This article originally appeared in Time Out in January 2011
By Kate Hutchinson Posted: Fri Jan 28 2011
Northwood duo Nero have been setting the pop charts alight with their slo-mo drum 'n' bass and dystopian dubstep ditties, best known for last year's chart smash 'Me & You'. They're about to crashland at the next of Time Out Live's Nite Sessions at East Village for our Future Stars of 2011 special. We speak to one half of Nero, Joe, about why this is their year
Hello Nero. You're quite big in America now, like Chase & Status…
'Yeah, we've done quite well there so far. Our sound works with the US's party mentality, and it's not too UK-centric, like grime or garage or whatever. We've been touring pretty hard there: we did six tours last year, with about ten dates in each!'
When I Googled 'Nero' and 'America', the first search result was a website called Nero Larping (live action role play).
'That sounds horrible! It hasn't worked out as the best name because of the search results people get. We thought that Nero sounded catchy and short and cool, but the café and the computer software come up in searches - and now this LARPing website.'
But if you were into LARPing, what Live Action Role Play character would you be?
'I'm going to go for an elf, actually. I always liked the elves in 'Lord of the Rings'. They're like humans, but they've got extra skills, so they're not really weird. And they're good at archery - women love guys who are good at archery.'
I'm seeing a parallel between being an elf and being a DJ.
'You've seen right through me!'
Nero was quite a decadent chap - are you both like him in your tastes?
'Not really. We didn't choose our name because we admired Nero and his taste for killing people. Maybe it appealed to our darker side a little bit, but it's not something we indulge in too often. We don't go to Roman LARPing parties or anything like that. But maybe we should…'
Have you ever stolen another DJs' rider?
'Of course there's been stuff like that, but dubstep DJs' riders aren't particularly decadent. We're not talking a bottle of Dom Pérignon; we're talking a bottle of cheap vodka.'
I read a tweet the other day about a famous band whose rider stipulated that it must include 'a locally sourced present'.
'We have something like that in New Zealand. I got given a mug that someone had customised with paints and glitter, which said “We love Nero” on it. Then they gave us a teapot to go with it and it contained the cheapest, most horrible vodka ever. But I took the mug home, because it was nice to remember our fans out there want to customise mugs for us.'
That sounds a bit 'Blue Peter'.
'Yeah, I know. Giving a DJ a mug on a big night out is a bit weird.'
The thought was there, though: 'Let's get them wankered in an quaint tea party style.' So, how does it feel to be tipped as one of the hottest dance acts in the BBC's Sound of 2011?
'It was great. We weren't expecting it at all. I guess it was off the back of our single “Me & You” being popular and its radio play, so they thought, “Oh well, they can do this.” And looking at the other people on this list, it was exciting to be on there too.'
What do you think 2011 will sound like?
'Well, from the BBC list, I'd say James Blake and that sound could do really well. He's obviously come from a mellow dubstep background, and then made it into intelligent pop songs in the way that Bjork did. That's what I really love listening to. On a similar vibe, I like Janelle Monae. I don't know whether she's going to blow up in the mainstream, but people are tipping her to do that. She might not, she might just stay as a really cool act. Her pop songs have a really clever twist on them: you wouldn't call it throwaway pop or anything. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does this year.'
What do you think about the mainstream embracing typically underground dance sounds like yours these days?
'Well, the mainstream has always wanted to take out drum 'n' bass. In a way, it's a bit too fast for a lot of listeners. Obviously, some tracks have done really well, and Pendulum are great, but that's because they've added a rocky edge to it. Dubstep, on the other hand, is more accessible. People like Chase & Status were writing tunes that had song elements and so on, so we thought, well, we've always wanted to write classic songs as much as writing basslines for a club. It's exciting to write music that's a bit more rock influenced or has a pop structure, or whatever.'
When did you go from being a drum 'n' bass act to incorporating dubstep and these other sounds too?
