An Interview with Starset's Dustin Bates

Dustin Bates of Starset (Photo: Kevin Estrada)
'Cinematic Rock' band Starset, conceived and led by Columbus, OH native Dustin Bates, hits the Bay Area this weekend with a show at the UC Theater on Saturday night in support of their 2017 Vessels (iTunes) album. Since their debut in 2014, Dustin's Starset has racked up hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, released a sci-fi novel expanding the world of The Starset Society, and partnered with Marvel to release the corresponding graphic novel. He's released an AR app (iTunes) to coincide with the live show -- which he refers to as 'demonstrations' --  and has plenty more in the works. He graciously spent time speaking with us in advance of this weekend's show and you can find the full interview is below. Tickets for the UC Theater show can still be found here.

SFBAC: Dustin, thanks so much for making the time to speak with us today. First off, I’m not sure if we should start off talking about music or technology, especially given that you’re coming so close to Silicon Valley this weekend with your show at the UC Theater in Berkeley.

Dustin Bates: I like to talk about both.

SFBAC: Well, let's start off with your premise behind the Starset Society?

Dustin Bates: Yeah, at its core, we are very pro-tech, but we've realized, and me personally, from my own journey, came to realize the duality of technology and its potential for both good and harm. And the goal of the Starset Society is to promote that duality. And hopefully do our part in raising the awareness of the vast changes technology is making on our world in political, social, economic, and even philosophical ways.

SFBAC: As a musician, have you always embraced technology musically?

Dustin Bates: Yes, although for a long time, the two things and two passions of mine were mostly separate. I mean there has always been technology involved in the recording of music to some degree, and I've certainly enjoyed that. But the high level of engineering and tech, that was always reserved for my engineering studies and research, and the music was separate. So it was only with Starset that they merged.

SFBAC: When did you get into music as a kid? or was it later?

Dustin Bates: Yeah, it was when I was a kid. I think the first time I got the bug, that I can remember, I've been asked a similar question before, and the first time I could ever really realize that I loved music was, of all things, "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. That drum fill, my mom used to love -- I don't know, she probably still loves Phil Collins -- but she used to wear out Phil Collins tapes, and when I heard that song and the drum solo, I was impassioned by it. To the point where I had to get a snare drum, I joined the school band, and then I mowed lawns to get a drum set, and then I discovered grunge bands, and then discovered Metallica, and decided I wanted to be in a band, and then decided I wanted to write songs when I discovered Weezer, and then it all just cascaded from there.

SFBAC: And for Starset, did you have the concept first or the music?

Dustin Bates: So it all stems from the Starset Society, and this was the first thing that came into existence. My own inspiration for the Starset Society, and my inclusion into it, certainly came before any writing of the music. And, working on some projects for the Air Force, for instance, a persistent surveillance project where an aircraft or UAV is flying over a war zone taking constant imagery and basically allowing for someone to click on a spot in the imagery where something occurred, and you could rewind from that spot and find out, you know, if a car bomb went off. You could click rewind, and click on the car and follow the car back to its origin. Very, very, useful. Or very positive for US soldiers. Now, that can easily be applied in Chicago, and at first, that might seem entirely positive as well, where a crime happens and you figure out where the criminal came from. But, obviously it doesn't likely stop there, and it's a slippery slope, and you find yourself in a 1984 that couldn't have even been imagined in the past. So that's just one of the many, many areas that I'm personally inspired by when it comes to technology. That sort of duality. Like I said, I love technology. We use it in our band, it's been a passion of mine my entire life. I just don't think there are enough voices out there speaking of how the world is changing so exponentially. In the ways that we don't even understand. And if we don't understand that, we'll find ourselves more easily manipulated by politicians, or tech people, or religious people or many other types of people.

SFBAC: Do already have a sense of where you stand on AI? Elon Musk has been vocal about the cause for concern about AI and taking it a leap further, the concept that we could already be living in a computerized simulation.

Dustin Bates: Yeah, my views are actually quite similar to his. In that, if it's possible that this is a simulation, you know, we look at the last 30 years of high level computing, and how far we've come in video games, for instance. And extrapolate out another couple of hundred years, it becomes pretty feasible that this could be a simulation. There haven't been enough studies as to the actual mathematics and the feasibility that this is a simulation. But I'm in the camp, where certainly it could be a simulation, with a powerful enough computer. And if that is the case, then statistically, then it's more likely it is a simulation because of the goldilocks variables. For example, the distance to the sun, the heat of the sun, the composition of the earth, the rotation of the earth, the physics involved in the universe. And it's certainly possible. And that's the way we've seen the world up until this point. But it's either that [this goldilocks situation], this very, very, very, very rare instance, or, it's one massive computer in a bank of massive computers somewhere where there could be a thousand simulations running in a single location. And so that is actually much more statistically likely. And then I like to think about 'why?' You know, there's various reasons. Trying to figure out various outcomes. It could be a scientific study from aliens. My favorite thing I've come up with is that maybe aliens have uploaded their minds before death, emulated their minds into a computer so that they can live forever. And then they realized, what's the point of living forever if you can't live life? So they started creating simulations, and they probably started with utopian simulations, but realized that was boring, so they begin to experience much crazier simulations, with the Yin and the Yang so that this simulated life was more entertaining. But you couldn't know you were in a simulation until the end. But that's just a crazy random theory, and I don't even know the likelihood of that!

