Geek metal crew Starset is bringing their interstellar message to Bogart’s

Starset’s Dustin Bates with his unidentified musical objects. Photo: Kevin Estrada

By Alan Sculley

Many rock musicians start bands hoping they’ll have enough success to never have to work a typical day job – or in some cases, avoid college and the studying it takes to earn a degree.

Dustin Bates, the man behind the band Starset, is not one of those musicians. In fact, he holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from Ohio University and was positioned to work on leading edge technology before the opportunity to have a viable music career opened up before him.

He had finished his course work and was doing a dissertation, while also doing research for the Air Force when music intervened.

“I did numerous projects in automated robotics and highly accurate navigation,” Bates said during a recent phone interview. “My goal was to be in the forefront of automated vehicles, and it was timed just right that I really could have done that and been part of that movement.”

Instead, the band Bates had during college, Downplay, started making the right kind of noise. Specializing in a mainstream rock sound with a bit of an alternative slant, Downplay released several independent albums, was courted by labels and in 2010 signed to Epic Records, which green lighted a first album for the label.

“I did work on that, came out to L.A. and wrote some songs and recorded a record in New Orleans,” Bates said. “And almost simultaneously with the completion of the record, the label got a new president and we were dropped instantaneously as they changed the direction of what they wanted to do. They wanted to focus on pop.”

This, obviously, was a major disappointment and a genuine setback for Bates, who had put his aspirations to work on automated vehicles on the shelf and invested his savings into Downplay. But looking back, Bates feels seeing the Epic deal end was not such a bad thing.

“I didn’t know if I was going to go back into studying. It was a very low point,” he admitted. “But it was good, though. It didn’t feel like it at the time – but it allowed for sort of cleansing of the palate. I was able to reconnect with finding a direction in a weird way.”

Bates began thinking about a new musical direction and forming a band with a much more substantial message – one that actually tied back into his collegiate and post-graduate studies.

He came up with a concept for a fictional science organization known as the Starset Society led by an equally fictional president, Aston Wise. The society had received a transmission from outer space that foretold the demise of humanity on earth but also included instructions on how to prevent this catastrophic outcome. This message would be brought to the masses through a very real band called Starset.

That group released its second album, “Vessels,” in January 2017, and its music and message have connected on a fairly major scale during its brief existence.

Starset’s 2014 debut album, “Transmissions,” debuted at No. 5 on “Billboard” magazine’s Hard Rock album chart and spawned a single, “My Demons,” which set the record for the longest run of any song to stay in the top five on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart at 41 consecutive weeks.

The album’s impact was perhaps even more remarkable online. The band opened two YouTube accounts to host its videos and other content. According to a November 19 Billboard magazine article, those pages generated more than 85 million views. But Starset’s music exploded primarily in the gaming and anime communities on YouTube where account holders uploaded video content from the band and/or created videos set to Starset music. A whopping 534.8 million views were generated by fan-created content.

The music Bates has created fits with the scientific/technology themes of the lyrics. The music brings together elements of electronic music, hard rock and metal (the “Vessels” songs

“Into The Unknown,” “Gravity Of You” and “Frequency” are prime examples of that stylistic mix – and even integrate a few metal core-ish screams into their otherwise melodic vocals), while also adding in a good bit of expansive pop (“Satellite” and “Die For You”) and even a touch of progressive rock (“Starlight”). Despite its diverse ingredients, Starset’s sound is cohesive, cinematic and impactful.

What the music is not is easy to categorize. Writers and fans have struggled to describe the Starset sound, mentioning acts like Linkin Park, the Deftones, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails as touchpoints. Bates thinks the band’s sound is unique.

“I have no qualms with comparisons to other groups and I welcome it, actually. It is getting a little harder, I would say, which is good,” he said. “Yeah, I don’t exactly know offhand a total one-to-one comparison band. I would still have to maybe list four or five to even put people on the path of what it is. But maybe someone will come up with something.”

Lyrically, Starset can be a challenge as well, and many will probably find it difficult to draw a cohesive story out of “Vessels’” songs themselves. But just as Starset fleshed out the lyrical story of “Transmissions” with a graphic novel (“The PROX Transmissions”) and other material on the band’s website, Bates promised that accompanying material for the “Vessels” album will soon be available to fans.

“A lot of the ‘Vessels’ story is pulling ideas from four major tenets of the Starset Society that are going to be outlined on the website,” Bates said. “They are space, mind or brain, body and automation. There are narratives that are based upon these. The album is a soundtrack to them. I definitely drew heavily from these and I always draw inadvertently or directly or indirectly from my own experience. But because of these stories and these tenets, there has been a change or a shift in the dynamic. I guess ‘Transmissions,’ I would say, is a story of overcoming and ‘Vessels’ is more the journey. It also has a little bit more of an intimate, human effect.”

Bates is excited to take the latest music to the live stage. The group is bringing some visual bells and whistles to its show when possible.

And with Bates out front on vocals, keyboards and guitar, the other band members – bassist Ron De Chant, guitarist Brock Richards and drummer Adam Gilbert – continue to wear the space suits that have become a signature of Starset. But there will be differences from previous tours.

“We’ve upgraded the suits this time,” Bates said. “We’re calling them the Mach III. They’re a lot different. We’re excited about that. We’re actually going to continue upgrading those as the tour goes on.”

Starset will appear on February 11 at Bogart’s, 2621 Vine St., Cincinnati. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 513.872.8801, or visit More information about Starset can be found at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at

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