While you were all tucking into your chocolate eggs, this year, I had sacrificed my time to dress in my steampunk finery and head over to Manchester, UK. TimeQuake is the newest event from the Ministry of Steampunk (formerly the VSS). It’s a fully enclosed, immersive event set over three main sections of Bowler’s Exhibition Centre.
TimeQuake Landing Party
I arrived on Friday evening as I had purchased a ticket for the Landing Party. This was the preamble night event to get TimeQuake started. It was held in the Cantina Bar of the BEC (Bowler’s Exhibition Centre) which as a replica of the famous Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. Mannequins of the famous aliens seen in the 1977 film were present sat on seats or standing waiting for me to pass. Cornelius Evazan and Ponda Baba – the latter with both arms intact – stood in the mezzanine to inform us of their death sentence on 12 systems. Make it 13, Evazan; we don’t like you either.
The bar is small, so it was never going to hold a lot of people. However, I do feel that the £21 ticket price was a little on the steep side. Even with two free cocktails thrown in. Especially as the second one I had seemed to just be fruit juice. I couldn’t taste any alcohol in it and while I dislike the taste of spirit alcohol, it does mean I can detect it in a drink.
Entertainment was fantastic as it was provided to us by UK music supremos Victor & The Bully and aerial artwork in the shape of the ever lovely Scarlet Butterfly. Scarlet had devised a new act based on Star Wars especially for TimeQuake and as Landing Party guests we got to see it before anyone else. That made us feel pretty special. The evening wrapped up at around 11pm.
Saturday dawned and I made my way to the event. It was a short taxi drive from my hotel, but the Centre is located conveniently enough just off Junction 9 of the M60 for those who were travelling up on the day. Interestingly, for the most part the Cantina was closed during the day which was a shame but it did open up for the Jedi School workshop for Star Wars fans.
Post Apocalypse Zone
First impressions were that it was impressive. Most impressive. I found myself in the post apocalyptic zone which was located adjacent to the Main Stage. There were a number of traders there who specialised in the more industrial or gritty side of steampunk, such as Adam McSkelly from McSkelly Leatherworks, Stagman Creations, Unique Metalworks and Gogledd Upcycled Steampunk Group.
Everyone in the Northern steampunk community and I dare say a lot in the south know Adam McSkelly. His particular style of leatherwork is easily identifiable. He also gets really involved at the Asylum. You may remember he nearly knocked me out of the costume competition in 2016 because of his incredible robot. He’d brought it along and placed it in position so it glared at me as a taunt of the lucky escape I had. While announcing the winners of the male category, Adam was the clear winner until he proclaimed that as a robot it was neither male nor female. Therefore they created a new category and I managed to claim the victory. Although hollow, I accepted it and still remind people about it whenever I can.
In the Westworld zone, FLB Westernwear had their extensive range of American Old West themed clothing. Sluggett & Boner and Laurien Gray’s Wardrobe were just a few other traders that made for a bustling little area. The Main Stage sat at the head of the room next to a small independent caterer who sold delicious pies but due to the Centre not providing any alternative catering, they were soon overwhelmed and sold out very fast. Eventually the Centre cafe opened and eased the rush.
A narrow corridor featuring some gorgeous clothing designs by Elsie Tinker led to a large room of traders. Well known names such as Doctor Geof, Hilary Sedgwick from Lilac Moon Designs (whom I got some lovely moustache wax from), Gail from Ornamentology and Rob & Jill from Steampunk.global and All Woman corsets were there. They complimented the rest of the room and the other traders nicely. The room was occasionally broken up with performances by the Belly Fusion Dance Collective who put on stunning displays of synchronised dancing.
Leading through Dr Geof’s stand, a small archway opened up into the signing area where the guests of the weekend were seated selling autographs and photos. Featured guests were well known in the world of science fiction such as Peter Purves, Frazer Hines, Simon Fisher-Becker, Colin Spaull, John Leeson (K-9), Colin Edmonds, Joe Pasquale and Rosie Jane. All the guests – bar Joe Pasquale and Colin Edmonds – had appeared in Dr Who and next to them was a gorgeous steampunk TARDIS complete with rust and chimney stack. This was complimented by an additional brass/copper K9 robotic dog.
