I remain a little unclear why Emilie Autumn isn't more beloved by the Steampunk community. She, and her backup dancers, nail the sexy 19th-century-gone-bad look better than anyone. http://fairyartos.deviantart.com/art/Emilie-Autumn-2-138937962

Making Steampunk Cool(er) Part Three – Is there Steampunk Music beyond Abney Park?

“Captain Robert” of Abney Park (www.abneypark.com/) in character demonstrating the costume and stage presence that has resulted in his band becoming the standard for Steampunk music. Can we do better? Or, at least, can we also do something else?

“Steampunks have a fantastic opportunity unique to modern sub-cultures to define our community’s music, rather than to inhabit a community defined by it.”


Lest any diehard fans come try to boil my cat, let me make it clear that I love Abney Park as much as the next goth who’s discovered brown. “Dear Ophelia” is a great song and their cover of “Creep” sounds a lot like the Radiohead version – and I really like Radiohead. There are no two ways about it, as far as bands that play in hotel convention center meeting rooms go, Abney Park is really good. Still, if I hear “Airship Pirate” one more time I’m going to put a NERF dart right between the offending disc jockey’s eyes; and, judging from the complete lack of enthusiasm with which I watched them play the song at the World Steam Expo, Captain Robert and his merry crew feel pretty much the same.

I’m being ever so slightly facetious, but the overexposure of Abney Park (who deserve credit for adeptly riding the wave) is a symptom of what I see as a larger problem with Steampunk music. Namely: no one knows what the hell Steampunk music is.

Other contemporary sub-cultures (like Punk) have been defined/identified by their music. Steampunk is in the unusual position of being defined by its texts. Steampunks are thus left with the opportunity (and burden) of picking our own music. (http://www.vertigocomics.com/)

Most of the style tribes (sub-cultures, communities, whatever you want to call them) of the last thirty or forty years have been defined by their music with a robust and identifiable musical genre that has strong ties to the community. Punk, Goth, Hippie – they’re all terms that could be used as descriptors of youth movements or of their associated music. It’s almost impossible to imagine any of those communities without bands and their loyal fans. (Or at least people who listen to the music in private and publically deride the bands for selling out.)

Steampunk doesn’t fit that model at all. The mass media inspiration for the community is textual (and to a lesser extent, visual), not aural. Instead of Goths sitting in the dark listening to The Cure – Steampunks sit around beneath flickering Edison bulbs reading The Difference Engine. Personally, I think that’s more than a little awesome . . . but, as brilliant as he is, William Gibson doing a reading is not going to fill an arena the way Robert Smith would. Steampunks, however, like everyone else, enjoy music, and the whole point of a (sub-)culture is that it’s a totality, we don’t just want to look Steampunk, and act Steampunk, we want to listen to Steampunk music too. There is a musical void inherent to the origins of Steampunk that we understandably want to fill. But . . . how?

I like Souixsie (pictured), The Clash, My Chemical Romance, and the Japanoids (etc., etc., etc.) as much (or more) than the next guy and it’s cool to hear them at Steampunk events . . . but other than the fact that I’m a steampunk and I like them, they don’t have any features that seem inherently particularly Steampunk

The approach that I find the most logical is to argue that in the absence of true “Steampunk Music” the music of Steampunk is the music that steampunks like. As a proponent of diversity and a committed believer to the priority of personal choice in Steampunk, I like this idea a lot. Ultimately, Steampunk is a community more than a fashion, and thus it is defined by the tastes of its membership – that ought to include its music. People have argued that if we tolerate this kind of approach then steampunks might decide that they like The Beatles – a band which obviously couldn’t possibly be Steampunk ever! – and thus undermine the whole meaning of Steampunk. Beyond the fallacy of assuming that Steampunk means anything other than what the steampunks involved say it means – this concern assumes that steampunks don’t have any taste. The truth is that the same mysterious wiring in our brains that makes us like goggles will probably result in us having at least some overlapping favorites – and maybe we’ll even like some good bands. It’s also a great way to hear new music and to get unexpected genres on the speakers at Steampunk nights. However, there are downsides here too – the most conspicuous being that it discourages Steampunk from embracing a distinct musical character. While there is room for lots of diversity, and I like the notion of Steampunks being able to listen guilt-free to sounds from across a huge spectrum, there is a case to be made for having a core recognizable sound, or at least some musical precepts, (just like having the visual cues of goggles and gears) to provide a rallying point that makes Steampunk a community. Thus, while I think it’s great that goth/punk/folk/blues/whatever songs are played without outrage at Steampunk gatherings because some steampunks like those sounds – I’d also like to see us searching for a more distinctive musical character. I hate the idea of defining Steampunk – but do feel that it’s something that we all sorta kinda generally recognize. We’re moving in that direction visually and textually – how do we get there musically?

