Steampunk: Victoriana Remixed

Feature

Friday, October 05, 2012

Steampunk — a term that once referred to a few science-fiction authors — has become one of today’s most influential design styles. From a handful of hobbyists encasing their iPads in Victorian brass fittings or inventing mock Old West ray guns, steampunk has become a Simpsons punchline (“I just hope we put in enough steampunk,” worries Homer, “whatever that is”).

This month, the fourth annual SteamCon festival will take place near Seattle, and this weekend the steampunk music festival Steamstock launches near San Francisco. Headlining Steamstock is English singer Thomas Dolby (of the 1982 hit “She Blinded Me With Science” — very protosteampunk), and the Seattle band Abney Park.

“We took on the title of a steampunk band, mixing Victorian elements and modern elements in this science-fiction-era-that-never-was, and it really fit,” says Abney Park’s lead singer Robert Brown, who goes by Captain Robert. The band will use a Romantic violin line, a barrelhouse piano part, and boogie-woogie harmony singing, blending them with guitars and electronic rhythms. “Take things that are very modern and juxtapose them with things that are hundreds of years old,” suggests Nathaniel Johnston, the group’s violinist.

For Abney Park, though, steampunk isn’t a pastiche style, and its emphasis on the Victorian era in particular isn’t a superficial nostalgia. “That was one of the last eras when adventure and exploration really existed,” Brown says. “Science was sort of open for the grabbing, anybody could take it. The world was still explorable, there were places to go, things to see.” In his view, pretending to live in the past is a way of critiquing the present. Steampunk “is a rebellion against how bland the world has become, how the adventure’s been sucked out, and the aesthetics have been sucked out — everything that was gorgeous and everything that was exciting, you can’t get anymore.”

“The reason why we make the music we make is we don’t want to lose what used to be good about music,” Brown explains. “But we don’t want to abandon what’s cool now. We want to have it all.” 

 

Slideshow: Steampunk Chic

Jake Warga

Attendees of 2010’s Steamcon II in Seattle came dressed for the occasion.

Jake Warga
Jake Warga
Jake Warga
Jake Warga
Jake Warga

    Music Playlist
  1. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
    Artist: Justin Bieber
    Album: Under the Mistletoe
    Label: Island Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Under the Radar
    Artist: Abney Park
    Album: Æther Shanties
    Label: Post-Apocalypse Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Wanderlust
    Artist: Abney Park
    Album: Æther Shanties
    Label: Post-Apocalypse Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. Victoria
    Artist: Abney Park
    Album: Æther Shanties
    Label: Post-Apocalypse Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  5. Until the Day You Die
    Artist: Abney Park
    Album: Æther Shanties
    Label: Post-Apocalypse Records
    Purchase: Amazon

Contributors:

Jake Warga

Comments [5]

Mike Sergeant

I remember that what is now Steampunk may have gained it's first real traction with the computer game "Myst"

Oct. 18 2012 11:16 AM
Rex Crum from Oakland

I know I'm late to the party for this, but I can't help but wonder how you didn't include any mention of Rush's new album, "Clockwork Angels", which is a concept record with a steampunk theme to it.

Oct. 16 2012 04:09 PM
Peter Levy from New York, NY

Loved that bit. What would Isambard Kingdom Brunel think of Steampunk? Here's what Kate Beaton thought: http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=266

Oct. 10 2012 03:24 PM
Nathaniel Johnstone

Minor correction: Titus Munteanu is now the violinist for Abney Park. He's a total badass!

For those who are interested in what I'm doing nowadays:
www.nathanieljohnstone.com
http://soundcloud.com/nathaniel-johnstone

I'll be performing at Steamcon this year on Saturday, Oct 27. Come out join us!

Oct. 05 2012 04:46 PM
Mark Fenger

I missed it this year. I was too busy writing. Next year I'll be there for sure, though it will be for business more than pleasure. I'll be promoting my novel and my web-serial Orphans of the Celestial Sea. Serial is at http://brassbolts.blogspot.com/2012/09/orphans-of-celestial-sea-chapter-1.html if anyone's interested.

Oct. 05 2012 01:19 PM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.