Deadly Headpieces and LED Guitars: Behind Empire of the Sun's "Culture Future" Looks

Luke Steele of Empire Of The Sun performs for Yahoo! On the Road at the House Of Blues on May 20, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.
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Getty Images | Photo By Cooper Neill / Getty Images
Tue, May 21, 2013 1:00 PM EDT

Whether reincarnated from the most ostentatious ancient civilizations, or time-traveled back from a glittery space colony, Empire of the Sun are arguably one of the most entertaining bands to ever watch live. Adorned with a golden headpiece fit for a Mayan deity, frontman Luke Steele looks ready for idol worship as he and other half Nick Littlemore regaled his followers at the band's Yahoo! On the Road performance at the House of Blues in Dallas last Monday.

But who is ultimately responsible for adorning Empire of the Sun with their elaborate metals, foils, furs, and feathers? Sydney-based costume designer Andrea Cainero has been bringing the merry band of immortals to dazzling, corporeal life since 2008.

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From the road, the fashion design-educated Cainero told us, "I previously worked with Josh Logue who has directed most of the Empire videos. He mentioned he was looking for someone to make costumes for their second clip "We are the People" that was going to be filmed in Mexico. I loved the band's first single "Walking on a Dream" and after seeing the video for that track, I knew I had to be a part of the second one. The budget was pretty tight on the clips at that point, so I paid for my own airfare to Mexico and have been working with the band ever since."

For Cainero's first gig with the band, she researched Mayan and Aztec history for the band's ensembles, sourcing materials from Monterrey, Mexico. The resulting mash-up of old world and space age that Cainero calls the "Cultural Future" became the band's signature look that is unlike any other group.

Steele and Littlemore have a definite say when creating their looks. Working closely with Cainero, the two send the designer loads of images for their different characters. Perhaps her biggest forte is paring down and making sense of so many difference inspirations. Plus with all the travel, the designer still has to keep transport in mind.

"We travel with quite a lot of costume cases in all different shapes and sizes. When designing, I'm always thinking of transport and performance elements so there's not too many surprises when we come to packing everything up," adds Cainero.

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And as with any tour, surprises come up and sometimes things go missing. Cainero told us about two dancers' masks going missing before the second to last stop of Empire's previous tour. She said, "We managed to get one of the two missing masks back, but luckily enough we were also able to get two new ones made. They were made by a company in Sydney who worked on Star Wars costumes and masks, so it wasn't just a simple go and buy more." Missing masks? Bum out. Missing masks made by Star Wars artisans? Dying!

But their costume caravan isn't all just clothing for the entire band and a crew of backup dancers. Feast your eyes on some of the sweet props that accompany Empire of the Sun's live show:

The amazing LED guitars were designed based on a sketch by Steele, and wired in collaboration with a props specialist back in Sydney. Steele's complementing 'Ice World' spiked set display on his riser was dreamed up by the band and a production designer.

Of all insanely cool costumes Cainero has designed for the duo and their cohorts, some of the most refined pieces have been the ones that took the most work to create. "The jackets that Luke and Nick wear in the "Alive" video are two of my favorites," said Cainero. "The shapes worked really well on each of them and there was a lot of handiwork on the military embellishments on Luke's jacket, with all the chord work being handmade and fitted specifically for the jacket."

As for Steele's celestial headwear that looks just a headbutt away from murder? Cainero told us, "They are pretty sharp. I get the pieces laser cut, so they often have to be filed back for safety. I used some mirrored pieces on one of Luke's live looks once, and the guitar tech had a few battle wounds from that one." Oh, the unspoken hazards of rock!

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