"I should warn you that we have had comments that the day is a shambolic, badly organised weekend of chaotic madness, and that it is as if a circus has crash landed on a fancy dress wedding day. We strive to uphold that standard."
"Ben that is the best definition and description of the Convivial, I've seen yet. Wonder if we can lower the bar to even more ridiculous depths. Quite a challenge."
Cubinoid and Tixia have been Steampunks longer than they've known about the word "Steampunk."
Ben and Tixia Henderson have been organising events for over a decade. Ben is a qualified sound engineer and has lectured on the subject of film, music and photography, and games design at various colleges and universities in and around London.
They co-ordinate the Performing Arts at the Carshalton Environmental Fair, Harpsfest music festival at Redhill, various Steampunk events: the Surrey and Markfield Steampunk Convivials and run open mic nights in and around London. They are also musicians in their own right, in their Steampunk acoustic trip-hop group Moth.
Tixia is a singer songwriter and vocalist for Moth, and Ben is a multi-instrumentalist, and music producer, and often plays Bayan when Moth perform live. They have performed at the largest Steampunk festival - Asylum in Lincoln, at Chatham Historic Dockyards, Kew Bridge Greatest Steampunk Exhibition, and more recently at Buckinghamshire, Crewe and at the Markfield and Surrey Steampunk Convivials.
Cubinoid rambles randomly, "I was raised in a Victorian house in the Victorian town of Clevedon, where I spent much time in the cellar tinkering with gadgets, or in the attic playing a variety of musical instruments. People used to come round and leave instruments there, and I used to experiment with recording up there too, on a 4-track recorder with wooden case.
The pantry in our home had its own well. I persuaded my parents to reinstall the service bell system on the kitchen wall.
My grandparents bought me a Swiss made gold pocket watch by Roamer for my 18th birthday. Before he passed away, my grandfather gave me two things: his burgundy waistcoat and his explorers hat (He was a climber).
I wore my first top hat when I was at infant school. It was made of cardboard. I used to watch Dr.Who as a child and so loved it I used to dress up in my dad's felt hat, my brothers long knitted scarf, and I even built my own K9 out of found objects and...more cardboard.
At school my sports were archery, fencing and caving. My main sport these days is climbing which my wife and daughter partake in as well on occasion, although my wife has an interest in free running/parkour and skydiving (Her father built his own flying machine - a hang glider).
My English teacher called me the most sartorial pupil he had ever had. I happened to wear an untied bow tie to school one occasion and he asked me if I knew how to tie a bow tie (which of course I did).
We had a young enterprise scheme at school. Our company sold bow ties, and gramophone records that we'd turned into clocks.
I once got found out having drawn a large moustache on my school photo before returning it to the school. I bumped into the headmaster one day wearing a hat that I had modified so that it had hands on each side, and googly eyes. The headmaster told me, "I never want to see that hat ever again". So I wore a different hat the next day.
When I left school, my leaving present was a top hat.
I am currently wearing a period jacket and waistcoat that I wore to work. I teach sound recording, film making, photography and synthesis at various colleges. (Did you know that synthesizers were invented in 1897?)
On my way back from work, I stopped in at the dry cleaners to drop off two pairs of Victorian stripey trousers, and picked up a period military coat with brass buttons, a brass buttoned waistcoat, and a very unusual tailcoat with derringer pockets in the tails that needed a touch of restoration work. I plan on changing the buttons on that particular coat.
On my head as I type are some WWI aviator goggles, and because the chill night air is setting in, I am wearing a cravat under my high collared white shirt. I am wearing a period Argyle jacket with square buttons.
I am in the middle of editing a music video that my wife and I have composed on accordion, pianoforte, bass, and guitar - although the music video has a full band (which is actually comprised of just the two of us many times over - and a Reflecmedia green screen that we set up at home) featuring instruments such as a late 18th century Mandolin, a bizarre instrument called "waves of nightingales" and features five band members in full Victorian dress, waistcoats, goggles (one pair that I made myself specifically for the video), top hats and bowler hats, tailcoats and stripey trousers.
Most of the clothing is part of our standard wardrobe, but there are several pieces in the video for which we traveled to a fancy dress shop in Horley (miles from where we live) to find, where we trudged through a field and looked through 2500 items of clothing (with a torch because there are no electric lamps there!), and by special appointment only!
