Steampunk music is built on the idea that the themes, imagery, and aesthetics of the steampunk genre can be translated into musical form. Like its literary parent, it explores the path not taken, and wonders what might have been had the sounds and styles of Victorian and Edwardian eras not given way to modern rock and club music. Steampunk music feels timeless and vintage, but it is not against theadvantages of modern technology. Steampunk musicians often enjoy using synthesizers and computers to blend and remix vintage sounds and instruments in ways that musicians a hundred years ago might have done had they enjoyed the benefits of our technology. In essence, steampunk music combines the taste and style of the 19th century with all the advantages possessed by modern musicians, creating a form of music that those living in the 19th century could have understood, even if they could not have created it themselves. It is music that would have been enjoyed in the dance halls of the 1890s, if they possessed the ability to rapidly exchange and combine forms of music from around that world that we have today thanks to the internet.
Steampunk Music Time Line
1877: Invention of the phonograph
In his laboratories at Menlo Park, New Jersey, Thomas Alva Edison perfects a system of sound recording and transmission. The first recording replayed is a voice saying “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.”
2003: Steampunk music begins with Vernian Process
Joshua Pfeiffer founds the Steampunk music movement with the creationof his music project, Vernian Process, which takes its name from Jules Verne. Vernian Process establishes steampunk music as a style that builds around the themes of Victorian scientific romances and their 20th century equivalent, steampunk.
2003: Steampunk fashion is made public by Kit Stolen
On August 20th, 2003, Kit Stolen makes images of his steampunk clothing and hair fall designs available to the public on a LiveJournal steampunk group. He had already been wearing this clothing on a daily basis since 2001. The images go viral and help demonstrate that steampunk can be produced in fashion as well as in literature.
2004: First steampunk album
The first album of steampunk music, titled Discovery, is released by Vernian Process for free on the internet.
2005: Girl Genius goes online
On April 18th, 2005, Girl Genius, Kaja and Phil Foglio’s comic, which had been published on paper since 2001, is launched as a webcomic, further fueling an interest in steampunk literature.
2005: First steampunk club event
On June 19th, 2005, the Malediction Society begins the first steampunk music dance club event. The event is still active today, and is organized and run by the promoter DJ XIAN in Los Angeles, California.
2005: Unextraordinary Gentlemen
The steampunk band the Unextraordinary Gentlemen is formed bybassist/keyboardist Richard Pilawski and vocalist/lyricist EricSchreeck. They are later joined by violinist Jennifer Pomerantz.
2006: First steampunk convention
Saloncon, the first ever Neo-Victorian/steampunk convention, is founded by Deborah Castellano. The event features steampunk musicians, performers, and vendors.
2006: Brass Goggles
The first steampunk-only blog, Brass Goggles, is launched.
2006: Abney Park
On June 13th, 2006, the band Abney Park transforms itself from a goth/industrial band into a steampunk band. This encompasses a complete cosmetic makeover for them in terms of clothing and presentation. Abney Park develops an elaborate backstory that describes them as being “steampunk pirates,” which initiates the “steampunk sky pirate” trend.
Sepiachord.com is founded by Jordan Bodewell, giving a more permanent home to the online project started on MySpace and LiveJournal on October 15th, 2006. Sepiachord.com is an attempt to provide a central location for the public to listen to steampunk music and musicians.The site functions almost as an online magazine and catalog, with daily listings of new music, bands and performances.
2007: The Time Travel Picnic
On August 4th, 2007, the first annual Time Travel Picnic is held in Tuxedo, New York, by Evelyn Kriete and G. D. Falksen. It is the first steampunk meet-up in the world, and has continued to meet annually every year since.
2007: White Mischief
White Mischief is founded by the band Tough Love. It holds neo-vintage/steampunk events and parties around London, each with a theme based on the title of a book by Jules Verne.
2007: Neo-Victorian Nightmare music festival
The first steampunk music festival, the Neo-Victorian Nightmare, is run in Canada by the fashion company To Die For Designs. The event features musicians such as Abney Park, Johnny Hollow, and DJ XIAN.
2008: Gilded Age Records
On March 26th, 2008, Gilded Age Records, the first steampunk music label, is founded by Joshua Pfeiffer and Evelyn Kriete. The label initially represents Vernian Process and The Clockwork Dolls. Today, there are fourty-eight 19th-century bands and solo artists from around the world on the label.
