Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Dirigibles, cogs and goggles - the crazy world of steampunk

So far I've posted on industrial culture, Lolita culture, vampyre culture and (briefly) the faerie subculture, New Romanticism and Neo-Victorianism. As you know, the rather ambiguous 'dark culture' tag can be applied to these and many more of Goth's 'relatives' - and Lolita is not the only subculture to have recently begun heavily inspiring a lot of Goths to revamp their wardrobes.

Like its futuristic cousin cyberpunk, steampunk originally descended from a style of literature. Steampunk novels became popular in the 80s and 90s, and could be described as a subset of sci-fi fiction set in a world or era when steam power is still used and incorporating elements of science fiction and/or fantasy. Think steam-powered time machines and clockwork ray guns.

Popular works of 'classic' steampunk fiction include The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Homunculus by James Blaylock, Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter and The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, to name but a very few. Nowadays, with the growing popularity of steampunk subculture, more and more authors are putting out steampunk or steampunk-inspired fiction, such as Soulless by Gail Carriger, and even the graphic novel series Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio.

There are even many films with a nod towards steampunk, such as Wild Wild West, and the Disney animation Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Steampunk art is also coming into its own, and usually features modern objects, such as computers, clocks, or even electric guitars transformed by artists and steampunk enthusiasts into wonders of pseudo-Victorian technology.

Steampunk fashion often has a strong emphasis on DIY; objects such as iPods and mobile phones are often modified to remain in keeping with the look as a whole. Accessories tend to be an eclectic combination of technological and period-inspired accessories, such as brass goggles, a top hat, a parasol and a pocketwatch. Rather than Goth black, the usual colours are brown, gold, white and cream.

For events or more 'dressy' styles, outfits tend to be heavily Victorian-inspired, featuring petticoats, corsets, spats, waistcoats and bustles, hence steampunk's close relations with the Neo-Victorian subculture. Although there is an emerging subset of 'casual steampunk', which allows the wearer, should they wish, to incorporate steampunk aesthetics into their everyday wardrobe (much like those who choose to wear Goth fashion everyday. Previously, as far as I can tell, steampunk was similar to Lolita, in that it was worn for special occasions and meet-ups rather than everyday wear. The development of 'casual steampunk' could see steampunk being worn as streetwear, as Goth often is).

I have often read that, in order to wear steampunk fashions and become part of steampunk subculture, one must create an alternative identity and back story in keeping with their outlandish wardrobe; for example, I might become the Contessa Von Hawkmoth, lace-gloved, tea-drinking, eye-patch-wearing time-travelling aristocrat from London, England. However, it seems to me that this is more along the lines of Goths choosing to adopt a 'scene name' which they go by online and at clubs and events (notable examples would be Siouxsie Sioux, Rogue, Adora BatBrat, Lady Amaranth, Voltaire and many more) or vampyres calling themselves Empress Nightwing or some such - it's a personal choice rather than a requirement.

As you can see in the video above, some enthusiasts have chosen to adopt an alternative persona whereas some simply enjoy taking part in the culture 'as themselves'.

Abney Park show off their steampunk fashion cred.
Steampunk music, like Goth music, covers a wide spectrum of artists and styles. Goth band Abney Park were quite recently reborn as a steampunk band (and, I might add, lost none of their popularity within the subculture when doing so. Click band name in bold for a free steampunky download!). Other steampunk-associated bands, beloved by steampunk enthusiasts and Goths alike, include Vernian Process, Dr. Steel, the Unextraordinary Gentlemen, the Clockwork Dolls, Deadly Nightshade Botanical Society, The Texas Chainsaw Orchestra, The Extraordinary Contraptions, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing and The Aeronauts.

Some Goth musicians, such as Ego Likeness, Emilie Autumn and Voltaire are also popular amongst steampunk fans.

Of course, we were recently treated to Panic! at the Disco's visual steampunk treat - the rock band are not especially beloved by Goths or steampunks as a whole (although personally I like them!), but their newest music video for the song The Ballad of Mona Lisa was a steampunk-inspired delight.

