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I love every single show I go to at Club Nokia, seriously, and with the line up the venue had scheduled April 19th, there was all the more reason to be excited. Zedd and Dillon Francis were openers on the bill with NERO headlining using the new stage set up that they’ve been towing about on their “Second Reality” tour. I was slightly saddened to have to choose between the show at Club Nokia and Sub Focus at the Fonda (former Music Box) as he’s been consistently one of my top 3 favorite artists since I first saw him at Ultra a couple years ago, but there’s really nothing to be bummed about in attending a Nero show.

So imagine my sheer joy when my friend February (not real name, but ALMOST) told me that Sub Focus’s show had been cancelled and he would be added to the bill at Club Nokia. Squealing like a stupid spoiled brat whose parents had stood in line for 36 hours in the freezing snow to buy a Tickle Me Elmo doll, I retweeted the info and gloated like an asshole 6 year old to my Facebook network. But I didn’t give a hoot. Dillon Francis, Zedd, Nero, and Sub Focus — that’s the shit, straight up.

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I had absolutely no idea that Dillon Francis and Zedd were best friends. This was heartwarming news indeed when DF hopped on the mic to tell the audience how much he “loved this guy right here.” Pretty fuckin’ cool.

Unfortunately, we had to miss Dillon Francis’s opening set due to the early 8pm start time and an over-extended dinner at Opaque and their dining-in-the-dark experience. For anyone who’s ever considered doing one of these dining in the dark dinners (with Braille Institute waiting staff), HOP ON IT. And if the high price tag is a bit off-putting, just wait until Groupon halves the price. It’s an amazing experience and well worth the trip, and if 50 bucks is too much for you to have yourself an intensely unique experience while also donating to the Braille Institute, you should really consider that next $80 round of Patron shots. #fakeballer

We arrived just in time to catch the beginning of Zedd’s set. Personally, I was hoping Zedd was the one opening with Francis to play after considering I had already seen his set at Coachella the previous weekend, but whatever the case, time spent watching/listening to Zedd is nothing to complain about. I heard some familiar cues and transitions from Coachella, but overall his set was solid with his signature electrohouse (complextro, wobble-house, whatever) sounds with super sneaky switch ups.

As I mentioned in my Coachella recap about Zedd’s mixing style, the one thing I really enjoy about the tracklist he plays is that he doesn’t just go from song to song. He’ll sneak the hook off of a really well known tune for 16 bars or so, make the crowd sing along (“One More Time” by Daft Punk), then right at the beat drop, throw down an obscure but recognizable banger. And by banger I mean, proper contemporary rave anthem, something that makes everyone in the crowd scream in delight and give the universal head nod. Songs that make you reach for Shazam to try and ID, only to find it impossible for your phone to identify a deep bassline with some reverbed wood blocks blasting you in the face. Awesome.

Gotta say though that his Zelda Remix unfortunately didn’t have the same kinda impact without the awesome 8-bit visuals. :(

Notable highlights from Zedd’s set:

  • His new track “Shotgun” mixed into his ultra-hard, synthed remix of “Coming Home” and Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamics,” followed a few songs later (I think) with a “Don’t Slam the Cinema” mashup
  • Bringing out a hipster’d out version of the Sexy Sax man. An UNPRECEDENTED performance duo

Onwards to Nero!

It’s been awhile since I’ve been firmly planted at a Nero set for an extended amount of time. The last time was Hard Haunted Mansion in 2010, and really, it was a big discovery year for me in the dubstep genre. I mean hell, anytime I heard the word “Nero” at that time, thoughts of burning mix CDs in high school with my pirated copy of Nero raced through my thoughts as I cracked a coy smile and reminisced (how this company still remains in business is definitely a mystery to me). These days, there’s absolutely no question on which reference is the afterthought.

For anyone who’s ever seen Nero live, you know that every time the British duo sets foot on stage, they bring an epic show. Usually with a “LIVE” moniker attached to their name on festival bills, you can bet your ass that they’re doing more than just standing on their platform pressing buttons. Well actually, I guess if they were using keyboards and midi-controllers, standing on their platform pressing buttons would be a pretty accurate description of what they’re doing.

