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Nero live at Village Underground, London (published in Metro, August 2015)

Q: Why did the lion get lost? A: The jungle is massive.

If you're too young or too old to get that joke, rest assured Nero aren't. Not only are the London trio - Daniel Stephens, Joe Ray, Alana Watson – no strangers to gags involving wildlife and Nineties dance genres (their first single was called “Ragga Puffin”), but seeing M-Beat feat. General Levy perform junglist anthem “Incredible” on Top Of The Pops was, for Stephens, a Damascene moment.

'Massive' would also be one way of describing Nero's sound, a gargantuan electro-dubstep-rave hybrid which topped the charts twice in 2011 with debut album Welcome Reality and Novello-nominated smash “Promise”.

Four years later, they're back with second album Between II Worlds, showcased in an intimate Shoreditch arts space that could barely contain the enormity of Nero's noise: the overdriven rave riffs and deep drops, the autotuned Pinky & Perky vocals, the disciplined clatter of the beats, and basslines that made your clothing flap.

Equally overpowering was the dazzling festival-ready stage set, a sort of fortified digital pyramid made entirely of LED screens, inside which Stephens and Ray lurked, and in front of which singer Alana domineered with Madonna-like imperiousness.

Whenever she took a breather, Stephens and Ray plugged the gaps by sampling the ancient (Hall & Oates), the medium-old (Daft Punk) and the super-recent (David Zowie), threatening to turn the show into a glorified DJ set. But if the excitement ever flagged, it was rarely for long.

The new material brings a new complexity to Nero's sound without abandoning its hugeness. Single “The Thrill” allows breathing space into their music, while still possessing beats that could crunch bones. Follow-up “Two Minds”, given a stunning extended breakdown, is arguably their best work yet.

These emperors, and empress, impress.



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