Monday, March 31, 2008

never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down

So, more things I've found along the yes, more endless commentary.

Courtesy of Vernian Process...


The Clockwork Dolls (who are currently running a HYSTERICAL bit of Aprille foolery) have a Myspace page. It seems to be their only web presence.

Also, the Honkytonk Dragon discusses the Stroh Violin. Quite intriguing.

And also, I've been thinking, well, theramin music, that might be steampunk--save what I've been thinking of as the theramin is actually the glass harmonica, and the theramin is the precursor of the Moog which leads to modern synthesizers.

And just for kicks and giggles, Wikipedia defines both steampunk fashion and steampunk music as vague and undefined things:

"Steampunk" fashion has no set guidelines, but tends to synthesize punk, goth and rivet styles as filtered through the Victorian era. This may include Mohawks and extensive piercings with corsets and tattered petticoats, Victorian suits with goggles and boots with large soles and buckles or straps, and the Lolita fashion and aristocrat styles. Some of what defines steampunk fashion has come from cyberpunk, and cyberlocks have appeared being used by people adopting a steampunk look...

"Steampunk" music is even less defined, and tends to apply to any modern musicians whose music or stage presence evokes a feeling of the Victorian era or steampunk. This may include such diverse artists as Abney Park and Vernian Process.

Well, gosh, that helps everything so much. Basically leaves us with music made by people wearing goggles and/or corsets. *facepalms*

And of course a lot of people are pointing at "steampunk" on one hand, and meaning neo-Victorian.

So okay, what about individual songs? I think some of the background ambiance, the clanking noisy bits of Depeche Mode's People are People sound steampunk/industrial. Winter Ventura says, steampunk to her is equivalent to the instrumental version of Doubleback played by ZZ Top (track specifically starts at 4:14 for those wondering) in Back to the Future III. And Mr. Allen mentioned a bit from the musical strangeness that is Across the Universe, a cover of For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, sung by Eddie Izzard--which is again that synthesis of battered marching band instruments, the sort of stripped-down calliope-on-acid music, and in that instance, specifically, Eddie Izzard doing some frontal-lobe-bruising imitation of Rex Harrison.

And honestly, I think a song like Perfect Drug by Nine Inch Nails is only 'steampunk' (or even neo-Victorian) because of the video, not the music at all. But by the same extension, I think--visually, musically--a song like Thomas Dolby's Europa & the Pirate Twins does qualify.

At this point, I've identified several different strands feeding into the "genre that doesn't exist":

Emilly Orr: Okay--I've been boring people all morning trying to verbally analyze this
Emilly Orr: Essentially--
Emilly Orr: We have 'steampunk music' as defined as coming from goth/industrial, and hence 'darkwave'--Vernian Process goes so far as to identify (if he doesn't say 'steampunk') what he does as 'cinematic darkwave'
Emilly Orr: Which tracks back to bands like the Cure, Depeche Mode, the Damned, Massive Attack--dark industrial, oldwave, darkwave
Emilly Orr: We have 'steampunk'-as-neo-Victoriana, which gives us influencing bands and artists like Tori Amos, Emilie Autumn and Rasputina, which also gets us into so-called 'faery music', which I'm trying like hell to avoid entirely, but at the same time, the fae were big in Victorian culture, but I think it wouldn't be good to explore that out
Emilly Orr: And then we have people like VP again, pointing out other 'contemporary steampunk bands' like Legendary Shack Shakers and Beat Circus, which leads us back to people like White Ghost Shivers and Tom Waits (for Legendary Shack Shakers) and the Dresden Dolls (for bands like the Beat Circus) and...
Emilly Orr: this is when I sit in stunned amazement, wondering why I'm now considering early electronica, wave music, goth/industrial and American roots music as equivalent influences for one genre that doesn't sound like any of these
Fawkes Allen: Because again, you're thinking of Steampunk in the wrong way. Which is the issue of saying "Steampunk Music"
Fawkes Allen: I mean, maybe you can. But personally it sounds like you're trying to define "Cyberpunk" Music, or "Fantasy" Music. They are very general catagories. What works for Girl Genius, is not going to work for Wild Wild West, but both *are* Steampunk. What works for a darker goth Steampunk, like let's say Dark City, (Which though low on Steam definitely has a lot of Steampunky style) won't work for Skies of Arcadia.
Fawkes Allen: In the end, there's a lot of styles in Steampunk. Steampunk is a Timeline. You have to imagine our world, having followed a line of Steam over Gas. So we'd have Rock & Roll, Goth, Grunge, Rap, Hip-Hop, and so on and so forth. What would make it Steampunk, would essentially being from that Steampunked world, using technology they developed that we didn't.
Fawkes Allen: So you need to focus on bands that go for unique sounds. Things less "Electric Guitar" and more The Osciliating Guitar. Which uses Crystals and you run your finger up and down the strings versus plucking them. Which again, makes Steampunk more a state of Mind or style, rather then an actual *sound*. Though it can be sound as well.

Which means, there's never going to be that moment of realization--that, "A-HA! Steampunk music is [X]!" statement. Because it's a style, not a genre. It's like Visual Kei for Japan--while it ties in to J-rock as a 'genre' (progressive Japanese metal/orchestral electronic balladry, in a broad sense), it's mostly a clothing/cultural thing.