Steam Powered Giraffe is a delight to watch and is composed of really wonderful people (er, automatons); but, they still seem like an act composed of performers who are mimes/clowns first and musicians second. http://www.steampoweredgiraffe.com/

The most familiar strategy is to embrace Steampunk bands who are recognizable by their costumes and stage acts and by the fact that they explicitly (and often exclusively) play to formal gatherings of steampunks. Abney Park is the prototypical example, but others that are somewhat less overexposed include the Men Who Will Not be Blamed for Nothing and Steam Powered Giraffe. Again, there is nothing wrong with these bands. However, there is no escaping the fact they didn’t produce music so good that it created a sub-culture. Instead, they are playing to a desire for recognizable costumed acts within a pre-existing community. They aren’t The Cure, they’re the guys in vampire makeup filling otherwise empty stages at Goth clubs. I know that I’m being a little provocative here – and I want to be clear that I don’t really care what anyone else listens to or think there’s a huge utility in trying to determine what good and bad music is. However, my personal sense is that picking bands based on their costuming is not the best way to realize a high musical standard.

I don’t know why Emilie Autumn isn’t more beloved by the Steampunk community. She, and her backup dancers, nail the sexy 19th-century-gone-bad look better than anyone. http://fairyartos.deviantart.com/art/Emilie-Autumn-2-138937962

A second approach is to look for bands that don’t primarily play conventions and that have specifically embraced aspects of the Steampunk aesthetic. There are more of these than most steampunks realize (or want to acknowledge). Plenty of groups from genres ranging from country to rap have used the Steampunk aesthetic at shows (e.g., Sugarland and Rush), in videos (e.g, Raveonettes, Beiber, Alkaline Trio, Panic! At the Disco, and Nicki Minaj), and in cover art (e.g., John Mayer and Halestorm) with variable notice by the community. For the most part, these acts are correctly seen as using the look to appeal to their own demographics with something that is novel and cool rather than appealing to steampunks per se. Individual steampunks, or even a sizeable chunk of the community, may like particular implementations, but there isn’t enough of an affinity to justify those bands supplying the Steampunk community’s need for music any more than Macy’s use of gears in a Christmas window display would justify them becoming the definitive Steampunk retailer. There are popular semi-mainstream acts whose affinity for Steampunk (explicit or implicit) seems both genuine and extensive – Thomas Dolby and Emilie Autumn leap to mind – but of the people using it they seem to be the exception.

The album art for John Mayer’s recent “Born & Raised” album was is just one in a long list of examples of mainstream artists making use of Steampunk/neo-Victorian elements without a particularly robust commitment to the Steampunk culture per se.

A third option is to ignore contemporary music altogether and gravitate toward genuinely “old” music. Humanity has been making music forever and there are both recordings of actual old performances as well as contemporary productions of old scores. Every urban outpost of European civilization had an opera house in the 19th century, every army traveled with a band, every flapper and swing kid danced the night away to music that can still be heard. To critiques (which I reject a priori, but which get made anyway) that such an approach is simply “historic” or “nostalgic” and not “punk” – one could argue that in an era of Lady Gaga, simply listening to Big Band music is rebelling against the toxic consumerist model of the modern world. When we’re all wearing cheap plastic clothing mass produced in China, maybe a custom tailored three piece suit is actually subversive. A lot of this music may seem “dead” in that its very age has made it ossified, likewise concert halls and opera houses seem turgid and unwelcoming to most people today – even ones with an interest in aping aspects of 19th century culture. But there are venues where such music is alive in terms of performance (e.g., jazz clubs) and where it is associated with dynamic communities (e.g., Dances of Vice, swing dancing societies) Likewise, one doesn’t have to travel back that far to find incredible music evocative of an entirely other era (I’m thinking of musical acts like the Andrew Sisters or Buddy Holly – this weekend I’ll be visiting both Elvisfest in downtown Ypsilanti and the Ragtime Street Fair in Dearborn). I’d also note that I’m speaking primarily of Western musical tradition. While I’m afraid I know next to nothing about them, there are analogous traditions from all over the world with similar contemporary relatives and practitioners.

