I see many posts on social media and forums asking what people’s favourite steampunk music is what everyone would consider the best steampunk band. Categorising music or bands as steampunk is extremely difficult and if you were to do that, you’d have to accept that there are certain rules – or at least guidelines – to steampunk in order that music types, styles and lyrics could fall under the umbrella term.
Go to a steampunk event that lasts over a few days and the chances are that there will be some music to entertain the guests in the evening. There are a number of acts who call themselves steampunk and in this article I’ll look at a few to see what music they make and how diverse they are.
Abney Park were formed by current lead singer Robert Brown in 1997. It wasn’t until 2005 that they transformed themselves into a steampunk band. The band has created an entire backstory for the members and how they came to being. Since then, they’ve gained a lot of momentum and many fans. They’ve gone on to release a novel and game in their name. The website also offers to help you arrange an Abney Park concert. Recognising themselves as a steampunk band has to classify them as steampunk, but does that mean they make steampunk music? I don’t particularly enjoy their music, does that mean I’m not a steampunk?
BB BlackDog are a British based band of English and German members, with the occasional American. They recognise themselves as steampunks and play “Steampunk Rock”. Interestingly, searching Steampunk Rock on the internet always brings up BB BlackDog, suggesting that it’s a term they’ve coined themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but does that mean we have sub-genres of music? With Steampunk Music at the helm and all various types sitting below? Very possibly, but no-one can argue BlackDog’s involvement and love of steampunk.
The good Professor came into existence when it was suggested that MC Elemental make some rap tracks using styles taken from various ages. Since then Professor Elemental has taken up residence at Elemental Manors, being waited on by his faithful Orang-utan butler Geoffrey.
Professor Elemental performs Chap-Hop, a twist on Hip-Hop where the lyrics are more befitting an English gentleman of a bygone era. He has definite steampunk tracks along with regular references throughout his various albums and considers himself a steampunk. Chap-Hop is a such a vast difference from rock music, yet here is a steampunk artist sitting alongside other steampunk artists.
Metropolis describe themselves as an Alternative Sci-Fi Prog rock/New wave band. They do have a “loose” steampunk look to them (when compared to the elaborate outfits and costumes of Abney Park or Steam Powered Giraffe) but I just put that down to comfort. They dress typically in waistcoats with pocket watches, bowler hats and obligatory goggles. Things may have changed in the past 18 months, but when I chatted to the lads outside the venue they were playing, at the Haworth Steampunk Weekend, they said they didn’t consider themselves a steampunk band. They didn’t specify that they themselves weren’t steampunk though. So does playing Prog rock and New wave and not being a steampunk band mean that they’re not steampunk?
Steam Powered Giraffe
To some Abney Park define steampunk music, but to me the one band that I think of when I think of steampunk music is Steam Powered Giraffe. They have a full back story to their characters and every time they get a new member, a new character is created. However, they’re not all steampunk in design. Hatchworth is arguably the most steampunk looking robot with copper smoke stacks coming out of his hat and a brass effect skin. Bunny is described as Art Deco while The Spine is regarded as a Dieselpunk robot. According to the SPG backstory, the band is named after their creator’s first invention, a robot Giraffe called Delilah.
The music seems heavily folk influenced with hints of Old America and the lyrics reinforcing it.
It seems that “Steampunk Music” is an extremely diverse genre and doesn’t necessarily just stick to one type of music. Moreover it’s a genre that is formed by the artists within it being recognised steampunks. The steampunk wiki gets it pretty close by having the entrants listed on the Steampunk Bands page as needing 2-3 of their 5 criteria.
They call themselves steampunk
Classical instrumentation elements
Fictional (preferably alternate history) back story
Steampunk (sci-fi/historical) lyrics
I would say that to have someone recognised as a steampunk artist, number one would be an essential requirement, THEN have 2-3 of the other criteria for any list of steampunk bands. The reason I come to this conclusion is because I’ve encountered bands that have hit 2-3 of these criteria that don’t call themselves steampunks and so don’t think they produce steampunk music. However, if that’s the case, then Metropolis and similar bands wouldn’t really be called steampunk bands. Yet they’re popular at steampunk events and they’ve made the list on steampunk wiki. Are bands like Metropolis steampunk? If you think so, then yes they are to you, but maybe not to others. And that’s the beauty of steampunk.
What are your thoughts on this?