It’s highly unlikely that if you’re a steampunk you won’t have heard of Professor Elemental. The alter-ego of MC Elemental is an inventing time travelling professor with a monkey butler and an affinity for tea. 2009 saw his debut album The Indifference Engine, a ten tracker that covers steampunk, tea, parties and even features a diss song to Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer.
The Indifference Engine can be bought from the Professor Elemental website for £6.00 by following the link here: The Indifference Engine by Professor Elemental.
You will also notice that individual tracks can be downloaded for just 50p each.
The opening track is called Splendid and in the last few years has become one of the most well known musical pieces in steampunk, probably partially down to it’s upbeat tempo, gorgeous violins and an entire verse giving examples of all kinds of British things that make us happy. But also some of its popularity could be attributed to the British steampunk philosophy “Be Splendid”. There are one or two examples that could really only be personal to the good Professor but “the fresh smell of a newly mowed lawn” and “lovely roast hen with Yorkshire’s and gravy” are certainly up there with the best.
Many of the tracks take a typical area of Victorian life and twist it into something maniacal and goofy, such as Animal Magic which sees us being welcomed to Elemental’s experimental laboratory where he’s created wacky new creatures by separating and reattaching various parts of the animals. It also briefly mentions how Geoffrey came into being. There’s also Sweet Cold Colation which has him coming home, after nine years of adventuring, to his wife (voiced by Madam Faye) who has spent the time alone baking and has since gone mad. The Quest for the Golden Frog is a presentation to a mysterious Gentlemen’s society. The verses explain how the adventure unfolded until it appears that he never really had to go in the first place. Each track has a hint of silliness to it, from the cake based innuendo of Sweet Cold Colation to the spinal syringe in Golden Frog.
Arguably the most interesting tracks on the album is Elixir. It’s a gloomier melody that describes the darker side of Victorian London. The story takes the Jeckyll and Hyde story one step further where Mr Hyde is now selling his transformation medicine to gentlemen who wish to go out for murder and pillage. The lyrics are very clever and fluid but alas, track is only short and ends with him transforming in front of the friend he’s gone to visit for help.
Other tracks include A Fete Worse than Death and Fighting Trousers. The former covers a typical British summer Carnival but twists it on it’s head, making it both incredulous and cool, such as Morris Break Dancers, Strawberries and Cream stuffed with Bailey’s or a Best Pith Helmet Competition (obviously fixed). The latter is a longer track that pokes fun at Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer. There was some ruckus between the two chap-hop artists and Fighting Trousers (what boxing shorts were originally called) is a diss song to Mr B. It comments on much of chap-hop, nodding towards Mr B not being very good at rapping or being relatively new to the genre even though he wasn’t at the time. He also pokes fun at Jim Burke’s past with the line “Sold out to Coca Cola, used for a trend” because Burke rapped in a band called Collapsed Lung. They made a track called Eat My Goal which was used by Coca Cola for their Euro ’96 advertising campaign. a few years after this was released, Professor Elemental said “(Jim) called me and asked to meet me for a drink. I went along and we met properly and had a good old chat. He’s a lovely person and now I feel really guilty.”
The Indifference Engine is stuffed with references to steampunk with Alborough being a well known character in the culture. Tracks such as A Fete Worse Than Death mention steampunk and Steam Powered (featuring Mr Jon Clarke) is actually a rapped explanation of steampunk to those who would like an intro to it. There’s lots to listen to on this as the lyrics are fast and it took me a few listens to realise that it’s being recorded in the future “back in 2053, this would be Italy, streets glittering prettily, just like a Christmas tree” and the World has been covered with the ocean “Until the heat rose six degrees and now we’re living in the middle of the drifting sea”. It just goes to show that steampunk isn’t necessarily a culture obsessed with the past.
The track that Professor Elemental is most well known for is Cup of Brown Joy and is quite simply a rap about tea. As the track begins he starts on a lower octave and rises slowly through to the end. The lyrics also get faster up to the crescendo which illustrates what it’s like imbibing that amount of caffeine throughout the day.
Growing up with rap and hip hop, I’ve taken to chap-hop very well. The Indifference Engine is extremely well made thanks not just to the good professor’s exquisite lyrics, but also a superb amount of skill from producer Tom Caruana. This guy is someone to look out for because he seems to understand vintage music. Take, for example, the opening of Fighting Trousers; it brings up thoughts of Indian or African jungles, Big game Hunters and Cannibals.
Professor Elemental has managed to bring hip-hop to a bunch of people that may not necessarily have listened to it before. You see, the interesting thing about steampunk is that a lot of them are actually punks. Steampunk is one of only a few cultures with the “punk” suffix that have actually embraced the punk ethic. But is it Professor Elemental’s skill with lyrics that has got him accepted by people who may not normally have listened to hip-hop or is it the all embracing view of steampunks? There’s a bit of a quandary. Whichever way you look at it, if you’re a steampunk chances are you’re going to love this record if nothing else but for the references to steampunk and the amount of silly that it injects into the culture.
Professor Elemental is all about getting music out there. Much of his work is either free or pay what you think it’s worth. I would say while you’re adding The Indifference Engine to your cart, have a listen to his other stuff and buy some of that too.