Steampunk Music Panel at MileHi Con

November 10, 2011

One of the really fun things I did at MileHi Con was perpetrate a panel on steampunk music.  I suggested the panel to the programming organizer, we put it together, and I moderated.  I’ve known about steampunk for a very long time.  Read it, could identify the costumes, and have been generally enthusiastic about it all this time.  But it wasn’t until I became aware of the musical side of steampunk that I started getting crazy in love with it — and started writing it.  (“Harry and Marlowe Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution,” my first nominally steampunk story (it’s actually raygun punk, but who’s counting?), will appear in The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination next year.)

So we did the panel, and I brought along my iPod and speaker dock so I could play music.  I wanted to share the playlist — and some of the songs I didn’t get to play, because we ran out of time.  But I was pleased with it overall, because I got to run a little experiment, and it was mostly successful.  Meanwhile, here is what I played (or at least played snippets from)  (Links go to YouTube):

“Splendid” by Professor Elemental.  I played this as people arrived for the panel.

“Airship Pirate” by Abney Park.  This was the first real “steampunk” song a couple of us on the panel had ever heard.

“Behold the Machine” by Vernian Process.  Next to Abney Park, probably one of the most prominent and identifiable purveyors of steampunk music.

“Coin-Operated Boy” by the Dresden Dolls.  An example of a not-explicitly-steampunk group that has been embraced by steampunk.

“Blood Makes Noise” by Suzanne Vega.  And this was my experiment.  I played this without saying what it was and asked people if they thought it was steampunk, and they generally did.  Listen to a series of songs that are explicitly steampunk in form and content, then play a song like this — and it suddenly becomes steampunk, too, even though Vega is perhaps one of the least-steampunky artists out there.  But look at all those frakking gears in the video!

(At this point, I need to put in a plug for the Clockwork Cabaret, which taught me just about everything I know about steampunk music, especially how much it’s determined by context as much as by form and content.  I discovered most of this music through listening to them.)

“Open Arms, Empty Air” by Unextraordinary Gentleman.

“The Ghost of Stephen Foster” by Squirrel Nut Zippers.

“Sweatshop Fire” by Curtis Eller.  An example of a neo-bluegrass kind of music that works well for “weird west” type steampunk.

“Tainted Love” by the Palast Orchester.  Much explicitly steampunk music involves taking old styles of music and making it sound new, with synthesizers and world music influences.  But some of my favorite music is done by groups that take new songs and make them sound old.  I love this one, because it makes you really believe this song was originally performed by a 1920’s dance hall orchestra.

“I Will Survive” by the Puppini Sisters.  Same thing, but 1940’s swing this time.

And that was all I was able to play.  But I have a few more I wished I could.

In the category of “chap hop,” as practiced by Professor Elemental, see above.  “Cup of Brown Joy” by Professor Elemental. “Hail the Chap” by his rival Mr. B Gentleman Rhymer.  “Mr. Steph(v)nson” by The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing.”  And for American-flavored chap hop, I give you “Huff With Us” by the Harlem James Gang.

I love how on so many of these you know the band is steampunk by what they’re wearing.

In the category of “not explicitly steampunk but sure seems like it if you play a lot of steampunk around it:”  “Chambermaid Swing” by Parov Stelar.  “Burn-up” by Siouxsie and the Banshees.  “Stand and Deliver” by Adam Ant (a modern song about 18th century highwaymen, I argue that the anachronism makes it steampunk.  Not to mention those clothes).  “The Liberty of Norton Folgate” by Madness (this gets a lot of play on Clockwork Cabaret.  It’s simultaneously modern and Dickensian, which makes it steampunk).

All these bands have more really good songs, and websites, so if you like this sampling, do check them out.  I also recommend trying’s jukebox for more music.  Basically, I could have played music all day long.  But we only had an hour, alas.


12 Responses to “Steampunk Music Panel at MileHi Con”

  1. Lear Says:

    I’ve enjoyed the Steampunk music Genre, Abney Park in particular… but you opened my eyes…errr…ears to a whole new group of bands I’d never heard of.

    My coworkers may not thank you, but we are now grooving out to Palast-Orchester

  2. Beth Says:

    (delurking FINALLY!)