My darling wife is a singer (I persuaded her to sing a song I had written shortly after I met her...and recorded on a reel to reel), a very prolific songwriter, a talented milliner, she makes jewellery and robots...tattoos decapitated dolls heads and helps me make clangers style finger puppet animations.
We perform our music live every week with our music combining laptop backing music and live vocals and sometimes an acoustic instrument such as the bayan (a Russian accordion), doumbek, or my D'Angelico arch top guitar, and occasionally with black and white projections. I have built music hall style footlights with Tungsten lighting, which we use for gigs and open mics, for the authentic scary uplighting experience.
Tixia was also raised in a Victorian house, and shares my love of architecture and was brought up with rooms in the house having names such as the scullery, the dining room and the pantry. She makes her own perfume, and is often found in the kitchen, distilling water for this purpose. She is very good at home cooking and baking.
We make our own toiletries wherever possible. We make our own toothpaste from peppermint essence and bicarbonate of soda. I shave with either a Rolls Razor, honing and stropping the blade by hand, or sometimes with a Wilkinson Sword blade.
We blend our own tea, using herbs such as Vervain and St. John's Wort, in our favourite silver teapot.
We sleep with a plasma globe glowing purple, and I program delta brainwaves for my wife which I play to her through tiny headphones to help her get to sleep. I like to reprogram her brain whilst she is asleep - you have to have a hobby.
We are surrounded by original artwork, beautiful engravings, and old instruments such as the harmonium, and vintage drum kits, which we press into service with our own original music which we record ourselves in our "Black Valve" Studio.
We moved the sofa out in order to move the mixing desk in. We have a rack of vintage effects and processors, valve based oscillators and reel to reels, and a rare valve 78 deck, yet our computer is one of the latest Apple Macs.
The last present I bought my wife was a gold mechanical Swiss made watch and chain.
We were married in a brethren church (who paid for our wedding) and I still own the tailcoat suit and top hat that I was married in.
On my nose is a pair of vintage spectacles (which were a present my wife bought me), fitted with prescription lenses. On the floor is a box of lights that I hope to convert to react to sound. As I look around, there are at least four Victorian period dolls in various costumes. And the robots...
We have two phones - one is made of bakelite, the other has a handle that you have to wind up before holding one horn to your ear. We do not possess a television. Or a car, although I am currently designing a vehicle.
Our last music video featured miniature artificial intelligence steam powered robots circa 1900, which we built and animated ourselves.
We also run a few festivals and fairs in our spare time - The performing arts marquee at the Environmental Fair in Carshalton, England, and Harpsfest, in Redhill, England which is also our unofficial joint birthday party.
We started thinking about doing some Steampunk gatherings as a way of having some excellent fun with some marvellous people!
In a moment, I shall have a glass of sherry, because it is about that time. Lovely to make your acquaintance!"
BEN AND TIXIA
That's me and my darling wife Tixi. Photograph by Jillian Edelstein.
What is Steampunk?
Steampunk is loosely centered around Victorian-based science fiction...so imagine HG Wells Time Machine/The War of the Worlds meets Jules Verne 20,000 leagues under the sea...the world of Steampunk is rooted in a retro-futurist vision of what the present might be like if the Victorians had imagined it.
Lots of people attending The Surrey Steampunk Convivial will be wearing alternate reality Victorian wear...think rocketpacks, top hats, goggles, corsets, ray guns...that kind of thing. It will be full of people who are bringing back simple good manners, and having splendidly dressed yet very silly fun. The motto of Steampunk is: "Be Splendid!"
Yet Steampunk covers more than just fashion and manners. Much like the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Steampunk spans other creative forms as well, such as literature, art and sculpture, games, films, jewellery, music - even sport.
So why the name, "Steampunk"? It was originally coined as a play on words, as a way of jokingly attempting to define a style of literature: Cyberpunk set in the Victorian period.
The "Steam" part of it comes from the steam power that was prevalent during the Victorian period - a period when it seemed that steam power could make almost anything possible...even steam powered rocketships to the moon...
The "Punk" part is perhaps a little misleading. Although there are Punks and Goths that are crossing over into Steampunk, Steampunk differs from punk in that it is not strictly a music genre.
