SteamPunk — it’s more than a bunch of geeks gathering to show-off their big contraptions and little hats. It’s a viable, ultra-über movement, a pastiche of punk sensibilities and clockwork contraptions, ornate airships and intricate incidentals. It’s also becoming a way of life: A mainstream movement that has its tentacles in every crevice of pop culture — from film to T.V., comic books to novels, and fashion to music.
The novels of James Blaylock (Homunculus), Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates) and K.W. Jeter (who many claim coined the term SteamPunk) have defined the genre quite well. These writers are also quick to nod to the seminal writings of their Victorian predecessors, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.
What used to be a literary sub-genre of Science Fiction has now emerged as its own phenomenon: What is SteamPunk? Imagine the Industrial Revolution without factory children; blend the technological possibilities of today with the power of steam and the ostentatious aesthetics of the Victorian age, then sprinkle in monstrous machines and alchemic supernatural beings who possess freakish eccentricities. Add of dash of anything-goes and you’ve got a cauldron that’s brewing a frothy broth of pure SteamPunk. In this alternate world of fantasy and fashion, intentionally anachronistic technology is celebrated and openly worn to adorn a personalized character creation. Outside the pages of its literary origin, think of this trend as rationale for dressing-up as a character Jules Verne would likely write about. It is not uncommon, in fact, for many historical figures to be resurrected and walk about at SteamPunk faires, festivals and expos. Indeed, many of the novels in this genre fold in real people into their stories, as the 1979 film Time After Time did, with the conceit of H.G. Welles chasing after a time-traveling Jack the Ripper, which takes place partially in modern day San Francisco. In the film, Wells’s time machine is, in fact, on display at an exhibition of his life. SteamPunk is all about paying deference and homage to visionaries and futurists in this manner.
To make it all the more appealing, SteamPunk is quite inclusive, too, of sub-movements within itself. There’s Medieval SteamPunk, classic Victorian SteamPunk, Western SteamPunk (Wild Wild West), Modern Age SteamPunk (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), CyberPunk, GothicPunk, and on and on. SteamPunk is all about integrating and slamming together incongruous elements to create the unusual, the astonishing, the bizarre and the extraordinary — all in a most conspicuous manner.
SteamPunk is best experienced via event-based shows and attractions. SteamPunk expos abound worldwide and are often fused-together with their related Punk brethren. For instance, in Leipzig, Germany, the Wave-Gotik-Treffen (Wave Gothic Festival), held annually since 1992, is a commingling of CyberPunk, Goth, CyberGoth, Rivethead and SteamPunk attendees. There’s music, merriment and the macabre all on display, as visitors and participants saunter about in Victorian garb, Cyberized SteamPunk attire and everything Gothic in-between. It’s a parade of parasols, picnickers and punked-out pierced partiers, who convene for maniacal metal bands, medieval merchandise and ocular oddities (which we presently call eye candy).
It’s where abundant consumption of absinthe is not frowned upon; where excessive make-up makes for exceptional acceptance into the Bacchanalia; where letting it all hang out is sometimes literally expressed; where classical music melds with classic rock but in a punked-out, punched-up manner. SteamPunk festivals, fashion shows and concerts are a surefire way to get immersed and indoctrinated into this movement, which has transversed from sub-culture to mainstream marvel.
So here, then, are the Top Seven Reasons SteamPunk is Hot:
- It’s literary-based. Its foundations come from insight, forged from intellect and shaped by steel and steam. That’s cool.
- It’s fashion-centric. Its aesthetic of adopting the best apparel assets and accoutrement from one period to another makes for a weird and wonderful tangled tapestry of curiosities.
- It’s got glam. It’s not the glamour you’re used to seeing, either, which makes it all the more glamorous. There’s no such thing as too much make-up. And it’s not unusual at a SteamPunk event to see fetishists and families come out in the noonday sun, sit among the other ribald revelers and enjoy a picnic lunch on the promenade. That’s SteamPunk chic.
- It’s got “music.” And because “music” is in quotation marks, that means it’s experimental music, avant-garde (as hipsters used to say), not the kind of sonorous stirrings you’re likely to hear on AM-FM radio — or even Sirius. Open your ears and SteamPunk music will rip out your heart. You’ll never be the same — or sane.
- It’s a family affair! But that doesn’t mean you’ll run into anyone dressed-up like Sebastian Cabot. Oh wait — you may. He was rather Victorian in The Time Machine (the film version of the H.G. Wells novel, no less). SteamPunk is a terrific way to introduce your kids to creativity, art, music and technology. It opens the door to discussions about history and connections from one epoch to another, all through the guise of imagination.
