Thursday, May 17, 2012

Forward into the past at the 2012 World Steam Expo, May 25-28, at Hyatt Regency Dearborn

     Anyone who's heard about something called “steampunk” and is curious about it can have a full-immersion experience next week.
     Jules Verne might smile knowingly at the world of the future glimpsed at the 2012 World Steam Expo. It’s not literally an expo of steam but rather of steampunk, and will be held May 25 through 28, at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn at Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn.
     Steampunk is many things. According to the FAQ section of the World Steam Expo website, it “is the science fiction of the steam age, re-imagined with the advantage of modern hindsight. Drawing upon the wealth of historical technology and the scientific fantasies of the Victorian and Edwardian periods, steampunk seeks to reinvent modern wonders such as the computer as the people of the age might have envisioned them. Following in the footsteps of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, steampunk authors blend history, science and imagination into a world of wonder that might have been.”
     So, in part it is science fiction and fantasy stories, and several steampunk authors will be on hand, including:
  •  G.D. Falksen, author of “The Hellfire Chronicles: Blood in the Skies” and “A Cats Steampunk Alphabet.”
  •  Gail Carriger, the author of the “Parasol Protectorate” series, including “Soulless” and “Timeless.”
  •  Jay Lake, author of the “Clockwork Earth” trilogy: “Mainspring,” “Escapement” and “Pinion.”
  •  John White, author of the forthcoming "Tales of the Airship Neverland” trilogy, a steampunk “meta-fiction” rewrite of J.M. Barrie’s "Peter Pan." Find out more about this work in progress -- including excerpts, background and illustrations -- on White's website, where he allows you to follow the process “from writing to editing to publishing.”
  •  Evelyn Kriete, an editor/artist/party and event planner/fashion designer, also has illustrations in fellow guest G.D. Falksen’s books of “The Hellfire Chronicles: Blood in the Skies” and “A Cats Steampunk Alphabet.”
     But there will also be musical acts, theatrical troupes and performance artists of one kind or another, including:
  • Abney Park, led by "Captain" Robert Brown, who has written a steampunk novel “The Wrath of Fate” which explains the band’s backstory and transformation from a goth industrial band to “steampunk.” An audio version of chapter one is available here, as well as books for their official RPG (role playing game).
  • Steam Powered Giraffe also has a fictional back story, explaining its origin as a “Clockwork Vaudeville Circus Cabaret Show.”
  • Euro-American duo Frenchy and the Punk (formerly The Gypsy Nomads) mix cabaret, vaudeville, folk and punk, with "a dash of steampunk flavoring."
  • Detroit's own Bawdy Boys draw on the "rich heritage and culture of Irish Americans through bawdy versions of traditional favorites, toasts and bits of history and every sea shanty, rebel tune and drinking song they can put their instruments and voices to."
  • Hayley Jane, another Detroit-based entertainer, is "a true believer in the neo-vaudeville movement," and is, among other things, "a burlesque dancer, a faerie performance artist, a cabaret folk musician, a costumer, a make-up guru."
  • Dr. Toon, aka Dr. Tomas Maxwell Toon aka Thomas Downey is a "scientist of Ethnomusicology, Sociomusicology, and Cognitive Musicology, a specialized Weapons-Grade Gramaphonist," a professional DJ from the Detroit area and the host of the monthly Detroit Up in the Aether steampunk gathering at the Phoenix Café (24918 John R, Hazel Park, 248-667-8817).
  • Harpnotic has "a song list that spans the centuries and a wardrobe to match," including Celtic, classical, Renaissance, gypsy, folk, rock and original music fusing intoxicating middle eastern rhythms and harmonies with songs both Ancient and Modern."
  • Illuminatus 2.2, a Michigan-based laser-light show that performs "feats of laser lighting, video visual mayhem, and assorted other photon-related activities."
  • The Absinthe Minded Professors -- Joshua Safford, storyteller, Michi Regier, violinist, and Misti Bernard, esoteric instrumentalist -- combine Victorian science fiction storytelling with classical music, but are described as “not a band but a scientific dramatic attraction.” The “hallucinatory” show promises that “in addition to being gutted for their spare parts (the audience members) are treated to automated Jane Austen, bloody prequels to “The Nutcracker, and bizarre big game hunters.”
  • Singer-songwriter Eli August, has just released a new CD, "The Victorian Dead," which features "A glimpse into the lives of eight famous Victorian figures," including tracks titled "Jules" (Verne), Nikkola (Tesla),"Samuel" (Clemens, aka Mark Twain) and "Edgar" (Poe). He also has a selection of handmade Victorian-named soaps available on his website, including "Edgar Allan potpourri."
  • Jon Magnificent is a Los Angeles-based composer-musician whose works include orchestral soundtracks for John White’s “Airship Neverland” and Christina Moss’ young-adult science fiction novel “Intwine.” WSE describes him as “an airship captain, a time-traveler and a composer of a broad range of sonic works that stylistically span several millennia.”
  • The League of S.T.E.A.M. is a group of interactive performance artists and inventors who find “a common ground between the paranormal and the Pythagorean,” “monster hunters from the Victorian era,” with gadgets that are “meticulously designed, detailed, and fully functional,” including a  steam cannon, plus “exotic specimens and chilling relics” from their “past adventures.”
  • Pop Haydn and "Tesla Girl" Sophie Evans is a magic act. Haydn’s website reveals that he is “a Victorian gentleman of the Gold Rush era, who in the early part of the 20th Century was suddenly stranded here in the 21st Century by accident” -- not really his fault -- along with a bunch of other fellow citizens from that time,” and now performs “mind-bending magic, comedy and music,” and sells dubious “patent medicine whenever he can.” His “radio-magnetism inventions” include “the Teleportation Device and the Matter Transmographier.”  “Tesla Girl” Sophie Evans is an “Electronaut” who can “channel thousands of volts of electricity through her body”  to produce startling effects.
  • Psycubus is a Ypsilanti-based “DJ and music maker focusing in the realm of darkwave, industrial, trance, and ambient.”  WSE adds that she also incorporates “Victorian Sensibilities.”
  • The Consortium of Genius is so-listed on both the official WSE website and the group’s own website name, the bio (and a poster on the site for the WSE event) on the latter identify it as  “Professor Milo R. Pinkerton’s fabulous Confabulation of Gentry” and promises  “an unparalleled exhibition of syncopated wizardry, featuring an evening of hypno jazz music.” The group’s fictional back story has the Confabulation of Gentry disappearing mysteriously from a crowded New Orleans theater in 1912, and an identical band equally mysteriously appearing on a Dearborn stage in 2012. The WSE describes the act as “part musical showcase, part sketch comedy.” Among the group’s musical instruments is the theremin, familiar from such science fiction films as “Forbidden Planet” and in the Beach Boys’ song “Good Vibrations.”
     Steampunk is also a fashion and lifestyle, typified by Victorian-era clothing with futuristic yet retro technology. Brass and leather are big, as are top hats, goggles and corsets.
     In addition to what will be on display and adorning your fellow expo attendees, merchants pitching their wares at the expo include Blonde Swan Hat Boutique, Pendragon Costumes, Watson's Emporium of the Arcane, Idiorhythmic DesignsHighwind Steamworks, War Pony Candy Forge, Shoptroll, Crimson Chain Leatherworks, Off the Beaten Path Bookstore & Café, Maple Valley Fibers, Ties That ByndeCogbots, Guild House Classic, Nautilus Salvage Company, Brute Force Leather, Ms. Martha’s Corset Shoppe, Raygun Robyn, Steampunk LeatherSteampunk Sweethearts, Altered History, RWR Emporium, Spencer’s Mercantile, Spectral Glass, Mystik Waboose Clothier, Artsmith Craftwork, Spectral Nova, Sweet Steam, Gun and Roses, Amber Fox, Realtime Studios, Part time Jewelers, Beadful Things, Carl M. Schwartz, Brad, the Pen Guy, Kelly Kotulak and Allegrato Trinkets.