Caravan Palace is an “electro swing” band that combines historical sounds with very modern methods of sound production to produce music that makes old tunes relevant to today. That’s pretty much my definition of “Steampunk Music.” http://www.caravanpalace.com/

The fourth, closely related, approach is my personal favorite and involves what I call Contemporary Anachronistic music. I like it because it values what Steampunk is rather than what it looks like. To wit: it’s about reviving and tweaking (“punking”) historical musical traditions to make them relevant to modern audiences, and doesn’t really care what the bands doing it look like – and it certainly isn’t limited to bands that self-describe as Steampunk. It includes bands like the Squirrel Nut Zippers whose crossover appeal helped bring swing back into mainstream awareness after a many decades long absence. I’d also include neo-folk acts like Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers (who also show a very Steampunk-like love of rail travel) and I’ll get in trouble if I don’t plug a couple of local acts – Orpheum Bell and Dragon Wagon who make music appealing to the modern ear just using old-timey instruments. Outside my local market, Five Cent Coffee is one of my favorite retro-folkish bands and Tom Waits is, well, unique. Other groups, like Parov Stelar and Caravan Palace, eschew conventional production for a more synthetic approach and generate songs that seem appropriate to a techno club and yet which musically would be entirely approachable to someone dancing in a Prohibition era speakeasy. The list goes on and on and I believe that it will continue to grow because this old/new fusion has – as Steampunk itself does – something for everyone. It also avoids the easy characterization necessary for duplication and mass marketing – every band interprets the relevance of the past to the present in a unique fashion most relevant to their own interests.

Over the past few summers several bands with a contemporary folk sound (e.g., Mumford & Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show) have performed in a particularly Steampunk fashion – traveling from show to show by train. http://railroadrevivaltour.com/

Steampunk music, like everything else about the culture, is a chaotic maelstrom. That’s a strength, not a weakness – although it can drive people crazy who want to be able to pin it down. It is those people who would rather embrace mediocre bands that they can clearly categorize than risk taking a step into the broader ocean of music that might have a place in Steampunk, or at least in the hearts of steampunks. There is nothing wrong with Abney Park or the bands like them – they have served a useful purpose and they will continue to provide low cost entertainment for convention organizers. But our musical tastes don’t have to be limited to the bands we can afford to get to play in our hotels. Whether we opt to look to the bands that thrilled out great grandparents, or decide to stick with the Goth staples we love for other reasons, we have a fantastic opportunity unique to modern sub-cultures to define our community’s music rather than to inhabit a community defined by it.

(In a follow-up post next week I’m going to list many of the bands that I like and which I think are relevant to Steampunk – as well as great places where you can listen to them for little or no money. I’d love help – so please consider this an invitation to comment about the music you like, particularly if you think it’s something I might not have heard of. Obviously, shout outs are welcome about what an incredible song “Airship Pirate” is.)

43 Responses to “Making Steampunk Cool(er) Part Three – Is there Steampunk Music beyond Abney Park?”
  1. Marc Burrows says:

    Hello, Marc Burrows from The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing here. Good article, but I’d quite like to raise a quick point… speaking AS one of those bands you listed, we don’t and never have intended to play to the gallery. We get invited to play Steampunk events, and we’re happy to play them- but it’s not the purpose of the band. We play regular punk shows and rock clubs, we have a large following that wouldn’t go near a top hat if it was covered in toffee- we’re not a turn, or a caberet act- we’re an actual band. I’m sure there are people who like us ‘because of the costuming’, but then it can’t be many because our costumes are pretty basic- they’re hardly costumes really. I like to call mine “clothes”. Mostly people are into us because they like the songs, the riffs and the jokes- not because we happen to play at pigeon-holed conventions. Ta!

    • Dane Young says:

      Marc Burrows, you are absolutely right as rain. I for one truly appreciate what you and the other Men are accomplishing. I don’t listen to your music because it’s a genre, I listen because it’s some of the best stuff out there. That and the fact that you’re all a bunch of great guys who don’t succumb to the mentality of others in the business.

    • Adie O'Reilly says:

      I agree. I saw the Men up there and my first thought was “was costumes?”. From what I’ve seen, heard and experienced, Abney Park like dressing up, being “known”, and the center of attention, but aren’t necessarily as brilliant of people to be around as you guys.

    • Sludge Van Diesel says:

      I agree entirely with Marc. I got into TMTWNBFN because I was into Andy’s previous band (Creaming Jesus) & because of the MUSIC, the humour in the lyrics & the subject matter.. But primarily it’s the music.

      The image is secondary to the music & fits with the long tradition of British eccentrics & the flamboyance of Rock musicians, not to mention the lyrical content of the songs.

