London dance titans Nero took time out to talk with George Morahan about Nando’s, femininity and what they get up to in the bedroom
The descent of dubstep from vivid, pulsating subgenre to meaningless industry buzzword is no better reflected than in the crowd that greet Nero tonight. The 900 or so congregated at the Academy are the sort that precede every ‘wub wub’ with an ‘oo oo oooh’ and are prone to random outbreaks of Tag Team’s 1993 classic, ‘Whoomp! (There It is)’; very much your average punters, and why should they care about such minutiae?
With that said however, Nero were never ones to confuse dubstep with dogma, and have freely roamed through a collection of dance and bass genres, readily inserting themselves into mainstream focus over the past three years. The London duo, made up of Daniel Stephens and Joe Ray (with vocals contributed by Alana Watson), have been keen to separate themselves from a sound that that can be rigidly defined yet also mean nothing at all. Latest single ‘Must be the Feeling’ is proof of this, according to Stephens; “’Must be the Feeling’ is very disco-house and is very influenced by our love of the eighties disco movement and French house – that video goes up, and people think it’s still dubstep; it’s a pointless word now.”
‘Must be the Feeling’ is, staggeringly enough, the seventh single from Nero’s debut album, Welcome Reality, which scaled the heights of the UK charts last August. The album had been in the works since 2008, and Nero have audibly evolved, from the moody euphoria of first single ‘Innocence’ to the rushing sentimentality of chart-topper ‘Promises’, over that period. “Our music is still bass-driven, but it’s different to that American sound. We’ve always tried to focus on melody more and the bass is just a traditional provider of the root note rather than the thing that carries the melody all the time,” according to Stephens, but Ray believes that time played a great part in causing the disparity of sounds that defines Welcome Reality: “It was a long time, because the debut album is always the one that takes ages, and after that, you’ve got to get them out within a year or two of each other. If you kept writing the same tune over and over again, you’d kill yourself with boredom, so it naturally happened like that.”
As we talk in their hotel room pre-gig, the group seem at ease, squabbling over what to order from Nando’s and generally enjoying the luxuries that their accomplishments have afforded them. It’s hard to begrudge them their success, but it’s also a bit difficult to believe that they didn’t see this coming. “The success of the singles off Welcome Reality came as a total shock; ‘Me & You': that was a real shock when that got to number fifteen in the charts,” says Stephens. “I don’t think it ever really sinks in; you don’t really think about, and that’s probably best – we don’t want anything like that to influence future music productions.”
One can certainly see why the group have become successful and why they are found to be a palatable concern amongst tonight’s audience – beer-spitting troglodytes who quickly and aggressively realise that they’ve all worn too many layers to the gig. There’s definitely a pop sensibility in Nero’s music that has only been bolstered with the addition of Watsons’ vocals, but Watson herself thinks there to be more of a contrast between her vocals and the music she sings over, saying that she personally believes there to be a “feminine airiness” to her vocals that “seems to work really well with the more bass-driven, masculine sound that the boys write.” Having known the duo for eleven years, Watson first sung with them on their 2007 track ‘This Way’, but the collaboration came about somewhat by chance. “They just needed a girl singing; they’d heard me singing around the place and asked me to join them. It kinda just built from there, but ‘This Way’ was the first dubstep beat that I’d worked on.”
Like seemingly all contemporary electronic groups, Nero were formed in the bedroom, and after the joking dies down, Stephens is adamant that he and Ray “were just experimenting with computer music in general, having fun.” Remixing was a big part of Stephen and Ray’s early career but with an ever-hectic schedule, there are fewer opportunities to do so these days – they say they will be lucky to put out three remixes this year, rather than their previous high of twenty-four. However, it is a process that helps the pair of them to get in a creative space. “We normally want to do another take on the songs; give it a different feel – you can shift a song from major to a minor tone. I think that Calvin Harris one we did [of ‘Feel So Close’]; we shifted it to a G, and it gave it a completely different feel because the key behind it is different.”
As our conversation wraps up, the trio turn their attention to the Academy. Tonight’s gig is relatively stripped down as their usual stage apparatus couldn’t fit into the venue; however, it’s big enough to fit a couple of sizeable video screens and an elaborate riser for all their musical equipment. Just from their live set-up, it’s clear that Nero have ambition and enough of it to eschew the dubstep ghetto altogether. “We don’t feel that we’re necessarily a dubstep act any more,” states Ray, and as Nero further assimilate into the popular consciousness, who can blame them? It’s a label that grows more irrelevant by the day.
Welcome Reality is out now.