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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.
After 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.”
The 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.