      Also there has been a long history of people dressing like / dressing up like the bands they like (with Steampunk, like the early punks, the fans taking the look a step further than the bands). Conversely, for every “Starchild” or “Demon” in the audience at a KISS gig there’s somebody who’s never been near black & white facepaint. The same goes for TMTWNBBFN fans & Steampunk fashion essentials.

      Personally, I don’t think Steampunk will ever become a musical genre, the bands that are noted as being Steampunk are too diverse. It’s a fashion movement that happens to have a lot of participants that like their music (whatever genre it may be)

      • Josh says:

        WHAT!? I had no idea any of the alumni of TMTWNBFN were involved with Creaming Jesus! That’s really cool. I totally dig a lot of those older Grebo artists from their era. Like PWEI, Bomb Party, Gaye Bykers on Acid, etc.


  2. Mistress Mayhem says:

    If you want to find steampunk music, go to Sepiachord.

    sepiachord.com has had, for the past 5-6 years, a daily entry for new (and old) music that fits the genre. (plus news, album reviews, photos of bands, and other misc steampunk stuff). They list HUNDREDS of steampunk bands.

    You CANNOT mention steampunk music without mentioning Sepiachord. What Rolling Stone is to mainstream rock, Sepiachord is to Steampunk music.

    you need to check them out. Contact them and I bet they can help you put together a proper list of steampunk bands and where you can find free music.

    • Behind The Steam says:

      I might also add in that you can go and hear the musicians’ views on what is and is not Steampunk music on the podcast/blog Behind The Steam at http://www.behindthesteam.wordpress.com. We have only been live for about 4 months but we have interviews from Nathaniel Johnstone, Unwoman, and Steam Powered Giraffe already up and will soon be posting interviews with several other steampunk bands of note and are always adding more. Sepiachord has been kind enough to repost our blog several times because Jordan is awesome!

      • Jordan Sepiachord says:

        You two are so sweet!
        I think we all bring something to steampunk, and that our unique perspectives is what makes this scene special.

        I love hearing people’s thoughts on music~
        keep it up everybody!


  3. Steamusyk says:

    I’ve always been a big fan of Beats Antique who I’ve felt have been under-represented yet solidly support the core of the steampunk spirit. http://www.beatsantique.com/

  4. Jay says:

    Another shout-out to Beats Antique. They pretty much encapsulate the Retro + Modern that I feel captures the steampunk spirit. Also, pick an electro-swing outfit, any electro-swing outfit. And dark cabaret does a good job with mixing old and new sounds.

    Sometimes I find surprising things among trip-hop artists, mainly whenever they get their hands on old sound samples. Wax Tailor’s “Say Yes” is a good example of this.

  5. Adam says:

    The trick is not to take things too seriously. that said, I don’t think AP do as much as people think and they still are having a lot of fun with toying with the music and the genre aesthetics (afterall they did start out as an electro-Goth outfit). Certainly a lot of fans take it far too seriously as do some bands, particularly new ones who deliberately set out on a steampunk bent. This gets into a force-feedback loop if you’re not careful, and IMHO is how the Goth scene burned itself out. Keep it fun, keep it light and enjoyable, and quit worrying about what is and isn’t steampunk or some defining band moment.

  6. Horza says:

    Sunday Driver. Gorgeous vocals, fantastic musicians and a very different cross cultural outlook. http://www.sundaydriver.co.uk/

  7. Sarah says:

    You left out Rasputina, the band that introduced me to the Victorian aesthetic that would eventually evolve into Steampunk. They are, arguably, one of the most Steampunk bands that isn’t recognized by the community–not only do they wear corsets when they perform, but they use traditional instruments in non-traditional ways, mixing cellos with synthesizer sounds, which as you point out, is just the kind of music Steampunks should love. Yet, much to my regret, I’ve never seen them at a Steampunk event.

    I also second the nomination for Beats Antique. I’m not sure how Steampunk they are but they’re lovely, with a sound that is both familiar and exotic, and instruments both traditional and modern.

  8. Misha says:

    I hate seeing stuff like this about music thats associated with any subculture. Just because goth is associated with music like siouxsie sioux or because steampunk now has abney park, that does not mean that any subculture is defined by its music. Their music is defined by a style and subject matter that ALSO defines the subculture. That doesnt mean that you have to like the any particular music to like a subculture. That is the same kind of bs that gets spouted by people who think you cant mix subcultures or believe that any kind of “poser” -goth, punk, steampunk, ect. exists. Just chill guys, there is a style we call steampunk, end of story. Like whatever you want about it and dont worry about the rest.