'It was around three years ago when we started writing dubstep. We thought it was new and exciting. Sub Focus, Pendulum and Chase & Status were so good at drum 'n' bass in their own individual ways, so we thought we'd put a different slant on it, with a different tempo, but using the sounds of elements of drum 'n' bass that we'd been working with before.Our first dubstep tune was as big as any of the ones before that, so we thought that we must be doing something right.'
What's the latest on your album?
'It's called “Welcome Reality”. That was the name of the B-Side to our big single “Me & You”, and it stuck with us. It doesn't sound quite right. There's something off about it, and that's cool. It's a bit like: this is our first album, welcome to our town. We're trying to get the artwork sorted at the moment, which is an interesting one because Dan and I are both perfectionists and we have a vision, but actually getting that vision onto a piece of paper is a bit tricky. It's also coming out on MTA Records, which is Chase & Status's label, and there'll be a single coming out around the same time called “Guilt”. '
What are you feeling guilty about?
'Oh, too much. It was just a nice contrast to “Innocence”, which was the single before. We were considering going down the Seven Deadly Sins route, but we thought it was too cheesy.'
Some might say that would be a bit Nero-esque?
'I think so, yeah! But I'm really looking forward to it coming out because I'm sick of “Me & You” and it'll be nice to have a new tune out there.'
What's your vision?
'It's dark and retro-futuristic - very “Blade Runner”. It's sci-fi but not too sci-fi: it's all about finding a balance between what's cool and eye-catching and what's over the top. The video for “Innocence” had this Manga-ish theme that was dark and had this “city in the future” vibe to it and “Guilt” will have a similar theme to it: there's a post-apocalyptic thing going on. We'd love to be Daft Punk, obviously, but unfortunately there's already been a Daft Punk.'
Have you been experimenting with any new sounds on it?
'There's some house on there; some electro-y sounds. There's also a tune called “Must Be the Feeling”, which is a disco tune and samples a disco-era song, but with a Nero twist on it. There's drum 'n' bass at half-speed, that kinda thing. We didn't want to write an album that was like, “This is a dubstep tune,” and, “This is a drum 'n' bass tune,” we wanted to write a dance album, which is something that a lot of D&B and dubstep people haven't done. They've all been very genre specific. We just wanted to write an electronic music, really, which sounds pretentious and probably is, but it was our aim not to be too genre-driven.'
Were you inspired by anything that wasn't music-centric?
'No. We don't have time for anything else. Most of the songs just came naturally. But we wrote “Me & You” around a pool in LA, which was fun. There was something about the hot weather and drinking a cocktail in the sun that made us write a happy tune, whereas our other songs have an angry and dark vibe to them. Maybe that's why, because we were sitting in the sun having a nice time. Maybe we should do that more often, rather than sitting in a cold, grey studio in Waterloo.'
That sounds pretty decadent to me. A lot of producers in your scene, like your label heads Chase & Status, are into collaborations. Are you planning to do the same soon?
'Not really. We've got a singer that we use all the time called Alana Watson, who did the vocal on 'Me & You': she's on six or seven tracks on the album. She'll be in our live show and touring with us, so it'll be more like a band.'
She's your Katy B?
'She's actually Dan's girlfriend, so we're a little family. We're more on the band side than “two producers with tons of collaborations”. We can just hide in the background on stage and she can get stuck in.'
What can we expect from your DJ set at Nite Sessions?
'It'll be pretty full-on, with our tunes and other people's tunes in there. There'll be lots of exciting dubstep, some house, some drum 'n' bass and some other stuff. We'll pack it with as much as possible. And it'll be nice and intimate too. We're looking forward to it!'
Nero are playing at Time Out Live's Nite Sessions presents Future Stars of 2011 with Instra:Mental, Ben UFO, Pangaea, Ben Westbeech, Jozif, Morris Cowan and Deadly Rhythm Soundsystem on February 4. Their debut album, 'Welcome Reality' is out on MTA Records on May 14.