Since releasing their debut album Welcome Reality in 2011, British band Nero has been burning up the electronic dance music scene. Collectively, the trio of Daniel Stephens, Joe Ray, and Alana Watson has risen from obscurity into a chart-topping band. While Nero has yet to reach the iconic status of a group like Daft Punk, the band is quickly growing in popularity. Nero also has a unique quality that distinguishes them from their peers: the vocals of Alana Watson.

Stephens and Ray first met each other when they were teenagers. They were introduced by a mutual friend and bonded over their passion for music. Stephens played the cello and Ray played classical guitar. Ray also received additional musical training while attending a specialist music school in Westminster, London. Stephens and Ray would later meet with Watson and begin collaborating on songs. Initially, Watson was a featured vocalist while Stephens and Ray were the primary artists. Over time, Watson continued to shine as a singer and became an official member of Nero.

ner1After years of working diligently in the studio, Nero had a major breakthrough with the release of their debut album, Welcome Reality. “Promises,” the fourth single from the album, has been Nero’s biggest hit thus far, debuting at no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in 2011. The song has a catchy, dubstep sound with a futuristic verve that’s present in many electronic dance songs. The beat by itself is good, but nothing mind-blowing. However, Watson’s singing transforms a solid track into an infectious tune. Her haunting and spine-tingling voice infuses “Promises” with a chilling vibrancy. Nero later collaborated with producer Skrillex to create a remix of “Promises.” This version was also highly successful and won the Grammy for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical in 2013.

Following the success of Welcome Reality, Nero started touring their live show while perfecting their sound. In contrast to other electronic dance music artists, which rely heavily on DJing, Nero takes full advantage of Watson’s vocal abilities. Even though DJs can be entertaining at parties or clubs, they pale in comparison to a live performance from a singer. As Nero’s fan base grew, they began featuring Watson even more prominently.

In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Nero talked about their future plans and the direction of their sophomore album, Between II Worlds. In particular, Watson described the evolution of the band as well as her expanded role as a vocalist. “It always felt like a natural progression to move in the direction of taking on more of a frontwoman role,” Watson explained. “It wasn’t something that was pre-planned […]Live vocals seem to elevate our fans’ excitement as it emphasizes the fact that we are really there doing our thing. The show has evolved to include more song-crafted tunes and gives it a slightly more band-y feel.”

ner4The transition to full-fledged live performances is a logical choice. Electronic dance music is already energetic and high-intensity, so a live performance will galvanize the crowd to an even greater extent. Watson’s rousing vocals complement Stephens’ and Ray’s production while intensifying the band’s overall stage presence. As Stephens told Rolling Stone, “It’s worked really well having her more integrated into the show. The crowd gets to interact with her. Joe and I wanted the personal focus to be on her whilst we became silhouettes.”


Between II Worlds was released in September 2015 and has reached the top 10 of the US Billboard Dance/Electronic Dance Albums list. With the initial momentum of their second album, Nero is poised to expand its international audience. Although I’m not a huge fan of electronic dance music, I enjoyed listening to Nero. Watson is a talented singer, and I think it’s a wise decision to place her in the forefront. Other electronic dance music groups and artists should take a cue from Nero and enlist the services of a vocalist to reinvigorate the genre as a whole.

-Elijah Yarbrough

Your eyes tell you they’re photographs. That’s exactly what they seem to be: complex, colorful faces with paint on them. Your mind, seeing no reason to think otherwise, accepts the perception as reality. But something about the surface of the art compels you to think again. How can photographs yield such a realistic consistency? It looks and feels as if these photographs have skin–textured skin. Drawn in by the mystery of it all, you look up the artist for more information: Eloy Morales, hyperrealist painter based in Madrid, Spain. Painter you think to yourself. Somehow, they’ve made a mistake and misprinted information. But they haven’t. Your eyes have. Looking again, more closely this time, you realize that the crystal clear photographs creatively staged with bright colored paint are oil painted self portraits.

elr5It seems unreal that this internationally renowned artist started experimenting with paint when he was only 4 years old. But ever since 1995, Morales has catapulted his childhood experiments with paint into an ever growing career. “I try to show my inner world in my work,” he told Daily Mail, the UK online news website. Hence his love for painting faces. For Morales, the face is a public gateway to one’s inner world. The textures present on the faces of his subjects, whether artistic or physical, illustrate an inner world that viewers may not be privy to but are nevertheless intrigued by. Less focused on physical aspects, Morales enjoys capturing the ethereal world through his painting. For example, his painting, “Francisco with Butterflies,” evokes an imaginative, poetic feeling on the face of an older man. From the pale white color used to recreate Francisco’s face to the wrinkles on his forehead to the facial hair to the closed eyes to the blue butterflies, the amount of detail devoted to the piece is incredible.

elr2It’s no wonder Morales’ paintings are completed in tiny pieces at a time. Full of discipline and patience, he fills in one small pigment at a time, blending it if necessary. “It’s all about creating smooth transitional tones,” he states in a video illustrating his process. That’s how he achieves such layered details that resemble photography. Watching him paint almost feels like a time lapse as the image slowly spreads across the canvas, colored oils mixing and blending together to form images that look exactly like their photographic counterparts. With such a meticulous process, it should come as no surprise that it takes Morales a month’s worth of eight hour days to complete one portrait. He also prefers to work alone in his studio intentionally located far from his home. Intentional or not, this solitary work habit has helped launch Morales’ latest series of self portraits.

elr3The conceptual self portraits, as Morales calls them, visually depict the painter’s complex relationship with paint itself. Holding the belief that everything we do is a self portrait, the series reflects Morales’ emotional and creative journey. Photos showcasing a rainbow of paint on his face seem to speak to the vibrant life art breathes into this husband and father. A portrait of coffee brown paint oozing off of his face, however, may speak to the mundane everyday struggles artists sometimes feel. Despite the overwhelming hyperrealism present in his art, Morales prefers not to hold so tightly to labels and tags. Instead, he prefers to think of art as unlimited and uninhibited: free of labels that restrict art to confining descriptions.

Perhaps, the best way to describe Eloy Morales’ art is living and breathing. Despite the pieces merely being oil on canvas, they seem to come alive with one glance. Though silent, they tell stories. Though still, they trigger emotions. Though hyperrealist, they reach beyond a tangible, physical world, tapping into a world that can only be visited through imagination. Though he paints faces, he’s caused faces all around the world to feel something. Known as the world’s greatest hyperrealist painter, Eloy Morales demonstrates the words of Henry David Thoreau: “this world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

-Sharita Gilmore