    • Victoria V. says:

      Actually, there’s a tremendous difference between defining goth by its music and defining steampunk by its music. Goth began in music, but steampunk began in literature. This is why its so easy point out goth music, but so difficult to point out steampunk music; it’s much easier to point out steampunk literature.

      But I agree with everything you’ve said here, regardless. =]

  9. Josh says:

    Check out these links:

  10. Sabrina says:

    As a DJ and music enthusiast, even working in specific “genre specialties,” I don’t care so much about what is and isn’t “Steampunk” music. There’s visual aesthetics, and there’s aural aesthetics. Frankly, what I care about is finding good music that *I* like, and more importantly, music that other people will like when I play it for them. While I think the idea that steampunk doesn’t have a definitive “trademark” sound is totally valid, I’m not entirely sure it NEEDS a definitive sound, and even genres that DO have “established” styles, still have bands and artists that break those molds. Personally, I’m a fan of finding new bands and new musics to meld into my own unique personal feeling of what is “steampunk” TO ME. As such, I use the resources available to find those artists and support the ones I like –

    Sepiachord has been indispensable to me for finding new bands and music, as has the Clockwork Cabaret Podcast – which introduced me to Tom Waits, the Decemberists, Vernian Process, amongst others – many who may not be “traditional” Steampunk Bands. So while I read this article and ponder the implications, the main thing I get out of it, is yet more bands and musical artists to check out and enjoy. So while I may not agree with all of the ideas, I gladly accept all the musical recommendations, and I look forward to your follow-up post.

    • Josh says:

      The way I describe the group I created for Steampunk music fans, is pretty much the same way I think about the style when I DJ at events where the sound will fit:

      “This group is for the sharing of music that you feel would appeal to other fans of the Steampunk aesthetic. It is not explicitly made to share only artists that subscribe to the style themselves.

      This is a group for everyone to share the music that gets them into an old world inspired mood. Not just Steampunk, but Cabaret, Swing, Jazz, Ragtime, Noir, Circus, Americana, Neo-Classical, Film Scores, Prog-Rock, Trip-Hop, Electro-Swing, Balkan-Beat, World Groove, and all kinds of other styles are welcome here.”

      I like to think of all of these varying genres as one bug umbrella group of music. An Old World remix style if you will. Combinging modern and forgotten styles of music, to create something wholly new and fresh.

      • djTeslaRose says:

        I would also like to point out that you can DJ a full night of steampunk without ever touching “Airship Pirates”. For DJs focusing on steampunk, Abney Park is simply the most recognizable music to a majority of steampunks to get them out on the floor, where you can then introduce them to new music that makes them dance! I’d like to put in a shout out to Katzenjammer, who may not self identify as steampunk, but most assuredly are. I’m also getting a lot of traction out of Frenchy and the Punk and This Way to Egress. And if you haven’t seen Not Waving But Drowning live, well, then you’ve been missing a real treat!

      • Sabrina says:

        Here, Here!

  11. EV Belluche says:

    I learned about Steampunk as an emerging subculture around ’06. At the time it was an aesthetic I grooved with; adventures and steam-powered mechanisms were a kind of fantasy right up my alley. I discovered Abney Park during my search, and instantly fell in love. At the time, I’d never heard anything like it – it captured an essence exotic wanderlust, and has a smooth sort of sound in a way that even the notes seemed bronze-toned. I was very immediately able to say, “yes, this is a Steampunk sound.”

    Of course there are multitudes of other bands out there, that try to mimic the costuming, or slant for a neo-victorian style of music, or classical, or swing, cabaret, blues, ragtime, all usually fused with synth or electro elements. I suppose bands of that nature will always make up the amorphous cloud that is the tentatively labeled the Steampunk genre.

    If I were to inject my own opinion – I feel there’s nothing wrong with a band trying specifically to capture that sound or essence of steampunk. It /is/ how musical genres and subcultures are formed; people like a sound or a style, draw something from it, and play to it. I think our steampunk musical heroes needn’t be groups that only accidentally fall into the category; in fact, without a robust effort on the part of musicians to interpret and define steampunk music, I think it will forever be a scattered, unorganized cloud. This may or may not be a good thing; some feel it’s great. I can’t help seeing it as unrealized possibility; where there could be a magnificent monolithic structure, there’s only a scrapyard of parts, burning with potential, but unrealized.

    I’m glad Caravan Palace and Beat’s Antique were mentioned. While they’re not setting out to define steampunk (as far as I know), their style was very striking to me. It’s exactly that method of taking antique sounds, and repurposing them into a relevant, modern aesthetic, that I think captures the anochronistic spirit of steampunk, and which, musically, I believe it’d benefit from. Why else do we guild our laptops and guitars, or rework our common modern appliances with clockwork? It’s in our nature, and the same could be done to our music.

