Written by Alex Warme
The view of Toronto’s colourful skyline from within the bowels of the massive, writhing, mostly intoxicated line up outside of Sound Academy on Friday night was a spectacular visual treat that foreshadowed what was to be an all-out sense-assaulting performance by UK electro outfit NERO.
The city’s lakeside music venue provides an excellent vantage from which to admire the glory of Canada’s urban centre, and it’s prideful citizens came out in energetic droves to welcome the return of producers Daniel Stephens and Joseph Ray who, together with talented and sexy vocalist Alana Watson, make up one of the world’s most popular dubstep acts.
Nero released their debut full-length album last August to positive reviews and good chart performance, particularly in their native UK where the dubstep genre claims its young roots. Entitled Welcome Reality, it’s tracks demonstrate the group’s high-level production skills and equally impressive songwriting abilities. A wide range of sounds including affected, warbled basses are accurately placed and generously overwhelm the listener’s ears at the correct moments. The group also benefits from the vocal contributions of Alana Watson on several songs. Boasting dangerously catchy hooks highlighted by the singer’s confident delivery, these are among the strongest tracks found on the album: memorable and very hum-worthy. Popular singles “Promises” and “Me & You” are bassy and heavy enough to satisfy the tastes of purist dubstep lovers while also inviting a wider audience with dance-pop appeal.
At any rate, Nero attracted enough attention since it’s previous Toronto appearance – a February 2011 date supporting Skrillex – to lure a capacity crowd to Sound Academy on Good Friday, 2012, and notably without the help of an “all ages” tag on the show, meaning that it was a strictly 19+ affair (if the cops ask, that is).
The teeming audience was still filing into the packed venue around midnight as the set kicked off with “Doomsday”, delivered by the DJ duo as they stood perched upon a booth supported by a structure of spacey speakers, positioning them about 15 feet up in the air for all too see. The next two hours saw a barrage of explosive techno that featured plenty of gravity-defying bass drops and hard-hitting half-time beats, the majority of which anchored intensely danceable songs recognizable from the group’s aforementioned hit album.
Stephens and Ray were backed by a large monitor that displayed frantically changing images and colours, casting the performers in silhouette as they floated amidst a peripheral light show that rivalled the appeal of Toronto’s night-time skyline. It was an impressively programmed demonstration that complimented the music well, further enhancing the already stimulating live experience.
As on the record, highlights of the live show were moments starring vocalist Alana Watson, who periodically emerged from various unknown entrances to perform a song before abruptly leaving until her next scheduled appearance. Dubstep songs featuring original clean vocals are rare, and even more rare are acts that dare to have a singer perform them live. Songs such as “Innocence”, “In the Way”, “Promises”, “Guilt” and “Me & You” are strong tracks thanks in part to the vocals, and given that even the average dubstep concert fills a space with incredible presence, Friday’s performances of these particular songs were downright ferocious. It was a skillful way to play the crowd, which erupted in approval during each and every song involving all three performers rocking out as a trio.
The audience represented Toronto and it’s famous skyline well, offering up heaps of thick energy to the performers, ever-encouraging them to play on. The dense cluster of partiers near the stage was comparable in its intensity to a mosh pit during a performance of “Angel of Death” at a Slayer concert. Those crazed enough to push forward we required to show incredible balance and determination simply to avoid being consumed and trampled by the mass.
Nero tour relentlessly and extensively, and are currently booked solid through September. Their imminent return to Toronto is likely to impress in similar fashion and will be thoroughly anticipated. In the meantime, Welcome Realtity makes an excellent addition to any musical library, and should be enjoyed massively.