“The word ‘steampunk’ initially described a subgenre of science fiction,” says Eric Chamberlin, aka Professor J.S. Greyshade, cofounder and resident DJ of Queen Bee’s monthly steampunk club Chrononaut. “In its original literary definition, steampunk imagines alternate realities, wherein modern ideas and technology are mixed with ideas and technology from the 19th and early 20th Centuries.”
For reference, think Victorian preelectrical machinery, à la Jules Verne’s and H.G. Wells’s tales of an era that never was, with passenger zeppelins, spinning gears, windup gadgets, steam-powered robots, lots of brass and woodwork, and citizens adorned in sepia-toned corsets, top hats, gypsy lace, and goggles. Steampunk-flavored films include Wild Wild West and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
“The steampunk music scene is unusual in that steampunk is not a genre of music but is instead a common thread of anachronism that runs across many genres,” says Greyshade. “It’s a network of artists, bands, and DJs who have come to recognize that indefinable yesterday-meets-tomorrow something that we have in common.”
At Chrononaut, Greyshade spins “anachronistic alternative music — folk, gypsy punk, dark cabaret, gothic, world fusion, circus punk, neoclassical...” Participating local bands include Tragic Tantrum and Steam Powered Giraffe, the latter a musical troupe of trained mimes who perform as musical automaton robots.
Both bands make use of evocative clothing. “The costumes themselves show their countercultural origins strongly, with features like corsets as a top layer — a gothic style — and the ubiquitous goggles, with origins in the Burning Man and industrial music scenes.” Costuming is also common among Chrononaut patrons. “Steampunk or anachronistic attire is encouraged and contributes to everyone’s fun,” notes Greyshade, “but don’t let the lack of a pair of goggles keep you away.”
Held the second Thursday of each month, Chrononaut is reportedly the second oldest monthly steampunk event in the U.S. Brainstormed among cosplay (costume-wearing) attendees at downtown’s Comic-Con, Chrononaut debuted at Queen Bee’s in June 2009, established the event format with live music, DJs, silent cinema, costume contests, art displays, and themes such as Automatons, Circuses, Steampunk Spain, and Airships.
The next Chrononaut happens Thursday, March 10, at Queen Bee’s. There’s also a local Machina Fatalis Steampunk Social Club and a full-scale steampunk convention — the Gaslight Gathering, which is planned for May 6 through 8 at the Town and Country Hotel on Hotel Circle North.