Steam Wizards Zone
The final room was the Steam Wizards zone where Louie, Laura and the rest of the Steam Wizard team gave classes, workshops and played games. This was great entertainment for the kids as well as adults and was an interesting slant on the Harry Potter theme blending with steampunk. For example, the Sorting Hat has been replaced by a Sorting Pigeon. There are still four houses but they have different names and values. None of them are “bad” like Slytherin. There was a sorting ceremony as well as magic duels and lessons in potions and herbology. This was all given under the shadow of a large model of Hagrid’s house from the Harry Potter films.
Joining the Steam Wizards was the steampunk VW Camper by Steve Kay. This customised Camper has been fully steampunk modded and even has oxblood leather captain’s chairs in the front. It’s a great project and Steve opens it up for people to enjoy. The camper was situated in the middle of the floor right next to a full size Viper fighter shuttle from the original Battlestar Galactica. Arguably one of the sexiest fighter ships in any science fiction film or television, it comes close to the X-Wing in eye candy and familiarity. It had even been signed by Dirk Benedict who played Starbuck in the 1970s sci-fi show. Traders in the Steam Wizards zone included Gary Nicholls and his Imaginarium project which is three books (one complete, currently working on the second) of stunning steampunk photography.
There was so much to do during the day, it wad to be put on twice daily in order to make sure that people who missed the first one could get to the second one. In the Post Apocalyptic Zone there was a zombie school where you could learn to blend in with the walking dead. Kind of like the warm up Dianne gives in Shaun of the Dead. Except better. And cooler. There was also a 30 minute lesson on making a post apocalyptic gun.
The Main Stage area was reserved for the talks, live music and entertainment. There were talks from Simon Fisher-Becker & Colin Spaull and Joe Pasquale & Colin Edmonds. Scarlet Butterfly showcased her new Star Wars themed dance to the public and the Belly Fusion Dance Collective gave performances. Tea Duelling – which was invented by attendee Dr Geof and event organiser John Naylor – was held on the Main Stage. Finally towards the end of the Saturday, An Audience with Victor & The Bully was listed. Though this only lasted half an hour. Still, I suppose Half an Hour with Victor & The Bully doesn’t sound as good. They played some songs and had a chat which was nice for the ultra fans in the crowd (me).
Sunday saw a slightly different line up with talks from Peter Purvis & Frazer Hines. Victor & The Bully had left on the Saturday evening so they were replaced by the Bear Dance Class closing ceremony.
The Wild West Zone also saw a high noon shoot out at, well, noon… With the steampunk Storm Trooper easily knocking out the Dark WolfMan.
I went in to the event with a critical eye because I was there to document it. As a first event it was very good. It was well organised from the MoS point of view, but the Exhibition Centre seemed to be lacking. It also didn’t help that they’d put on a car boot sale on the Sunday morning which took up a large portion of the car park. I feel that they could have also opened the place up to the car boot customers and let them have a brief look round which would have introduced people to steampunk and maybe bought a thing or two. I think if they’d wanted to do that though, the £20 door price would have been off putting.
I paid £36 for the weekend ticket and while there was lots to do, I did feel that there’s more at Weekend at the Asylum which is roughly the same price and lasts for four days. Many people that I talked to complained of the cold. Not just traders, but visitors too. Now frankly I didn’t feel it, but I started to get a reputation as the only person that wasn’t cold. Sunday saw some heating turbines installed into the rooms and they were distinctly warmer.
The event seemed quiet and there were plenty of spaces in the car park, but traders I spoke to were happy with how they’d performed in sales, which is the important part.
As a merged event, it worked very well. It was dominated by steampunks – which is to be expected -and maybe in the future more cosplayers and sci-fi fans will visit. We would then see more of a “cross pollination” of genres and themes. However, in my personal experience, comicon visitors are some of the most obnoxious and selfish people I’ve ever had to contend with, so I don’t know how they’d handle that.
My main thoughts go back to the pricing. it’s clearly a smaller event than Asylum and so the price should reflect that. But when you have events such as Whitby, Leeds Steampunk Market and A Splendid Day Out offering similar events, albeit on a smaller scale, with free entry, it’s hard to justify a £40 weekend ticket.