- It’s tech gone mech. SteamPunk is your best bet to conjure up a DIY clever contrivance — and whether it works or not, SteamPunkers will love it!
- It’s a movement that glorifies little hats. Oh, come on. The little hats are cute.
Revel and rejoice in an explosion of inspiration. Become a chrononaut and experience the caliginous world of SteamPunk; discover another compotator and enjoy libations as you cast yourself into a Dystopian delirium that’s also fantastical and fun. Feel the Wanderlust and halcyon nature of this cultural phenomenon — before it falls prey to ubiquity!
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Reason 1: Literary Roots
The Adventures of Captain Hatteras (Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras) is an adventure novel by Jules Verne, composed in two parts: The English at the North Pole (Les Anglais au pôle nord) and The Desert of Ice (Le Désert de glace). Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are considered forefathers of the SteamPunk movement, given their seminal writings of fantastical adventures that went beyond traditional notions of technology during their time.
Reason 2: Best of the Best Fashion Sense
The SteamPunk movement’s aesthetic of adopting the best apparel assets and accoutrement from one period to another makes for a weird and wonderful tangled tapestry of curiosity.
Reason 2: Fashion Statements
Two women in Victorian garb with a shawn-the-sheep-bag chit-chat during the park picnic on the promenade, at the first day of the annual Wave-Gotik Treffen, or Wave and Goth Festival, on May 17, 2013 in Leipzig, Germany. The four-day festival, in which elaborate fashion is a must, brings together over 20,000 Wave, Goth and SteamPunk enthusiasts from all over the world for concerts, readings, films, a Middle Ages market and weird and wondrous workshops.
Reason 2: Elaborate Victorian Fashion
A costumed woman stands in front of a church after a classic concert during the annual Wave Gotik festival in Germany. Victorian fashion elegance and 19th- and 20th-century factory accessories are often blended into a look reminiscent of a mutated Venetian carnival.
Reason 2: Fashion Fusion
CyberGoths pose during the annual Wave-Gotik-Treffen music festival. The event began in the 1990s and has since grown into one of the biggest gatherings of Goth scene followers in Europe with around 20,000 participants. Many of those attending wear elaborate outfits and make-up that requires painstaking preparation. Note the departure from the traditional black of the Goth scene — that’s the fusion with SteamPunk influence. CyberGoth and SteamPunk blend bold colors, Victorian fashion elegance and 19th- and 20th-century factory accessories into a look reminiscent of a mutated Venetian carnival. The five-day festival includes performances by hundreds of bands and solo musicians.
Reason 2: Fun Dark, Brooding Fashion
A girl in black Victorian clothing attends the Wave and Goth Festival. The four-day festival, in which elaborate fashion is a must, brings together over 20,000 Wave, Goth and SteamPunk enthusiasts from all over the world for a celebration of all things eccentric, incongruous and grim.
Reason 3: The More Make-up, the Merrier
Two girls in black Goth clothing refresh their make-up during the annual Wave-Gotik Treffen, or Wave and Goth Festival. SteamPunk events encourage attendees to come in full regalia, based on one’s particular persona. When it comes to make-up — the more, the merrier.
Reason 3: Getting Glamorous
A man helps a woman straighten her corset during the annual Wave-Gotik Treffen, or Wave and Goth Festival. Some attendees take hours primping, preening and prepping for their debut at the festival. SteamPunk expos like this are dream spots for photographers. The colors and clash of technology and Victorian elegance, combined with hard Gothic iconic elements, like piercings, make SteamPunk events ripe with opportunity for capturing provocative personas as they pass by.
Reason 3: Garish Glam is Good
A Gothic girl in a vamire costume poses for pictures during the annual Wave Gotik festival. SteamPunk and Gothic glamour get fused together at expos like this, where the more outrageous outfits get the most attention.
Reason 3: Gadgety Glam
A Gothic enthusiast poses during the annual Wave-Gotik-Treffen, a Gothic and SteamPunk music festival in Leipzig, Germany. Ornamental headgear is a traditional way to exhibit your persona.
Reason 3: Double Dose of Glam
A Gothic enthusiast poses during the annual Wave-Gotik-Treffen music festival in Leipzig, Germany. It’s not unusual at a SteamPunk event to see fetishists and families interact. Some of the SteamPunk expos in Europe are more open toward the concept of letting it all hang out — often expressed literally.
Reason 3: Glam Girls
Three Gothic girls in Victorian clothing pose for pictures at the Agra festival area of the Wave and Goth Festival. Striking colors contrast the grim, grum world imagined in SteamPunk novels.
