What is Steampunk?

The term steampunk is generally accepted to have been coined in 1987 by KW Jeter, referring to the genre of fiction that he and fellow authors were writing at the time. For many people steampunk is an aesthetic - a look defined by the use of victorian style clothing supplemented with futuristic accessories often powered by steam or clockwork. For many, there is a focus on "making", where participants exercise their creative abilities to come up with really eye-catching fantastical costumes and paraphernalia. A quick perusal of "steampunk" on Google Images will show you just what I mean.

 

There are a number of commonly recurring themes that you will find in the literature, the music, the aesthetic and the genre more widely. These include a fondness for airships and gin, though hopefully not at the same time! Tea, goggles, empowered females, clockwork, and machinery especially if powered by steam, are all part of the mix. There are many steampunk events here in the UK throughout the year, where steampunks congregate in their splendid outfits and engage in cultural and social intercourse, and perhaps a spot of tea duelling. These gatherings are characterised by their inclusive and welcoming atmosphere, and of course at many of these events, music is part of the entertainment.

So what defines steampunk music?

A good question. For some it is the look, for some the subject material, but it's hard to pigeonhole in terms of musical genre. To massively generalise, US steampunk bands tend toward the west coast/psychedelic/folky end of the spectrum in sound, whereas many European steampunk bands tend towards industrial or metal. Here in the UK, it's a very diverse field. The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing - the band who introduced Dr Gray to the concept of steampunk, proudly proclaim that they are "putting the punk back into steampunk", so no surprise that their sound is very punky, however their material is all based around victorian or steampunk themes. For some of the UK steampunk musical acts, the steampunk label comes more from their look than the subject matter of their songs. This makes sense because many of these artists play at events outside the steampunk universe so need to have broader appeal. In terms of performance, many of the UK steampunk acts feature solo acts or duos, performing live against a backing track, but the musical genre spans music hall, electronic, rock, folk and even rap with "Chap-Hop"!

 

Doctor Gray sits squarely in the middle of this. He mainly (but not exclusively) performs at steampunk events - and all the subject matter in his songs is either victorian or steampunk themed. He can be seen in action embracing the steampunk aesthetic - including top hat and goggles, banging out songs on his guitar and singing against a backing track - his trusty "Orchestra of One". There's a great vibe to the music - you can experience this for yourself at this very website on the tab labelled "songs", or even better come along to one of the events where he or his fellows are performing