (until now).
Now the theories…
Their song Heathens on the Suicide Squad soundtrack shows how Tyler/Clancy broke out of DEMA
Apparently, if you take out the Suicide Squad clips from the music video, the video essentially showcases how Tyler breaks out of DEMA, connecting us to the current Trench-era storyline. First – he’s wearing a jumpsuit (an obvious connection, duh), which is orange. The Blurryface album cover and era was quite a red-heavy era in the band’s music, while Trench has been stained by the colour yellow (the yellow shoulder patches on Tyler’s jacket, the font on the music videos, the album cover), so fans have surmised that the orange marks a transition between the two eras. Tyler also tears off his orange jumpsuit to reveal a yellow jacket, another apparent clue that we’re now in Trench world.
Let’s talk about the Nico And The Niners video
Even though this video came out just last week, after the Jumpsuit video clip, it seems to solidify most of the fan theories so far that it details what happened before Jumpsuit. The song’s lyrics seem to directly reference the Heathens video – and DEMA, for starters, also stating “when bishops come together they won’t know it, DEMA don’t control us.”
In the video, we also see nine hooded bishops, a bleak, grey city with nine towers/Towers Of Silence that looks like the map of DEMA we saw earlier on http://dmaorg.info/, and also a group of yellow-taped rebels (led by Josh) guiding Tyler out of the city.
Fans are pretty adamant that Nico And The Niners is the prequel to…
The Jumpsuit video
Tyler’s in the jacket with the yellow tape that he was given in Nico And The Niners, so timeline-wise it seems like this is what comes next. The Jumpsuit video features an up close look at one of the red-cloaked bishops – is it Blurryface? Nico? – and we even see this bishop mark Tyler’s neck with the same black smudges that we saw in the entire Blurryface era, in videos like Stressed Out and Ride. If this bishop embodies all the insecurities we mentioned earlier, then fans think it makes sense as to why Tyler’s neck goes completely black from the bishop’s spell/curse/negative influence. BUT when you look closely, when the rebels on the top of the cliff shower Tyler in yellow flower petals, the black seems to fade again – it’s as if the yellow positivity fights against the bishop’s/DEMA’s red negativity.
The yellow tape on Josh
In Nico And The Niners, some fans think that the yellow tape on rebel Josh (crossed over his chest and then leading to his knee) shows what he values the most – love, and Tyler, whose name is tattooed on Josh’s left knee.
East Is Up is a religious reference
Some fans have noted that in the Bible, the Israelites headed east to escape slavery – also alluding to depictions of the sun rising and the relief of light, escaping the darkness of DEMA.
Tyler’s red contacts in Stressed Out imply he was controlled by Blurryface
In Nico And The Niners, you can see Tyler packing glasses and a red beanie, both props from the Blurryface era, so fans think that the entire Blurryface album was written while under the control of DEMA/Blurryface. The red contacts also kind of point to this – red = Blurryface.
The Niners may be in reference to a 19th French mathematician called Andre Weil
Fans believe the picture of the child on the http://dmaorg.info/ website features Andrew Weil, an influential French mathematician who started a mathematical group of nine men collectively called Nicolas Bourbaki. Weil also created the null symbol () that Twenty One Pilots stylise their name with.
While it's not a theory, fans are pretty thrilled to see the Josh/Tyler secret handshake first seen in Stressed Out in Nico And The Niners, when Josh and the rebels come to rescue Tyler. Friendship is forever!
Clearly, Twenty One Pilots’ Reddit fans love a good treasure hunt/conspiracy and we won’t know what’s intended by the band and what’s not (not yet, anyway). Until then, theorising is all we have!
Twenty One Pilots’ new album Trench is due out October 5. Get your pre-order and exclusive bundles here.