Nero Aims to Shift From Dance Act to Live Electronic Band on Second Album

Koury Angelo
Nero photographed backstage at Coachella on April 10, 2015.

The U.K. electronic trio plots a tour that will showcase their live band abilities over their DJ skills.

When Nero released its ambitious debut album Welcome Reality in 2011, the LP spent 65 weeks on the Dance/Electronic charts, spawned a Grammy Award-winning Skrillex remix for “Promises,” and allowed the band to tour for the next three years. Now, the U.K. electronic trio are plotting a dramatic return with Between II Worlds, due out August 28 on MTA Records. They're hoping it has an equally long shelf life. 

"There's something to be said for taking the time to make full, formal, artistic albums," says Daniel Stephens, one of the group's producers, during an interview in Los Angeles before Coachella’s second weekend. "Not to diss a lot of the current EDM, but when you pump out new tracks every two weeks, you're keeping yourself on the hamster wheel. Our first album has carried us for four years, you know?"  

Being that Nero are fans of high-concept, cyberpunk releases -- Welcome Reality was packaged as the score for a fictional film -- the release date for their sophomore album isn't an accident. It’s a nod to “2808,” the lead song from their first album, and the year in which Nero’s immersive, theatrical shows take place. Sonically, Between II Worlds aims to pick up where Welcome Reality left off -- packed with ‘80s-era electro-pop, super-charged drum and bass, and Alana Watson’s husky vocals. They've swapped a few bangers for ballads, Stephens says, but nothing their diehard dance fans should worry about. 

Their live show, though, is being totally reimagined. On the first tour, Stephens and fellow producer Joe Ray spun atop a podium of stacked speakers while Watson appeared ceremoniously during certain songs on the stage below. That worked fine, the band says, except that it gave the impression that they were a DJ duo with a guest-songstress rather than one collaborative unit. This time around, Nero wants to present itself as less of a dance act and more of a live, three-piece electronic band. 

“It’s trickier than we thought,” Stephens says, "but Coachella was a nice start." They'd performed at the festival in 2012 inside the DJ-centric Sahara Tent, but this year, they headlined the outdoor stage alongside other crossover acts like Flosstradamus and Axwell ^ Ingrosso. “There’s all this nervous energy because it’s not just a DJ set -- you could mess up at any minute -- but it's got the momentum of a DJ set. People go nuts.” 

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Momentum can be a tricky thing for electronic bands to navigate, though. While DJ sets try to keep the pacing above a certain BPM, bands tend to yo-yo. Ray said they've often debated whether it makes sense to interrupt their shows to play some of their slower songs, such as their Baz Luhrmann collaboration "Into the Past," which they wrote for his 2013 film The Great Gatsby. But more often than not, the crowds are very receptive.

"We gave it a whirl one time during a show and our management said people were crying, hugging," Watson said. "It was a whole new thing we didn't even know we could do. That's killer."  

As the band puts the finishing touches on their new set-up, Stephens said they intend on keeping the theatrics high even if they weave in more instruments and live elements. "We're one of the only electronic acts that does this level of live theater, which is great," he says. "But it's a balance. Sometimes we feel like we're stuck in this quandary where the dance fans will complain if the shows don't sound like the album, but that's a lot easier in a DJ set than with a live band. But we think we can do it." ​

Watson senses an opportunity and chimes in: "It's almost like you're stuck between two worlds."