Perhaps the punk part can be thought of as being the rejection of the mass-produced, plastic, manufactured, consumerist offerings that the large corporations provide for the masses. Many Steampunks will take these (albeit useful) items of blandness, and transform them into wonderfully crafted items that maintain the original functionality, yet are adorned with rich woods and brass, dials and gauges. Or sometimes, they will take household items and turn them into something that looks like it could work. Because steam powered rocket packs are just cool.
The tricky thing is, Steampunk is constantly changing, and it means different things to each Steampunk. So what I have given you is simply my definition of what I think Steampunk is - but the best way to find out is to attend a Steampunk Convivial and see for yourself!
Where can I find Steampunks?
Steampunks tend to hang out on Facebook, and there are many regional groups, many of which meet up regularly and do...various things...here is a kind of map of where the main Steampunk groups are in the UK. It's not complete. It will always be shifting around, and there are likely groups that aren't on there. But it is a starting point!
Is there a group near you? If not...why not start one?!
Phil Masters has put together this excellent library of links, which we reproduce here for your use - if you are new to Steampunk, there is a huge wealth of information contained within! (We can't guarantee all these links work - but do let us know if any of them don't...)
The Steampunk Resource attempts a definition and provides more links.
The US Library of Congress has assembled a quite extraordinary collection of images of late Imperial Russia, which are (quite legitimately) in colour.
Brass Goggles concerns itself with "the lighter side of Steampunk", and collects some lovely links.
I've been pointed at a page called The Emily Chesley Reading Circle, which I'm told is "dedicated to recognizing the long-overlooked Victorian speculative fiction writer, Emily Chesley." I've not looked at this much yet, but I pass the note on for others to do with as they choose.
And here, I'll also throw in a link to my own short story, The Last Flight of Captain Bale.
Art and Appearances
The History of Costume, by Braun - Falkenstein fans should see especially
Victoriana, Resources for Victorian Living provides all sorts of interesting links and references.
The William Morris Gallery has some nice "arts and crafts" images, including a few tile-worthy wallpaper designs that could be used to give, say, a 'Web page a real period flavour.
http://www.bigredhair.com/books/boilerplate/ Covers Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel, ostensibly the biography of a 19th-century robot soldier, is an illustrated hardcover book that deftly blends historical fiction with science fiction.
People and Places
The Alpine Bavaria 'Net Guide is mostly about the modern day, but does have some stuff on Mad King Ludwig's castles (another topic of special Falkensteinian interest).
World War I qualifies as sort of Late Steampunk, I think. Anyway, this is a good page.
Lastly, the Journal of Manly Arts deals with martial arts and combat sports in the 19th century. A useful corrective to the idea that martial arts and refined combat are solely a phenomenon of the Mysterious East.
We’re re-posting it here, because it is full of goodies:
Author’s Echo – http://www.adamheine.com/
The Airship Ambassador: Information for the Steampunk Community – http://www.Airshipambassador.com/
Beyond Victoriana: a Multicultural Perspective on Steampunk – http://www.Beyondvictoriana.com/
Dr. Steel – http://www.toysoldiersunite.com/
Free the Princess – http://freetheprincess.blogspot.com/
Girl Genius Comics: Adventure, Romance, Mad Science! – http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/
Mad Hatter’s Review: Edgy and Enlightened Literature, Art and Music in the Age of Dementia – http://www.madhattersreview.com/
Multiculturalism for Steampunk – http://thesteamerstrunk.blogspot.com/
Nancy Overbury’s #Steamtuesday Feature – http://overburyink.com/
NY Steampunk Artists & Enthusiasts – http://www.meetup.com/steampunk/
Off the Beaten Path Bookstore: Store with steampunk art & book selection – http://www.otbp-bookstore.com/
Parliament & Wake – http://www.parliamentandwake.com/
Sephiachord – http://sepiachord.com/
Silver Goggles – http://silver-goggles.blogspot.com/
Steampunk.com – http://www.steampunk.com/
STEAMED! Writing Steampunk Fiction – http://ageofsteam.wordpress.com/
Steamfashion on Livejournal – http://community.livejournal.com/steamfashion/
Steampunk Canada – http://steampunkcanada.ca/
The Steampunk Scholar http://steampunkscholar.blogspot.com/
Steampunk Tribune: Reporting on Steampunk Since 2007 – http://www.steampunktribune.com/
Steampunk Writers & Artists Guild – http://steampunkwriters.ning.com/
Xadune: Steampunk LARP in Georgia – http://www.Xadune.com/