Live Gig Photos

Starset, Sick Joy, O2 Empire, Shepherds Bush, February 13 2020

Words & Pictures: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media

Starset organised a series of demonstrations and the show at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire was full of a capacity crowd desperate to hear the words of front-man Dustin Bates via the medium of Cinematographic rock. Support for the evening came by way of Sick Joy a young three piece outfit, currently resident in Brighton but formed in harsher climates up North.

Sick Joy

It”s rare to find a trio of Geordies (Mykl – vocals/guitar, Danny – bass, Sam – drums) living in Brighton who want to play music firmly rooted in the 90s Seattle scene. If you’ve been searching high and low for such an act then look no further as Sick Joy will fill that void for you. It’s an unusual choice for an audience expecting cinematic bombast so to see three lads bravely hit the stage running, delivering a set that, if grunge was your thing you’ll love, if not, you won’t… Thankfully half the crowd bought into the band and responded enthusiastically. No complaints from them or the band and with an EP featuring ear worm Vibe Sucker already out along with recent single History also scoring some points, maybe it’s time to realise that this era falls under the classic rock \ retro tag and as such should be celebrated.


For those new to Starset (although when Dustin asked ‘Who’s been with us since Transmissions?’ the room erupted so this applies to only a few) there is a backstory to take into account. This conceptual cinematic rock band (from Columbus, Ohio) has been sent by The Starset Society to spread The Message that has been received in a mysterious signal from outer space. So far so good. The band have really bought into the concept and even interviews with Dustin see him staying true to the story and the character. There are books and even a graphic novel to support the story being told.

How do they do it? In the style of Linkin Park with a hint of Jim Steinman theatrical running through it all. Split into two halves, the first set sees the band performing in outfits that suggest a post apocalyptic world and fits alongside latest album Division. The second half sees the band return to the look that caught the public’s attention first time around with the musicians wearing space suits and helmets straight out of the Alien universe. Dustin, ditching the desert wear returning as a bow tie wearing scientist with glasses and maintaining the visuals to keep the story fresh in our minds.

Whilst the line up, permanently supplemented by a cellist and violinist, it’s vocalist and creator Dustin Bates that drives the show front and centre. The band and story has so many threads that managing it all and keeping what is clearly a universe spanning epic must be a huge labour of love for him. He fits the central role perfectly and is a hugely engaging yet mysterious character. One reviewer used the word immersive and the whole experience is definitely that. The band help the audience immerse themselves in the Starset universe and for 90 minutes, reality is checked at the door as we explore the meaning behind the messages received by the Society.

If we lose track of what’s going on, videos from Lara from the Starset Society, appear on the screen at the back of the stage. She also serves as an appropriate intermission allowing the band to head off and change for the second set.

With a couple of covers thrown in showing where Dustin got his inspiration from many years ago, the second set really got the crowd singing back as both Carnivore and the single that announced them to the world, My Demons, were delivered by a band at the top of their game.

The Empire was packed to the rafters, the band went down a storm at Download last year, every time they return, the show is bigger and better. This is the 4th time I’ve seen them, the first two support sets to other bands, then a smaller headline show and now this, a full set in a venue that allows them to shine. Brixton Academy or (ideally) for the spectacle, The Royal Albert Hall should be next one the list.


It Has Begun
Kashmir (Led Zeppelin cover)
Thunderstruck (AC/DC cover)
Intermission (Rebooting Demonstration)
Bringing It Down
My Demons
Outro (Africa – Toto)

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