The year was 2808. Daniel Stephens and Joseph Ray, better known as the British electronic music outfit Nero, stood atop a towering cockpit of thumping speakers, strobe lights and flashing televisions as they piloted a journey into their vision of the future.
It’s bright. So bright, in fact, that both men wore pitch-black sunglasses.
Nero launched its North American Second Reality Tour on Thursday with a sold-out show at the 9:30 Club. The concert showcased Nero’s debut album, “Welcome Reality,” which was released last summer and conceived as the duo’s idea of what the year 2808 will look and sound like.
Judging by Thursday’s show, Stephens and Ray predict a serious party. They were accompanied by vixen vocalist Alana Watson, whose pretty and pure soprano hung gracefully over the explosive drums and bass. The combination was risky; Watson’s voice could have easily been swallowed by the squawking synthesizers and blaring backbeats. But the trio was the perfect package of sinister dubstep, funky electro and sugary, 1980s-inspired pop.
This fusion makes Nero’s sound difficult to categorize, but distinguishes it from heavy hitters such as Skrillex, which feeds on dubstep’s rib-rattling bass drops, and electro legend Daft Punk, which takes a more streamlined approach. Instead, Nero’s melodies start off bouncy and flirtatious, luring you in like a sly seductress. Then off comes the mask and out comes the monster, splitting your eardrums and swallowing you whole.
There was fun to be had for anyone willing to thrash around a bit. For 1980s pop romantics, “Crush on You” sampled vocals from the Jets’ 1986 track of the same name over crushing waves of dubstep. For grittier drum and bass fans, “New Life” offered a testosterone-heavy ruckus. And for the thrill-seekers, “Angst,” a remix of Justice’s “Stress,” echoed a manhunt, with staccato “Jaws”-like strings that crept under blood-curdling squeals.
With so much to offer, there wasn’t a still body in the house during the hour-and-a-half set. While some audience members saluted the duo by flailing their various glow-in-the-dark accessories, others crowd-surfed their way toward the stage in adulation.
Such praise is deserved. With a concept dance album and a “dubstep symphony” (featuring the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra) under their belt, Stephens and Ray may be dreaming of 2808, but they’re not wasting a second of 2012.