Off Campus


UK-based dubstep duo Nero is taking the dance floor by storm. Recently nominated for BBC Sound of 2011, Dan Stephens and Joe Ray have crafted one of the most recognizable sounds in the genre. Their recent Radio 1 Essential Mix was voted one of the best of the year—a testament to their sublime live performances. They have a new EP out and a full-length album on the way. We recently had the privilege to speak with Joe about why this is the year of Nero.

Observer: What was it like being asked to do an essential mix and joining the ranks of some of the world’s best DJs?

Joe: We have been listening to the essential mixes for ages, and we all have our personal favorites. I used to love all of the old ones, Trentmoller, Scratch Perverts and stuff, so being asked to do it was kind of something we have been wanting to do for ages. We put a lot of time into doing an interesting two-hour mix. We had already had some ideas for it, and we wanted to do something people could listen to again and again, and not just throw in all the stuff we play out when we are DJing, you know, put some interesting stuff in there. Hopefully, it came together okay.

O: You started out producing some great drum and bass tracks, and you have slowly been transitioning into dubstep. What inspired this change?

J: I guess we have been doing drum and bass for a while and when we heard dubstep and the sound that it had—it’s exciting, it’s new. It’s obviously a lot slower; there is more space to kind of be creative in there, more chance to be original. We still love drum and bass, but we came to a point where we were quite fond to try something new out. We did our first release called “This Way,” and that went down really well. Sold as much as our drum and bass songs ever sold. And we thought…if people are on it, why not try some more? Then we started writing a few more remixes and bootlegs and then a couple more original things, and I guess we have gradually become known more as dubstep artists than drum and bass.

O: When put into perspective, dubstep is a very young genre. How does it feel to be pioneering a genre growing so quickly in popularity? Where do you draw your influences from?

J: Yeah, it’s great to be doing something that is reasonably new and exciting. It has spread from London across the world really quickly. I guess in terms of influences, anywhere from any other kind of music. All sorts, techno, all over, any kind of dance music—any kind of music—kind of rubs off on you, and the stuff you love will come out in the music you write, so a lot of our tunes are inspired by other bits of music here and there, and we sample every so often. It’s just other kinds of music that we like from any genre.

O: Do you think of yourselves as pioneers of dubstep?

Joe: Not really. It was around four or five years before we even started dabbling in it. I guess we, along with a few other people, kind of brought the drum and bass sound to it, a lot of melodic stuff, female vocals, generally a more song-based feel. It was around a long already time before we really started playing around with it.

O: New album slated for release on a relatively new label you just signed. What do you have in store for us?

J: The album is going to be a mix of different genres and stuff—mainly dubstep—but we want to write an interesting musical dance album and not just your standard stuff. We want to do something more like the essential mix. Something people listen to over and over that stands outside the genres in a way. So yes, it’s the culmination of about four years of writing things out, and it will be 13 or 14 tracks—kind of a journey, won’t be too song after song after song. It will be interesting. We are trying to get it finished up right now.

O: What would you say is the oddest thing that’s happened to you during a set?

J: Someone threw a Boston Red Sox cap at me the other night. It was quite fun. I didn’t know if he wanted me to put it on or not. I obviously didn’t put it on. I figured it was a free present. I don’t know—things falling off. I remember a disco ball fell off the ceiling and landed on the decks. Clubs breaking can be quite funny.

O: What are you listening to right now? I noticed a lot of electro on the essential mix—are you into that scene?

J: We like Danger who has done a remix of one of our new tunes. He is doing some interesting things. You know, all of the Ed Banger stuff and all the film score stuff they have done. Nothing in particular, just some interesting musical stuff, really. Kevin Danger did a remix for us, and it was great. I’m sure he will have a good future. He’s just at that point, I reckon, of blowing up.

O: Is there anything special you do to prepare for a set?

J: Not at all. I just play off CDs and yeah. Pretty basic performance.

O: How did you meet Dan?

J: We grew up in the same kind of town in North West London, and we were going out listening to drum and bass music, and I guess we just wanted to get on the other side of the decks and start making people dance. And so we then put our heads together and starting writing drum and bass stuff, and that was around…seven to eight years ago. Growing up in the same place made it really easy to write music together.

O: How did you like the Boston scene?

J: Boston. Yeah, that was great. It was hot. It was grand. Boiling in there—I couldn’t take it. Yeah, great gig.

O: Thanks! Hope you kill your show tonight.

J: No problem. Cheers!

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