     There will be more special events and activities. Scheduled so far are:
  • A "Fairy Tales, Myths, and Tall Tales" costume contest. That means no costumes based on a specific author's work ("Alice in Wonderland" or "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," for example), no graphic novel/comic book characters (Thor is OK, but not Marvel's Thor), no characters of your own creation, and no theological figures (unless re-conceived in steampunk terms).
  • A "high tea," sponsored by Off the Beaten Path Books & Cafe, the steampunk bookstore, in Farmington. Tickets are $20, and seating is limited. "Alongside a discussion of the history of tea and tea etiquette, diners will enjoy this scrumptious menu: assorted tea sandwiches, petit roast chicken salad sandwiches on fresh local bakery bread, assorted scones – cranberry, white chocolate raspberry, blueberry, and lemon poppyseed – chocolate or vanilla petit fours/cakelets, a selection of tea cookies, European strawberry jam and fresh whipped butter, Assam Tea, Earl Grey, and Darjeeling Tea, plus various tea accoutrements."
  • A beauty pageant, presented by the online Blonde Swan Hat Boutique, with women 18 and older competing for the brass-and-leather crown of Miss World Steam. Contestants responded to a questionnaire that includes the usual suspects – persona name, phone number, birthday and email – plus several steampunk-specific questions, of which my favorite is: “In a fight between Abe Lincoln and Capt. Nemo, who would win and how?”  
     Other events include panels on various aspects of steampunk, from fashion and swordplay to steampunk's literary and cinematic roots, plus creating steampunk gadgets and characters. And no convention of this sort is complete without an art show.
     Admission to the World Steam Expo is $75 for a 4-day pass, or you can buy a daily pass: $35 May 25, $40 May 26 or 27 and $30 May 28. Separate admission for the Charity Ball is $30, and $20 for the "Midnight Carnival" of burlesque and circus acts.
     More details on the World Steam Expo will be forthcoming. Check out the World Steam Expo link for details, and any of the above links for more about a writer, musician, artist or vendor.


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