SFBAC: WIt's a pretty interesting thought experiment to contemplate the how and the why we could already be living in a simulation. Pulling that back to the music, I love how you've created experiences beyond just your music. There's a novel, which launched your partnership with Marvel and a corresponding graphic novel. You've recently launched an AR app... The Starset Society concept could easily translate to games or movies. What else are you working on?

Dustin Bates: I've conceptualized some very low level games, just for fun, more in the AR/VR world for fans. I have ideas for... you know, we call our shows 'demonstrations', and the reason is, that we search for the best way to immerse the fan into our world as soon as they enter the doors. And have goals and plans for turning things into the demonstration the instant you walk in. Some of that might involve gamifying certain AR experiences in the venue, but also outside of the venue. And then higher level games would be amazing, but that's a little beyond our scope at the moment. And I'd be lying if I didn't think the idea of doing a feature length film hadn't crossed my mind. I have a passion for Sci-Fi, and I have a passion for this style of science-slash-sci-fi that we've been working with. And I would love to do more stuff and incapsulate all types of media.

SFBAC: Well, you're off to a great start. In terms of inspiration, I can definitely hear Linkin Park or classic Industrial influences in your music, but what about your stage show? Your demonstrations? Were you a fan of some of the classic performance rock bands like Genesis, Kiss or GWAR?

Dustin Bates: It's hard to quantify in terms of influences because everything was born out of a different inspiration on the stage. I think the fact that people have come before us to do such things, has maybe eased the fear of doing those things and made it more like 'yeah, we can do this.' I imagine if there had never been a Kiss, it would have been a hell of a lot weirder, or a bigger step for us to take onto this. But I don't think there was ever really a direct inspiration in terms of a group that was very cinematic or very theatric. I think each piece that's up there was inspired by either an artistic, maybe a spin off of some other thing we've already done? From the space suits, which were the earliest thing, to the most recent, which are the visors that our cellist and violinist wear, as well as I do, which were inspired by our "Monster" video. There's this sort of futuristic AR thing. And everything in between. But I would say, that it is inspired by the 'theater', in just a more broad way. Every play I've seen, and the way a play is executed, and nothing is left to chance. It's the opposite of a 'jam', and I'm always striving to make it even more like the theatre. So that's where a lot of it comes from, even though I was never involved in theater ironically.

SFBAC: Back to your AR app, how did that come about? Did you have any experience in VR or AR prior to building the app?

Dustin Bates: Well, much like everything else, I sort of utilize the skills I've been taught or have acquired in engineering, and I had never worked with it before, but I'm pretty quick to catch on to these things. And I knew I wanted to have AR for quite a while. But recently some new toolkits, some new chipsets, the Apple ARKit for instance, our new AR experience only works on very new phones. It's very much an emerging tech, and this just felt like the right time to do it because the cost has dropped, and we wanted to be the first to do it. It just works incredibly with everything we do, with the demonstration. And so, I put a team together and instead of calling a company that does AR and going that route, we just started an initial team in Columbus with a great 3D modeler and a great coder. We did team up for the live version [of the AR app] with a company itself, and they did a great job, but that's actually the second phase of our AR app. We've got much, much more that we've been working on for maybe seven or eight months. That's about to come online very shortly. And it's, to me, even more impressive. And I can't wait to do that. And the sky's the limit there, we intend to do a lot with it.

SFBAC: What else can fans expect from this 2018 outing?

Dustin Bates: We've called it Immersion Part 1, and the reason is, it is a further expansion onto our goal of audience immersion into our world. And we've incorporated numerous things actually over previous tours. The cellist and violinist now play behind cubes, similar to what the drummer used to play behind. And the cubes are coated in a polymer that when given voltage they go transparent. So you can see the players, and when they're not playing, they go opaque, and the instant they go opaque, we projection map onto them. So there's a push and pull between seeing the player and seeing 3D videos. And also there is a laser show that happens during our acoustic set, which is also new. We play a couple of acoustic songs under a multi-dimensional laser show. And then, we've also incorporated more stage effects, such as the visors, and yeah, just a ton of new content. And it's our first legitimate headline tour, so I think we're doing 17 songs? So it's a lot different than if people had seen us maybe outside of the festival for instance.

SFBAC: Well, that sounds great to us, and thanks so much for your time! We're looking forward to your show this weekend at the UC Theater and best of luck with the rest of your tour!

#buttons=(Accept !) #days=(20)

Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. Learn More
Accept !