What’s the first name that comes to mind when you hear the word dubstep? While most would opt to shout out names like Skrillex, Skream & Benga, Borgore, or Rusko (and honestly the list goes on these days), one name surely stands out loud and proud – NERO.
What’s the first name that comes to mind when you hear the word dubstep? While most would opt to shout out names like Skrillex, Skream & Benga, Borgore, or Rusko (and honestly the list goes on these days), one name surely stands out loud and proud – NERO. Revolutionaries in the dubstep world, Nero packs a unique punch with their seamlessly mixed melodic synths, melodramatic vocals, and hard heavy basslines. They are anything but the cookie-cutter commercial dubstep that so many of us know of today. Originating from the city of many unique and famous EDM artists – London, England, Nero was created by two of dubstep’s most outlandish visionaries Daniel Stephens and Joe Ray. Both having a heavily saturated musical past, Daniel and Joe mixed their passion and life experiences into a project that has grown beyond what they would ever dream it to be. And soon after the release of their first single, ‘Innocence’ in 2010, Nero proved to be worthy of a permanent place in the dubstep world. Like a dormant volcano waiting to erupt, from the moment of their first release, Nero easily blasted their way across the UK charts and snowballed into a massive musical entity in less than 3 years.
After many months of releasing single after single, fans around the world rejoiced to the release of Nero’s first full EP ‘Welcome Reality’ in 2011. Along with this debut, Nero followed up with the unveiling of an online video game that was featured in one of their music videos ‘Me & You’ called ‘Welcome Reality’. With the release of their first album, launching their tour of their ‘Live’ performance (featuring Alana as their singer in one of the very first live vocals acts in the dubstep world), and even being signed to Interscope records, it seems as if the sky is an understatement of what the limit is for this powerful duo. Pushing the boundaries even more, Nero continued on to collaborate with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra performing the first ever ‘Dubstep Symphony’ (later to be named ‘Symphony 2808’), which was simultaneously broadcasted over BBC Radio 1, as well as included in their deluxe album.
2012 has quickly approached us, and should undoubtedly be another year of endless achievements for Nero. We spoke with Daniel about how this past year has been for the group, and a little about how their rise to the top has been:
Can you tell us a little about your musical history/background?
“We met in 2000 through a mutual friend. Both myself and Joe had a musical background, I had studied cello and A-level music, Joe had studied classical guitar. At the time we met we were both independently getting into computer music composition and production. After a while we began writing more together until we became a full-time duo. We met Alana not long after meeting each other although it was around three years after we’d been writing together that Alana began singing for us. We’d often heard her sing but she was a bit shy and unsure about singing on a record for us, we eventually managed to convince her and before too long she featured regularly on our tracks, until now where she’s basically the third member of Nero.”
Some feel you really changed the overall direction of dubstep, being one of the first artists to mix melody and vocals with this genre, what would you say inspired your unique sound?
“We began writing dubstep after it had already been around for a while however I guess we were using vocals regularly on the majority of our tracks from the start. We’ve always been into song craft and feel a catchy vocal top line brings a lot to a song. It can often be the difference between a song being forgettable and one that is memorable and stands the test of time. Obviously that’s no revelation as almost all popular music contains vocals, however they were seldom being used in dubstep, perhaps due to it’s dub origins.”
What was your vision with your latest ‘Live’ tour?
“We knew we were going to be going down the electronic visual live show route rather than the band route. We wanted to create an exciting stage show and visual display that was in harmony with the sound of the album. The album was very much inspired by retro-futurism so that was the main thing we wanted to portray in the live show. Our design is an 8ft tower of retro televisions, speakers, ghettoblasters and various other bits of analogue gear, in the middle of all that sits an old school arcade machine. There’s a very 80s sic-fi feel to it which is complimented by the visuals on both on the television screens and the surrounding LED walls. We’re constantly adding new elements to the show and evolving it as we go, we’re working on our next big addition at the moment. Alana sings live which adds a great element to the performance.”
How would you compare your ‘Live’ show to your DJ sets, and which do you prefer (if there is a preference)?
“Obviously our live show is very different as it’s more of a “show”. Our DJ gigs are very stripped back in comparison but always great fun to do. It’s just either Joe or myself and some decks. We rarely DJ together as we can therefore be in two places at the same which means double the exposure and more people get to see us DJ around the world, also we tend to get in each other’s ways a bit when we DJ together. It makes it more of an event when we play live as it’s a chance to see the three of us performing together. “
What was your inspiration for your newest album?
“We were very inspired by 80s sci-fi, particularly Bladerunner, Akira and Cyber City Oedo 808. We’re big fans of the cyberpunk style and genre, it has such a cool look – particularly 80s cyberpunk works, often portraying a dark, dystopian, highly technological future. However within that world there’s still space for love and euphoria. We wanted to create a world and a mood to set the album in, as though it was written for a film.
Tell us your ideas and intentions behind the video game ‘Welcome Reality’ that was released along with your latest album?
“The video game first featured in our music video for ‘Me And You’. The label had the idea to make it into a real playable game as use it as a promotional tool for the album. I don’t think that has been done before, it was a really cool idea.”
Please tell us how it performing your Dubstep Symphony with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra was, and what inspired that collaboration?
“We were approached by BBC Radio 1 who had been approached by the BBC philharmonic orchestra to do a special collaboration for the launching of this new concert hall in Salford. We felt so lucky to be asked and that it was a massive honor. At the time we were also working on our live show and trying to finish the album so it was a crazy couple of months. I still don’t know how we got it all done looking back, the whole two months is a bit of a blur. We must’ve been seriously in the zone. We composed the piece on the computer using orchestral libraries. We then worked with a guy called Joe Duddel arranging the piece for him to then score it out onto manuscript. We weren’t that keen on it being called Dubstep Symphony as we felt it was more of an electro-orchestral piece with some dubstep influence. We later “re-mixed” and mastered it and included it on our deluxe album titled ‘Symphony 2808’.
Having an orchestra perform a piece we’d written was a very humbling (and at times surreal) experience and one that I’m sure we’ll look back on with a lot of pride in years to come. “
Who would you say have been some of your favorite artists that you have collaborated with so far?
“We’ve not really collaborated with very many artists at all. We had a lot fun working on our remix collaboration with Skrillex. We just hung out in our studio all night and pretty much made the whole track in that session. We also collaborated with Daryl hall on reaching out however unfortunately he was not able to get to the UK so we were sending stuff across the net. We have a couple of exciting collaborations on the go at the moment though. “
As a duo/trio, what would you say are each of your roles in your group in the studio and live?
“We work pretty closely together in the studio. We’ll sometimes bring some ideas in from home and together either develop those ideas or take elements of the ideas and put them into other tracks. We usually all contribute to vocal melodies and lyrics and kind of bounce off each other. “
What have been some highlights in your musical career so far?
“The symphony was definitely a highlight. Also I think releasing Welcome Reality. It was our first album and it’s such a good feeling finally putting out something we’d been working on for nearly three years. The reaction it’s had has made it all the more special.