Princess Muse

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Musings on the Music of Steampunk

Funny how a subculture can be all around you for decades and then, suddenly, it explodes all over all the subcultures.....

Steampunk has done that, lately.

I first became aware of Steampunk about 20 years, when I started playing Space:1889 while I lived in Cary, NC.  Space:  1889, for those of you who don't know, is a RPG (the paper and pencil kind), set in the mid-to-late Victorian Era, with adventures that can take place on Earth, Mars or Venus.  It draws heavily on the stories of Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H. G. Wells.  (Want to read more about Space:  1889?  Read the founder's blog: )

When I moved away from NC, most of my Space:  1889 playing opportunities dwindled, and I regretfully put my Player's Manual away on the shelf.

But lately, Steampunk has, well, gathered steam, and now it seems to be everywhere I look.  At the Maryland Renaissance Festival, there were all sorts of Steampunk cosplayers--a few very clever ones had Renaissance Steampunk costumes.  Over the summer, I got involved in a Kickstarter for a new anthology press, Zombies Needs Brains, which will be publishing a Steampunk anthology (due out in May, 2014), entitled CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE:  STEAMPUNK VS ALIENS. (The Publishers are Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray--check out their books, available in eformat.) I actually paid to be "tuckerized"in a story by Gini Koch (I LOVE her Alien Collective stories--and this short story will combine Steampunk and the Alien Collective, so I'm Especially Excited!!)  (Do yourself a favor and read the Alien Collective--really, they're funny, sexy romps with lots of mayhem and chaos.  These characters feel like some of my best friends.  In that weird, "yes-I-know-they're-fictional-but-I-wish-they-were-real-so-I-could-be-friends-with-them" way.)  

Anyway, Gini and I have been "talking" through the comments on some of her blogs posted over on Goodreads since mid-July, and I started wondering about what kind of music would we be listening to, if Steampunk had been a true reality?  I started thinking about what Steampunk represents, at least to me.  Now, I haven't really looked into Steampunk culture, and I'm sure there are Steampunkers out there who will disagree with me, but this is what I came up with:

1.  Using old things in new ways.  The Victorian Era, was also an Age of Imperialism.  In the Steampunk Era of Invention, I would expect musicians to become excited about traditional Indian, Chinese (and other Asian countries), Arabic, Australian Aboriginal, Venusian and Martian instruments and incorporating them into their Classical and Romantic symphonies, concertos, as well as the more popular pieces of music;

2.  A strong sense of the Traditional, even as it's being used in new ways.  One thing most people think of with the Victorian Era is Tradition--even if those traditions were brand new, like decorating a Christmas tree, exchanging gifts at Christmas, and Valentines.  So, musically, I would expect a strong "folk" or "Celtic" feel to music.

So, looking at the musical landscape today, what do I think would fit into Steampunk?  I'm only going to mention groups that I'm aware of, from the 60's through today.  I'm going to assume that most of the "classical" compositions would stay the same, although orchestras might have added "foreign" instruments.  Feel free to disagree with me (I'm going to put my justifications, so you see where I'm coming from), but if you comment, please keep the language clean.

The Beatles--George Harrison used the sitar a lot in their later music. Also Led Zepplin--just for the name alone! (A couple of years ago, a duo called "E Musiki" played at the Md. Renaissance Festival and did a really cool cover of "Kashmir" with violins and balalaikas.)

Most of the Folk Rock groups, like Simon and Garfunkel (see reason #2 above), as well as new groups like Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers.

Gaelic Storm, the Rogues and most of the Celtic Folk Groups like The Chieftans, the Irish Rovers.  Additionally, even though they aren't "traditional" Celtic groups, I think groups like U2 and the Cranberries and Thin Lizzy would still be popular.

Duran Duran and the other "New Romantics" of the Second British Invasion of the early 80s.  Besides writing music that was strong on imagery, some of these groups paved the way for Electronica, with their emphasis on synthetics and drum machines.

Alternative music, because of their experimental sounds (I keep thinking of Art of Noise's song "Close to the Edit").  I also think of Imagine Dragons and Vampire Weekend--again, if nothing else, then because of their names!

 Punk, Rap and Hip Hop would be around, but they may not be as mainstream as they are today.  The Victorian Middle and Upper Classes would not want to acknowledge the realities that Rap and Hip Hop represent.