  12. eddi says:

    there’s always argument over what is and what isn’t, but these are all worth a listen. (yes some have already been mentioned, i’m seconding them. :P )

    ukulele loki and his gadabout orchestra. dr. steel. hydrogen skyline. stolen babies. rasputina. vernian process. beats antique. creature feature. vermillion lies. vau de vire society. the deadfly ensemble. rosin coven. the peculiar pretzelmen. the nightshade family. dervish.

  13. Jim Partridge says:

    Well, if you’d like authentic Victorian with a touch of wit and humour, then there’s always Brass Farthing.

  14. Brad says:

    Less serious, yet just as relevent, and not mentioned: Dr. Steel…

  15. Conrad Gray says:

    I’d like to just insert a little flavor of my own favorite music into your listings, in case they haven’t been mentioned.

    Zoe Keating (and by Proxy, Melora Creager’s ‘Rasputina’ comes to mind).
    The Moulettes (since you mention Mumford & Sons. The two bands are interrelated).
    The Carolina Chocolate Drops, because if you’re going to mention Caravan Palace (another one I love), you should certainly step the other way and fall down the roots of blue grass with a little bit of anachronistic beat boxing and modern pop-turned-old-timey.
    The Luminescent Orchestrii comes to mind for Romanian period revival.
    I’m certain there’s more…

    I just loved your nod to the anachronistic side of steampunk; I’ve reached my own conclusions, that steampunk is just a symptom of the larger, reflective world we live in now, that is so instantaneous, that there’s almost an inherent desire to do the same with our tales of the world of the past, and the ideas of the world of our future. It’s exciting to think about. :D

  16. Amanda says:

    Though I do agree to a certain extent and see where you are coming from in the article about the movement but I do not think Steam Powered Giraffe has mediocre music or that their only ‘thing’ they have going for them are their costumes. In terms of genre, no they are not ‘steampunk’ whatever the hell the movement really is. They have busted out into their own subculture all bands have. If they were all the same we wouldn’t need lots of bands, we’d only need one to represent each genre. As the band members have explained before, they do not fit the mold 100%. One of the band members, on her tumblr, has defined their band as a multitude of different things. I hope anyone reading this checks them out and trust to listen to them for what they are, Steam Powered Giraffe. They are not just a band. They’re creative and their lyrics are enchanting and their music is both uplifting and depressing. It makes me want to dance and cry all at once and I seldom find music that makes me feel this way.

  17. Wedly says:

    Before trying to define Steampunk music, try to define Steampunk !

    Everyone has his vision of Steampunk and so every steampunk band sounds different, you like or not but that’s your problem

    It sounds like you’re saying “they are not not true Steampunk or they are not steampunk enough !”
    But wait… they do what they want to do, the music they like !

    Moreover I think that music and costumes are not sufficient to define a group as steampunk. Caravan Palace is not born in the steampunk culture while Abney Park has grown with this movement, moreover Abney Park lyrics (and it’s not the only one) reflect steampunk mind. Because steampunk is not only aestetic there is a state of mind behind this movement.
    Caravan Palace is a great band I love them, that maybe have a steampunk sound but it’s not a steampunk band.

    And what about Vernian Process ? it was actually the first band to declare itself as Steampunk. For me the sound is not steampunk, I don’t see a steampunk world when I’m listening to them, but yes it’s a steampunk band because they talk about their vision of steampunk (wich is not mine), they evolve in the stempunk culture (and they do great music).

    I don’t try to argue with you it’s just… this question has no interest, don’t try to judge if band are doing good stermpunk music or not, let’s them do what they want., no ?
    You like the music you want and yes obviously steampunks can like other bands than those who are in the movement ! There is obviously no limitation !
    but that is logical, nobody has says the contrary, though?

  18. Meredith says:

    If we are the makers of our own culture and community and we are the ones to determine what Steampunk does or does not stand for. Then how could we possibly determine, for better or worse, what is or is not Steampunk music? If the word, Steampunk, frees us to be creative, to be happy, and to inhabit a better world – then as long as the music does the same. Who is to say that a particular band is or is not Steampunk.
    Steampunk is in the eye or ear of the beholder…

  19. Tiffany says:

    My response is primarily focused on your singling out Steam Powered Giraffe and The Men Who Will Not be Blamed for Nothing as being the steampunk equivalent of “the guys in vampire makeup filling otherwise empty stages.”

