With the recent meteoric rise in popularity in the US of Skrillex and the so-called "brostep" variant of dubstep, it seems an appropriate time for the UK's dubstep kings Nero to arrive and show off a more traditional take on the genre. The band consisting of a duo of producers and their vocalist brought the reverberating sub-bass of dubstep to the pop mainstream in the UK in 2011 climaxing with their #1 pop hit single "Promises." They are now touring the US as headliners and part of the festival circuit. I caught the show when they stopped in Milwaukee April 8, 2012.
Futuristic Stage Setting
Nero bring with them an impressive stage rig of audio equipment and video screens that creates a towering block on the stage with the pair of DJs perched on top and often appropriately draped in shadows to allow the music to take center stage. Vocalist Alana Watson appears on various parts of the stage set to deliver her vocals and then often quickly disappears into the shadows. At one point she sang and then, upon being swallowed by darkness, her image appeared across the video screens echoing the previous vocals. The ultimate effect is a slightly disturbing, but also engaging dehumanization of the vocal portion of the mix. This is no presentation of a singing dance diva. Alana Watson seems more like another turntable or a portion of the speaker stack. She is simply an element of the mix that creates the bombastic, rattling sound of Nero.
Pop Melodies Makes the Music of Nero Accessible
Unlike a number of the dubstep related artists on this side of the Atlantic, many of Nero's songs are infused with sweet pop melodies that provide an accessible hook amid the futuristic atmosphere and rumbling bass. However, the listener is not bathed simply in pleasure. Instead there is an emotional intensity in the questioning of "Guilt," the doubt of "Promises" and helium spiked paranoia of their reworking of the Jets' "Crush On You." It feels as if the future depicted by Nero in concert is not one of seeking solace in warmth but instead trying to dance fast enough to out distance the frightening emotions always threatening to ensnare us.
Nero's Successful Arrival
Nero's arrival on these shores looks like a successful one. Refreshingly, they have made an effort, with a strong light show and impressive stage set, to move beyond simply a DJ and their audio equipment as the visual element of the show. Nero present a more pop-friendly and emotional brand of dubstep. Will their songs catch on with mainstream pop fans in the US? That remains to be seen, but Nero's stage show is well worth catching.