(And how do Japanese bands and artists fit in, anyway? I mean, Mizerable by Gackt seems to fit the tone, sort of, but not musically--and songs like Shima Uta fit the sort of sound of deconstructed semi-acoustic music, but fly much farther back than neo-Victoriana would the additional complication of the fact that first, Japan did not so much have a Victorian period, and that as a folk song, of sorts, Shima Uta is also used as sort of a tribute song, or allusion, to the devastation visited on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII....

(We're getting lost again. And the problem on that is one of culture, not genre, anyway--because of the other part, the "visual" part of Visual Kei--because it leads us into pathways of exploring Loli/EGL and Aristocrat/EGA fashion movements, and how they have influence on the modern neo-Victorian styling seen in Europe and America, but how does that influence steampunk in general and steampunk music in specific?

(And just when did we become so goddamn narrowly defined that everyone, almost every single person I speak with about steampunk, nods sagely and says, 'Goggles'. I mean, W.T.F.? It's like, goggles and a top hat and you're steampunk? Since when?!?)

We're getting lost again.

Okay. We seem to have three thematic feeds into the larger pool:

Å What I call 'roots revival', or 'American roots' music, as typified by the White Ghost Shivers and Legendary Shack Shakers: essentially, music drawn from disparate places, but mostly from jazz, blues, and Appalachian hill-country music, which originally came from Elizabethan caroling traditions, when the original English settlers first came and colonized the East coast of America, and thence moved inland;

Å Neo-cabaret, or what I've started calling the 'Opheliacs' movement, for lack of a better term--as typified by Emilie Autumn, Dresden Dolls, Rasputina, Tori Amos and even Evanescence, to a certain extent: generally, bands that are voiced mainly by women who also create their own clothes, create art, and play modern music on more traditional instruments;

Å Goth/industrial/darkwave--which could and in some cases does include Abney Park and Vernian Process, but also includes bands from the Cure, Massive Attack and Clan of Xymox to Apocalyptica and Apoptygma Berzerk: dark, driven repetitive music with similar themes of loss, pain, and dystopian deconstruction;

(and I'd started to toss in:

(Å Progressive metal, varying from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Royal Hunt, Yngvie Malmsteen, clear up to some of Opeth and Luca Turilli...but you know, they're not really I'm retracting and stopping here.)



I get to stop again, saying, tired of thinking now. I'm going to walk away from this for a few days. Trying to label a musical style by identifying what its antecedents might have been...GAH!


Edward Pearse, Earl of Primbroke said...

In which your humble commenter pronounces a resounding "Duh" on your realisation that steampunk music cannot be defined.

I would agree that there's probably a lot of goth influence in "steampunk" style music. Much of the goth subculture association has been heavily linked to Victoriana for many years. And really there's not *that* much of a stretch to take your long black Victorian style leather coat and take the skull buttons off and replace them with cogs.

However the point is that if you ask 20 goths to define what makes goth music goth, you will get 20 answers. Some would have us believe that Marilyn Manson is goth. Others will quite vehemently tell you he is just an updated version of Alice Cooper and is therefore rock, not goth. Others would include VNV Nation in the goth list, others would say their version of electronica has nothing to do with goth music.

Of course drawing lines for musical genres, styles and forms is always hard. I've never had anyone be able to tell me the difference between Black Metal, Death metal, Thrash Metal and Power Metal. To me it all sounds like some guy screaming into a microphone with really fast drums and loud guitars going on in the background. The only thing they all seem to have in common is that if you can understand the lyrics of the singer, it's not metal.

Emilly Orr said...

Well, and see, I'd disagree with that, because prog metal--Royal Hunt, Avantasia, Ayreon, Nightwish, Sonata Arctica and others--they CAN sing, and they ARE metal. :)

It's so annoying. Yes, I know, boxing and categorization lead to ossification of musical form, and labeling is a bad thing, it's restrictive, yada yada yada....but it's something we want to do. Goes all the way back to our roots as a culture and a group of various peoples: "Us/Not us" "Food/not food" "Tribe/Enemy".

Steampunk music...uh...played by people with goggles?

I'd LOVE to have a better definition! But I don't think there is one.

Diamanda Gustafson said...

I've never had anyone be able to tell me the difference between Black Metal, Death metal, Thrash Metal and Power Metal.

Ping me when you have time, I'll be happy to oblige ;)

Vernian Process said...

I don't wear goggles... unless I need them for some reason lol.

But seriously, I think you may have hit on the whole problem with people trying to define "Steampunk Music". I've been very careful to never openly state that my music "is" Steampunk, but rather it "is influenced by" Steampunk. Which is why I created the rather silly genre name "Steamwave" to describe my work. I have a wide range of influences, that you have obviously been able to track down or at least figure out just by listening, and they fall in all kind sof genres of music. I have no problems with a Hip-Hop artist doing Steampunk Rap, or a Metal band doing Steampunk metal. I think that would be awesome actually. You may want to check out Saul Williams who happens to be a Hip-Hop artist on Trent Reznors Nothing label. He has quite a bit of Victorian influence in his appearance.

Actually it's funny this comes up right now as I am currently in the process of starting up a fledgling record label (Gilded Age Records) that will cater specifically to bands with old world aesthetics. I want to open up our roster to as many different genres as possible too.

Emilly Orr said...

Damn. Saul Williams is more fierce street poetry than rap, but again, rapper who mostly uses acoustic guitar and piano? Damn.

Not seeing his relation--musically--to steampunk, or even steamwave--*grins*--but I do see it in images of his.

Honestly, the way this is going? I can just see someone in a couple years pulling a thesis out of this.