NERO soothed the soul, drawing a seasoned and hopeful crowd with blast-from-the-past hits and even teasing a future album.
Veteran DJ and producer Dan Stephens of NERO gave experienced ravers the show we have all been itching for. Though NERO is a trio, DJs Dan Stephens and Joe Ray alternate going on tour and performing. Last Saturday night in Tempe, Arizona, we were graced with an amazingly euphoric DJ set from Dan.
Relentless Beats hosted the event at their favorite college town venue Sunbar. With the the Arizona heat in full swing and college students home for the summer, the crowd nonetheless remained pretty thin up until the final act.
The night kicked off how one would expect a bass show to go in the existing musical landscape with supporting acts from Chiief, Jonis, and Eyechronic. Chiief stood out among the rest. Self-identifying as “the last genre bender” on Instagram, he delivered some cross-genre musical fun. He started with trap, rolled into dubstep, threw in some hip-hop and trap elements, and then transitioned into drum and bass. His ability to dabble in multiple styles with smooth transitions is certain to make him an up-and-comer to keep your eye on.
Keeping with the same multi-genre adventure, the main act delivered a unique and dynamic sound. It was euphoric, uplifting, and — most of all — nostalgic. No one sounds like NERO except NERO. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what genre they fall into, and through the night we heard elements of bass, techno, old school dubstep (key word is old school) and even some trance. What was truly iconic was the feeling his music evoked. All of a sudden, it was 2013 again.
The crowd was definitely older (aside from some lingering college whipper snappers) which stands testament to NERO’s glory days. Dan gave everyone what they were looking for and played all the hits from their earlier albums: Welcome Reality + from 2011 and Between II Worlds from 2015. The room exploded with heartfelt, pitchy, and possibly tone-deaf (that one was my fault) singing to all the classics including “Doomsday,” “Crush On You,” “Satisfy,” “Two Minds,” and of course the iconic “Promises,” including both the original and the Skrillex remix.
Though bass and euphoric are not two styles I’d typically combine, NERO has a novel sound that is unique to the early 2010s and rides the line separating them gracefully. It is a sound that I personally have been chasing, and to be honest, it is quite aloof. In today’s saturated dance music scene, techno is cheap and dubstep is a dime a dozen. I must admit I have been searching for the sounds that bring me back to the early days — dare I say, the golden years?
Mixed in with the dithyrambic vocals of goddess Alana Watson and the exhilarating notes tickling my brain, Stephens dropped a brand new song and told us it is from their long-awaited new album! This teaser only raises more questions. Could there be hope for the return of the glory days? Could we get a live set from NERO soon? The DJ set was a return to the Phoenix desert, but could a new album mean the return to the desert, the mecca that is Indio, California?
Here’s to hoping! A live set from NERO would certainly drag my retirement age ass back to the scene. Consider my curiosity piqued.