There are also several subsets of steampunk, such as Western steampunk (think Wild Wild West), gaslight romance/gaslamp fantasy (this tends to be a literary subgenre rather than a visual one, typically set in a romanticised 19th-century London, featuring historical characters such as Jekyll and Hyde, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and Jack the Ripper), steamgoth or steampunk Goth (obviously, a darker take on steampunk aesthetics, or a Goth who is a frequent dabbler in steampunk culture and fashion), and even dieselpunk and clockpunk.

So what is the relationship between Goth and steampunk? Well, when Goth/Industrial events once tended to sweep the board, more and more Goth/steampunk club nights are popping up all over the globe, as enthusiasts of either subculture tend to enjoy some music from both. Many Goths are becoming prone to dressing in steampunk fashion on occasion, with a growing proportion of members of the subculture having at least one steampunk-friendly outfit lurking in their wardrobe.
Casual steampunk. I want this outfit desperately!
Source: Photobucket
Steampunk events also boast a high Goth turn-out (just as Goth events feature dozens of people clad in steampunk fashion). Events marketed to a steampunk audience include SalonCon, a Neo-Victorian/steampunk convention; a two-day masquerade ball in Hollywood called the Labyrinth of Jareth; and of course the World Steampunk Fair and SteamCon.

Listening to: Storming the Burning Fields - Dragonforce


Loupie said...

Cool video, love some of the outfits in it, though am I the only one wondering if Mrs Captain St Clair took English accent lessons from Dick Van Dyke?

Laurence 'The Beard' Williams said...

*In the voice of Gerard Butler* THIS IS AWESOME!

One of the things I have and always will love about steampunk is the amount of sheer creativity that goes into the costumes. Even the most basic costumes feature enough personal change to go beyond simply being a twat in goggles. It's a scene that is becoming increasingly popular as the years go by, and its a solid 'must do' of mine to attend a steampunk gathering of some kind.

Also a steampunk band I would recommend would be The Cog Is Dead, producing amazing music with clever lyrics. Check zem out!

Brilliant article as always Amy. If I could fave this I would. But I can't, so have an e-high five.

Emily Lynn G. said...

Free music download!!! And yes, Miss Amy, I love P!ATD as well and am so pleased at their new steampunk-inspired song. This was a especially thorough and informative post. I've been dabbling lightly in steampunk, a huge fan of the children's books series "The Leviathan".

The Green Fairy said...

*Mutters* Stupid panic at the disco. I was at some event in this shithole I live in and some teeny bopper asked me if I was a fan and went on about the video clip. It makes me so angry! I asked her if she'd ever heard of Jules Verne and when she tentatively shook her head I rolled my eyes and walked off.

Steampunk is my favourite sub-culture :D *hugs it tightly*

I also would like to mention that for this post this was my word verification:


It's almost Verne!!

Sasmita said...

Quite intresting dear Goth-queen! But I got extremely scared @ this dark-shadow-cave! Lol!

Following you :)

Unlacing the Victorians said...

WHEE! STEAMPUNK! Good post. It highlights all of the main points of my understanding of steampunk.

Interestingly enough, I have never been to a steampunk event, even though all I seem to do is write about steampunk. The once-great, now dying industrial city of Pittsburgh is not a place for subcultures to thrive. But maybe goth nightclubs, or goth nights at nightclubs, would actually survive if they did make it a sci-fi/steampunk/goth night. Hmmm... (*begins evil mental plotting in brain*)

Anonymous said...

I have another entry for your list of steampunky books, the Levathian trilogy by the brilliant Scott Westerfeld. So far only two of the three books are out, but they are very good. I'm a romantigoth, though, not steampunk, so I hope this book will count. It definitely has both steam and punk.

Anonymous said...

I love steampunk! It is an interesting subculture with wide appeal. Still, the thing that got my attention the most was the masquerade; I absolutely love Labyrinth. I feel butterflies just thinking of such a ball...

Hatsune Miku said...

My favoured Goth style is Steampunk/Victorian, great post as always, Amy!

PS. I hate that model for not instantly giving me her outfit after the shoot.

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