Starset Frontman Dustin Bates Details Electronic-Leaning Project MNQN

Steve Gullick


As he prepares for the start of Starset's upcoming tour, frontman Dustin Bates is planning to launch another musical entity this year.

The Ohio-based Bates has a new project called MNQN, which he describes to Billboard as "something I'm super excited about. It's sort of '80s retro, a lot of '80s synths and things like that, with some rap beats and also, I guess, a lot more modern melody, dark-pop aspects to it." The first MNQN album has been in motion for a year and should be finished within a month, with a hoped-for release some time this year.

"It started out as a prog-rock thing," Bates reports. "At first it was a side project, a way to keep my skills honed without eternally working on Starset. But then I started adding in electronics, so then I split it off into two projects. So there's also a lot of prog-rock songs out there I'm eventually going to release, too." Bates isn't sure if MNQN is going to become a performing act, however. "It's hard to say because of the sound," he explains. "I think it would translate into a live setting, but I'm not sure if I'll have time or what it would look like because it's very electronic so it would probably require a decent amount of electronics on stage to actually perform it. It'd be fun, but it would certainly be an undertaking."

Bates and Starset, meanwhile, will be undertaking a new headlining tour to continue promoting last year's Vessels album, kicking off Jan. 28 after a run on this week's Shiprocked cruise. Bates promises Starset's new show will "take ideas and elements that we’ve had before and amp them up even further," including more intense visual projections for the polymer Cube that's part of the stage set, as well as additional cubes for the group's string players.

"We realized (the show) needed a new geometry so it could be more engaging, more three-dimensional, have more information," Bates says. "We redesigned it and now it looks way cooler, and we have a lot of other effects to make sure it's as immersive as possible." The repertoire, meanwhile, will draw from both Vessels and 2014's Transmissions, including some songs from the former that Bates says "we don’t usually have a chance to play but that seem to be popular with our fan base."

Starset will remain active, he says, but Bates isn't making promises about when the group's third album will emerge. "The MNQN thing is at the front of my brain now, so that's the next thing you're going to hear, I think," he says. "I like to do Starset in sort of discreet amounts of time, come at it after some time has passed so I can find a new sound and it has a clean break from Vessels and is an entirely new thing, so the records don't blur from one to the other. I think people understand it's more like a lab than a band, and I have a lot of musical aspirations and a lot of other things I'd like to do outside of the music.

"So the long/short story isn't I haven't jumped into it yet, but when I do it'll be full-go."