Something new I learned about Nero: During their signature tune “Innocence,” it sounded like they actually played the chords out for the ultra-recognizable synth line on the keyboard. It was a truly hair-raising moment to hear them play that song out!

Overall, there’s really only one word I could use to describe Nero’s set: epic. Speaking both visually and sonically, they played plenty of their original tracks, many for their entire durations with full-blown orchestral breakdowns that had an almost cinematic quality. Combined with a meticulously produced visual orgy (there are stage set ups, and there are MUHHFUCKIN’ STAGE SET UPS — Nero has the latter) and a cool Flynn’s Arcade industrial style, the result was utterly amazing. Keep in mind that just a couple of hours earlier, I was having a meal with my eyes wide open and seeing nothing but pitch black (complete and utter darkness for 2 straight hours).

Coming to Nero from that context was such an extreme sensory overload, like skydiving into an active volcano while munching on ghost peppers and spraying yourself in the fuckin’ face with pepper spray…with tazers hooked to your gonads…and baby pandas flying by and offering you Sour Patch Kids (sorry, it’s getting really late).

Long story short, their live show and stage set up is phenomenal. And you need to make it a point to see it.

Highlights of the set included their slow and ominous remix of Justice’s “Stress” into the live break of “Innocence” then “Feel This Way”. They sported their one-piece future saloon shades and had the beautiful Alana Watson singing equally gorgeous hooks and verses with her smooth and sultry voice. Honestly, she alone is enough to get me to attend a show, but the whole thing was just mind-blowing.

And finally, Sub Focus! Because of the last-minute schedule change, it was pretty interesting to see a lot of people filing out when Nero finished their final encore. Some looked confused as the stage lights dimmed, and some looked quite satisfied after a mind-elevating evening with Nero. I guess a lot of people missed the memo that Sub Focus had been added to the bill last minute, which was no surprise as I myself barely found out that evening via a friend’s tendency to Twitter stalk aggressively.

Sub Focus and MC ID took the stage in a low-key fashion, no big set ups, no unnecessary fanfare. While I was slightly bummed for him at how scaled-down his show was (especially considering he was supposed to headline his own show at the former Music Box), there was a slight charm to this simpler, scaled-back iteration of one of my favorite artists.

With three Pioneer decks, no laptop, headphones, and a bottle of Heineken, Focus started playing raw and hard tracks right off the bat. MC ID did his usual thing, hyping the crowd, but in a more casual fashion, (which added to the vibe of the performance), like two mates just kicking back having a good time. From time to time he’d crank out DnB-style verses in between sips of his beer with some freestyles here and there. Overall, it was a great dynamic, high-energy enough to get the late-night crowd and dedicated fans going, a fantastic vibe to close the night.

Sub Focus’s set was a bit different than what I was used to — a lot of re-works and remixes of songs I could recognize but not too many of his original tracks. In their new forms and iterations, he mixed these songs beautifully into a set that mostly maintained at 90 BPM, straying away and gliding across multiple genres including dubstep, drum and bass, drumSTEP (fuckin’ love), and Moombahton. Like a stripper’s skin, it was smooth, yet dirty, since you have no idea what ridiculous bacterial fauna may reside.

Though the set was a bit more Sub Brocus than I expected (to my surprise, he played a LOT of Skrillex tracks), he kept the tracks hitting hard and constant. I’m pretty sure I heard two remixes of “Falling Down,” which made me gush like a 10-year-old girl who had touched Justin Bieber’s hand, and I love how he mixed Netsky’s remix of Rusko’s “Everyday” into a “Somebody to Love” (also by Rusko) drum ‘n’ bass remix.

Biggest shocker of the evening: Skrillex’s remix of Avicii’s “Levels.” Though I can’t say it got me particularly stoked, I can at least appreciate how happy it seems to make the crowd every time I hear it.

Seriously, one of the best music nights this year. Thanks for reading!

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