    As Marc Burrows of ‘The Men’ rightly pointed out, the fact that these groups do play at steampunk conventions is not conclusive proof that they have developed their aesthetic purely to cater to that particular subculture. Mr. Burrows has done a fine job of making the argument why his group is not simply a steampunk gimmick, so I’ll talk a bit about Steam Powered Giraffe.

    Steam Powered Giraffe initially developed as a bit of a project by its members, who went to college together, where they took classes in theatre/music/mime. Their first performances were completely acoustic acts, done in public venues, like parks and the boardwalk in San Diego. In other words; they were street buskers. Their initial popularity developed through appealing to average passers-by, and as they performed more and refined their act, they drew remarkably large crowds by the standards of street acts. Last summer and this summer, SPG won a spot as a featured act at the San Diego Zoo, where they perform several sets daily for over 70 consecutive days and draw enthusiastic crowds of all ages, genders, and stripes. They wouldn’t have secured a contract with the Zoo if the people running the Zoo didn’t think that there was something going on with SPG that would have broad appeal to Zoo visitors.

    The fact that SPG has played at steampunk conventions has less to do with the steampunk aspects of their act, and more to do with the fact that steampunks convention organizers heard/saw something they liked and approached the band. The fact that SPG accepted these invitations is not surprising, because like any band, they want to raise their profile. I’m not saying that SPG has no genuine love for steampunk – Bunny Bennett (who plays ‘Rabbit’ in the group) has repeatedly said she was interested in steampunk prior to forming SPG; but I am saying that the band did not, and does not, intentionally and actively solicit steampunk venues.

    I will refrain from arguing with you that I find the raw musical talent and originality of SPG to be superior to that of other groups/artists you’ve mentioned and endorsed here, because taste is subjective. I just wanted to point out that you are perhaps jumping to conclusions about the motives of some groups purely based on their costuming, when a little digging will reveal that there’s more to them than just steampunk swag.

    • Tiffany says:

      I must clarify that I meant to say that I find SPG to be better, in my opinion, than *some* other groups you’ve mentioned in your article. It was not my intention to put down/slight all other bands as inferior to SPG. Apologies for any confusion or offense taken as a result.

  20. Victoria Jones says:

    This is a really interesting article, and I agree with a lot of your points. It does sound a bit like you instantly dislike any band who dresses vaguely steampunk, when a lot of them are actually doing their own thing and not just aping Abney Park, or playing Goth music while in steampunk clothes.
    I do agree on your main point especially though – I personally find electroswing and modern ‘cabaret’ type bands (i.e. Dresden Dolls, Caravan Palace, Luminescent Orchestrii) to be the most ‘steampunk’ sounding, though I guess they technically fit in other genres primarily. I found it really interesting attending a DJ-run disco at a recent steampunk event – One second there was Emilie Autumn, then 80′s postpunk, the next Abney Park. We even had a run of showtunes (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Sweeney Todd!) at one point. And everyone really seemed to be into everything! As such an eclectic genre it’s hard to pin down one ‘style’, so a mix of everything always sounds most steampunk to me!

  21. Mark says:

    Personally, I don’t think tying down steampunk music is beneficial in the long run. We should continue being a /community/ instead of a /subculture/. I mean, unless we want to have an “death”, because honestly, where exactly are the punk, goth, cyberpunk subcultures now? Not exactly thriving. Also, most of these subcultures were not exactly embraced by multiple generations. At any Steampunk gathering you can find people from age of 5 to 50 and beyond. I can’t say that I’ve really seen that at other gatherings, or at least I haven’t seen it when it wasn’t totally creepy!

    Steampunk started as a literary genre, much like cyberpunk. Cyberpunk embraced the sounds of techno/electronica because it made sense to them, and since it was a very narrowly defined setting — fast paced, digital; and so was much of the music. However, steampunk spans the concepts of being in the past (time travel, etc), bringing the past into the present in a very retro way, and the future that has had to turn away from the current path and return to an older technology out of necessity. By spanning all of these settings, there is no one music style or message that can fit. (This is also why I believe Cosplayers, Traditionalists, Neo-Victorians, and Post-Apocalyptics don’t really always get along in the Steampunk community.)

    In San Francisco, the man behind SwingGoth looked at how goth and industrial got in bed together and decided to have the group explore steampunk and boomswing/electroswing getting in bed together in a new venture called Alt.Dance [they don't exclusively play boomswing/electroswing, nor only dance swing]. SwingGoth is also exploring (with the San Francisco Steam Federation) the question of “what is steampunk music” with their other venture, SteamStock, a one day steampunk music festival [steamstock.org if interested].

