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 Sepiachord.com’s jukebox for more music. Basically, I could have played music all day long. But we only had an hour, alas.