Reason 3: Glamour Gets Groovy
Goth glamour girl, Megan Watt, aged 17, poses during the Whitby Goth Weekend on in Whitby, England. Whitby Gothic Weekend which started in 1994 to celebrate all things dark and mysterious has now grown to a twice yearly event for Goths and SteamPunk enthusiasts. Whitby was partly chosen because Bram Stoker wrote his famous Dracula story in the fishing town with the Gothic Whitby Abbey as his inspiration. The weekend has now grown and attracts bands and vendors, as well as followers of Romanticism, Victoriana, CyberGoth and SteamPunk.
Reason 4: Music Mysterium
Gothic rock music enthusiasts walk the streets between venues at a SteamPunk Gothic music festival. The Punk influence sometimes trumps the Victorian elements, with pierced body parts accenting and accentuating the overall look. Music at SteamPunk events is often avant-garde, experimental — and like the costumes, a fusion of time periods and a clash of incongruous influences.
Reason 4: Music & Magic
Gothic rock music enthusiasts walk the streets following a SteamPunk concert. SteamPunk music is, like the costumes of the movement, quite unique, utilizing an amalgamation of unusual sound effects, and strange modified instruments, some of which are played out of tune. Many of the songs performed at SteamPunk festivals are staged using the themes of alchemy and magic. Set pieces can resemble laboratories and instruments may look more like lab equipment than music makers.
Reason 4: Music You Can Dance To
SteamPunk dancers entertain guests at the Leather & Laces Super Bowl Party in New Orleans, Louisiana, proving how mainstream the SteamPunk movement has become. Though Hollywood has frequently stylized movies to be reminiscent of the SteamPunk look, it has not wholly embraced it. Till most recently, studios have preferred to adopt it as an artistic design or an aesthetic influence, without outwardly proclaiming or marketing the style as SteamPunk. SteamPunk music is slowly evolving forward as a result.
Reason 5: It’s a Family Affair
A young family dressed in Victorian costumes pose for pictures during the annual Wave-Gotik Treffen, or Wave and Goth Festival. What used to be a sub-cultural trend has turned into a mainstream gathering, making such SteamPunk events a fun destination for families.
Reason 5: SteamPunk Pre-Nuke Family
A SteamPunk family poses during a SteamPunk expo. SteamPunk is a terrific way to introduce your kids to creativity, art, music and technology. It opens the door to discussions about history and connections from one epoch to another, all through the guise of imagination.
Reason 5: A Family of One
A girl sits on a red blanket on the lawn during the traditional park picnic at the Wave and Goth Festival. Friends, families and single folks frequent SteamPunk events, which often transpire over entire weekends, making the venues desirous destinations for family getaways.
Reason 6: Tech Meets Tick-tock
A man dressed in a SteamPunk costume attends the Wave-Gotik Treffen, or Wave and Goth Festival in Leipzig, Germany. SteamPunk is your best bet to conjure up a DIY clever contrivance — and whether it works or not, SteamPunkers will love it!
Reason 6: Tech Gone Mech
Whatever your SteamPunk persona, your accoutrment can be wildly incongruous and feature clockworks, gizmos and gadgetry, all blended together into an outrageous outfit.
Reason 6: DIY Tech
SteamPunk designer Sven Mueller shows off some of his creations at the Campus Party Technology Festival in Berlin, Germany. The Campus Party brings together 10,000 technology enthusiasts, hackers, nerds and blogists for five days to concentrate on finding solutions to five problems proposed through the European Digital Agenda from the European Commission. Sven revels in how penetrating and pervasive the SteamPunk movement has become — no longer contained within dedicated fêtes.
Reason 6: Tech on Target
A man dressed as the ultimate SteamPunk action hero prepares to patrol the SteamPunk festival. Rather than hunt down Jack the Ripper, he’s more likely going to hunt for some trinket treasure was a vendor with a booth, hawking Victorian-enhanced tchotchkes.
Reason 7: It’s the Little Hats
A costumed woman walks the streets during a SteamPunk street faire. When the movement started to gain traction and attention, one of the trademarks of the SteamPunk attire was the signature little hat known affectionately as Fascinators. Perhaps this look was ported over from Gothic Lolita traditions, with a tilt of the hat toward burlesque, too. Fascinators existed during Victorian times, but was a short-lived fad.
Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Having a good time at a SteamPunk festival may or may not include the consumption of Absinthe. Some events frown on alcohol, due to the pervasive presence of wee ones.