Nero reaches into the past for Spring Awakening setSamf2013 Recap 9

Nero reaches into the past for Spring Awakening set

With dozens of festivals popping up as the EDM bubble continues its precarious swell, lineups start to meld together, sets start to sound similar, and it becomes very difficult for any particular act to stand out. Yet after letting the Spring Awakening wave fully wash over us, there was one set that refused to sink back into blur, and that set was Nero’s.

It was only the trio’s Joe Ray who took the decks at the Main Stage on Friday night, but if he missed his bandmates his sound didn’t show it. With the sun beginning it’s descent on the 8:30 slot and the crowd shivering with both cold and anticipation, the cheer ripping through the stadium was the only fanfare with which Ray opened his set.

“Won’t You (Be There)” was the chosen first track, but it wasn’t played out, rather played, over, above, and beyond: It was certainly not the album version. With a re-tuned vocal and a beefed up electro blend, what it was was something more enhanced, something less structured, something harder to define. To put it simply, it was something Nero.

In contrast to the standard track-track-cheer, spiraling instrumentals supported by a sharp bass backbone carried the set from sound to sound, with Ray weaving a storyline and picking characters back up after briefly turning to other members of the cast. “Reaching Out,” for example, was teased early on, looked like it would make a comeback halfway through, but then finally took center stage at the tail end of a stripped then re-assembled “Promises.”

Though all eight of Welcome Reality‘s singles starred in the show, Skrillex, Drake, Borgore and Carnage and Flux Pavilion all made cameos as well. While it takes more than a bit of finesse to successfully work the clanging “Right On Time” and spat out lines of “Forever” in with Nero’s own more lush sound, what was perhaps most impressive was the insertion of both Knife Party and Pryda, but we may be romanticizing the symbolism of using “Power Glove” and “Power Drive” in the same set.

What we’re not romanticizing is the power of the music, as in the set the other elements were merely details. Only when the sun had gone down did the effects become evident, and that was largely because shortly after the rainbow lights revealed their colors the first lasers of the weekend shot out over the crowd, who gasped and clapped like awed children. Which in a way they were.

Prior to that point there hadn’t been much for the crowd to look at, but from Ray’s vantage point the stadium full of thrashing kandi kids and swaying co-eds must have been a spectacle. Though reticent throughout his set, with ten minutes left he called on Chicago to put their hands up. Chicago of course responded, and though Ray said nothing else, his finale spoke for itself – it was “Are You Ready.” We certainly were.

What made the set so memorable was not a deluge of premiers, not a guest appearance, not a mesmerizing light show. What made it stand out was it’s attention to detail, it’s bottomless transitions and its ability to turn old tracks into new experiences. Though perhaps only 20% of the set featured tunes from 2013, the older tracks were not dragged out but rehabbed and refreshed, given a new sound for a new set. In a scene convinced that only new is good and that faster is better, Nero’s throwback-meets-future set was a welcome reality check.

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