  22. D-structman says:

    To be honest, I disagree almost entirely. Abney Park is alright, but by far my least favorite “Steampunk” band. Steam Powered Giraffe’s style changes from song to song and the rest of their act doesn’t require you to like steampunk at all, so to classify them as a Steampunk band is absolutely incorrect. TMWWBBFN are also a really good band not to be defined by a subculture their style is friendly to.

  23. Veronique Chevalier says:

    As an “accidental” steampunk, (Jordan Bodewell of sepiachord found my music on MySpace four or five years ago & added it to his playlists), I have been steadily working steampunk events from tiny to gargantuan over four or so years now, as both a perv-ormer and an MC.

    Perhaps it is because I am a solo artiste, and also a comedienne that, as Rodney Dangerfield used to say, “I can’t get no respect.”

    One the one hand, I consider it a compliment and sign that I am unique and don’t follow trends, that I rarely to never get mentioned on Steampunk Music Lists. On the other hand, of all affiliations, I’ve found steampunks to be among the most open and welcoming to my music.

    (As a side note, I began in traditional, dinner theatres, & upscale cabaret venues, NOT rowdy clubs and bars,& I have a loyal gay following as well).

    I just wanted to point out that Steampunk is a realm of persons of all ages and levels of education. I happen to appeal to older, more sophisticated, and dare I say, discerning audiences. I am a contemporary Noel Coward, or Cole Porter (but with darker undertones), and also write witty parodies of rock songs, by such artistes as Frank Zappa, Thomas Dolby, AC/DC, or ZZ Top- all presented in a twisted Edith Piaf-like delivery.

    However, at steampunk events that have made provisions for non-rock artistes such as La Moi, my music has been very-well received by younger people. It’s a revelation to many of them that one can have music a type of music that isn’t loud, or danceable, and there can be pleasure in the subtlety of the wordplay.

    I’d like to mention another soloist, Professor Elemental who also makes witty lyrics, however he’s been able to garner popularity by attaching himself to the contemporary rap movement, albeit calling it “chap hop.”

    I am literally anachronistic, since the type of cabaret I ply is not “punk” ala Dresden Dolls, but a style of an earlier era. Since what I do has very little fanfare involved, I’ll just continue to win my fan(g)s a few at a time. I’ve long-since accepted that I will never headline an arena show, nor, quite frankly, would what I do work in such a setting.

    As my chosen art form is best enjoyed as it was at its inception, in the bars and cafes of bohemian Paris in the mid-Nineteenth Century, I will never cease to enjoy playing “unplugged” in intimate venues where there is minimal separation between me and my audience. Being among the people is a huge appeal for La Moi, and my faithful ‘fiends’ and fan(g)s appreciate it.

    Merci for the opportunity for allowing your readers to express their opinions, and much success to vous!

    MAD-emoiselle Veronique Chevalier, The “Weird Val” Of Dark Cabaret & The Original Mad Sonictist

  24. Lisa says:

    I don’t think anyone here mentioned The Cog id Dead. I saw them play live at the Florida Steampunk Exhibition in Daytona Beach and was very impressed. Also, there is a new and fun direction being taken in steampunk music by Montague Jacques Fromage, which is “steam funk”.

  25. krammer says:


  26. Jonny B. Goode says:

    This old argument again! (haha!) This has been debated in steampunk circles for years, and probably always will be. The problem is that while most subcultures have been spawned by a type of music, steampunk was spawned by a literary genre, and therefore has no definitive sound. (Which has produced no end of headaches trying to categorize it over on Wikipedia.) Lee Presson (who’s also found a resurgence of his band’s popularity within the steampunk crowd) often quips that the only “pure” form of steampunk music should probably sound something like a steam-powered calliope.

    I think the author’s last idea of what “true” steampunk music is/should sound like is probably closest to the way I feel. True steampunk music should take musical inspiration from the past, and then tweak or “punk” it with a style or method of the present (or futuristic). And in that vein, we have had a lot of “true” steampunk musicians. Dr. Steel fused jazz with industrial/hip hop. Sir Reginald Pikedevant took rap and mixed it with barbershop. Veronique takes modern numbers and squeezes them through an Edith Piaf filter. Electro-swing bands take swing and jazz and fuse them with modern effects. The one thing steampunks are most known for is their creativity in mixing past and future, and we have seen some amazing blends so far. But we have yet to fully tap that well.

  27. Tommy Phillips says:

    The Cog Is Dead (thecogisdead.com). Somewhere between categories three and four.

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