    In “not actually steampunk but” I’d add Mumford & Sons and The Men They Couldn’t Hang – do you think? (In fact, “Winter Winds” and “Colours” – former, latter – are the founding seeds of my fantasy-retro Pandora channel.)

    I wish I could have been there, it sounds like a fantastic panel. I got scolded about not making MileHiCon, and am definitely going to plan for it next year.

  3. Thanks for including VP in your presentation. We appreciate the support. =)

  4. carriev Says:

    I *adore* VP. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  5. vulpes Says:

    and again, I must Thank you for introducing me to the clockwork cabaret., and most of the other shows that WCOM has on the weeknights, I have been faithfully listening since you mentioned it a while back. now if only they could get the phantom frequency back (the show that was right after them,)

  6. gigi Says:

    Finally, had a chance to sit down and listen to all the links. My favs are Abney Park, Squirrel Nut zippers and Madness.

    Thanks for introducing me to something new.

  7. Shrike58 Says:

    Vintage Jethro Tull might as well be steam punk, I could certainly segue it into Abney Park with no trouble.

  8. Woad Hayes Says:

    I actually have a question. I’ve heard about ten different “punks” from various media, including books, music, movies, and even lifestyle choices. The only “punks” I know anything about are the original Punk Rock (which is unrelated, I think), Steampunk, and Cyberpunk (I was introduced to Cyberpunk through Ghost in the Shell, hehe). My question is, what makes a “punk”, “punk”? Is there a way I can learn more about the various “punks”? Honestly, I know most about cyberpunk, so that’s all I can really comment on. Other than Steam Boy and my twin’s interests, I don’t even know anything about Steampunk as a whole.

  9. Marc Burrows Says:

    Hello, my name is Marc and I play bass in the Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. Thanks loads for the mention… can I just point out that we’re really, really not ‘Chap-hop’ for two reasons.

    1) We’re a punk band- we’re loud and shouty with thrashy guitars. No hip-hop influence whatsoever.
    2) Pretending to be posh is the worst thing about steampunk.

    If you’re in any doubt, here’s us playing our song ‘Brunel’ a few weeks ago…


  10. carriev Says:

    Hi Marc: thanks for the post! I confess to being a self-educated dilettante when it comes to most of this so I’m always looking for input.

    Woad: “What is punk” is one of the great debates for the ages. (If you go back to the renaissance, it means “prostitute,” but no one does…) It’s usually meant to mean iconoclastic in one form or another. On the fringes, upsetting the status quo, etc. In the first round of punk music it meant going against standards of musicality, using atonality, “shouty and thrashy” as Marc says. It was a rebellion against what was seen as the commercialization and mediocrity of music at the time. Over the last twenty years, the word gets appended to just about anything that people see as a little bit rebellious or fringy. It’s problematic, because as many people observe with steampunk, it’s actually a pretty retro- movement. Backwards looking rather than breaking new ground. But in this case the “punk” is in breaking with current trends in fashion, thought, etc.

    I could go on, but I won’t…

  11. Woad Hayes Says:

    Thank you! I now feel smarter. *Walks into a door* >.<

  12. Lisa Hayesh Says:

    Marc my name is Lisa and I saw your comment right after we did a section on punk rocker music in my world music class (they made us watch a movie about it and i think its really cool too!!!!!!) I just watched your video and I am a little confused on what punk means now. What we got in class is obviously not today’s punk, because your nothing like the Buzzcocks, the Ramones, the Damned, or Gen X… though if you take film of live performances from the Sex Pistols and slow them down, you’re not entirely dissimilar. Are you the cute one? The one in the jacket? They told us that punk was a movement that rejected expensive production and affectation of disco and costumed glamor rock like kiss and the bea gees, that it was about being raw and fast and un produced and stuff. But you guys look pretty heavy in the affectation and costumes, and you’re not fast but actually kind of slow. The Jello guy in the movie said punk was about being awake and angry about social issues and that it had a message even if it was just go fuck your girlfriend because fuck it man the worlds gonna end. Can you tell me what the message was in the song? And so also can you maybe tell me what punk means today, too? Thank you because it is exciting to talk to a real punk rocker and on a famous writer’s blog too!

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