2008: The Clockwork Cabaret
In January 2008, the first all-steampunk radio show, The Clockwork Cabaret, is created by the Davenport sisters, who also host it. The program is initially aired on Tuesday nights from 12 AM to 2 AM on WCOM Community Radio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
2008: Steampunk Magazine
In March 2008, the first issue of Steampunk Magazine becomes available for free online. It is the first fanzine devoted to the steampunk subculture.
2008: The New York Times covers steampunk
On May 8th, 2008, The New York Times runs a feature article by Ruth LaFerla entitled “Steampunk Moves Between Two Worlds.” The article features coverage of the fashion and music of the growing steampunk trend.
2008: Steampunk on MTV
On September 29th, 2008, MTV airs a nine-minute news piece on the steampunk subculture. The piece covers events such as Saloncon, topics like steampunk fashion and music, and steampunk bands.
2008: Molly Friedrich
Artist Molly “Porkshanks” Friedrich creates a custom violin called “Nathan’s Amberic Array Violin” for Nathaniel Johnstone [of Abney Park?]. Photographs of the violin and a number of other “steampunked” instruments by Molly Friedrich go viral on the internet, and are immediately copied by the public.
Euchronia, the first major steampunk music event in Australia, takes place. It is a steampunk/Neo-Victorian Year’s End ball held in Melbourne, Victoria, although it would not be repeated until 2010. It features bands such as The Tenth Stage and Sforzando.
2008: Steampunk music in the Guardian
In October 2008, British newspaper the Guardian features an article titled “Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1899,” which covers the growing steampunk club and music scene in the U.K. It covers a range of British steampunk music festivals and events, including London-based White Mischief.
2008: Eccentrik Festival
The Eccentrik Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina, is held. It headlines only steampunk and neo-vintage bands, such as the Hellblinki Sextet, Nicki Jaine, Jill Tracy, the Unextraordinary Gentlemen, and Vernian Process.
2008: Cup of Brown Joy
On June 5th, 2008, the steampunk rap video “Cup of Brown Joy” by Brighton-based hip hop artist MC Elemental goes viral on the internet. The song discusses the artist’s love of tea and incorporates Victorian imagery.
AIR: Aerial Steampunk RPG, the first steampunk MMORPG, goes into development by Hatboy Studios, Inc.
2009: Steampunk Tales
Steampunk Tales goes live. It is the world’s first electronic pulp fiction and steampunk magazine, as well the first iPhone app designed to be a fiction magazine.
2009: DragonCon Alternative History Track
The steampunk-themed Alternative History Track begins its first year at DragonCon, a major convention based in Atlanta, Georgia. The track features numerous steampunk panels and events, including a Time Travelers’ Ball, which is attended by over seven thousand guests and which includes music by steampunk bands.
2009: First steampunk museum exhibition
In October 2009, the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford holds an exhibition of steampunk art, the first of its kind. The event is curated by Art Donovan.
2009: The Way Station
In October 2009, The Way Station opens in Brooklyn, New York. It is the world’s first steampunk bar and music venue. That same month, The Way Station hosts Tor.com’s Steampunk Month party, featuring performers such as Psyche Corporation, author G.D. Falksen and singer Karen LeBlane.
2009: Time magazine
On December 14th, 2009, Time magazine covers steampunk in an article by Lev Grossman titled “Steampunk: Reclaiming Tech for the Masses.” The article covers steampunk as a growing music, fashion, literary, and art trend.
2010: Sunday Driver
U.K.-based steampunk band Sunday Driver debuts. It is the first band to actively explore multicultural steampunk music and use non-European sounds and instruments as a standard part of its performance.
In April 2010, the platinum-selling country rock duo Sugarland announces that their new music direction will be steampunk influenced, beginning with their new album The Incredible Machine.
July 2010: Rush
The band Rush goes steampunk for their “Time Machine Tour” in support of their forthcoming album Clockwork Angels, including a stage set, costume, and instruments, all within the steampunk aesthetic. It costs millions, but looks fantastic.
At this point, there are steampunk music events occurring at nightclubs and in music halls every month somewhere in the world. There are constantly new steampunk and neo-vintage bands forming or converting over to a steampunk theme as this genre of music grows.
Having completed this timeline, and knowing that she was there for all of the events—and, in many cases, helped them come about—Evelyn Kriete now feels very old. More info about her can be found on her Twitter feed and Facebook page.