Thursday, April 7, 2011

Steampunk gathers more steam with STEAMFest, Clockwork Carnival

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 4:30 PM

Penny Dreadful Productions
Over the past few years, steampunk has grown from a niche attraction at fantasy conventions and other geek gatherings to a nation-wide movement incorporating post-apocalyptic accessories such as tubes, goggles and various pieces of recycled and repurposes bric-a-brac into Victorian-era garb hued in browns, grays and striped patterns. A direct spin-off of the cyberpunk literary movement of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and inspired by the likes of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, steampunk is in a galaxy (or at least alternate history) far, far removed from our own reality.

Locally, steampunk has picked up steam at Dragon*Con, eventually branching out into its own convention, AnachroCon. AnachroCon began three years ago as a one-day event after science fiction friends and Dragon*Con acquaintances started getting together to talk about costumes, music, and alternate history. It has since expanded into an annual weekend of steampunk festivities, the most recent of which was held in February.

“The first time I heard the term ‘steampunk’ was in the early ‘90s,” says Cindy MacLeod, vice-chair of AnachroCon and the director of Dragon*Con’s alternate history track. ““I didn’t hear the term again until I was at Dragon*Con a few years ago and saw some folks dressed in [steampunk] costumes. The next thing you know, I was hearing the word all over the place and, as a fan of costuming and science fiction, I decided it was something fun, interesting and creative and I wanted to be involved.”

Often referred to as goth gone brown, steampunk attracts those with a flair for theatrics and romanticism. Two upcoming events — this weekend’s Steampunk Theatre Entertainment Art & Music Festival (STEAMFest) and the following weekend’s Clockwork Carnival — feature theatrical productions, musical performances, sideshow acts and vendors that adhere to steampunk’s time traveling ideals. Like AnachroCon, both of these events are celebrating their third year.

STEAMFest includes performances by the likes of Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, the musical merriment of the Vauxhall Garden Variety Players and turn-of-the-century-style wrestling from Platinum Championship Wrestling, the Clockwork Carnival is a circus-themed event put on by the Artifice Club, a local collective specializing in steampunk celebrations. Performers at the Clockwork Carnival include the Opa Czars (the house band of the Imperial Opa gypsy sideshow), the Hot Toddies Flaming Cabaret, aerialist Sadie Hawkins and others.

The Thimblerig Circus, which also got its start three years ago, will be doing entirely different performances at each event.

“For STEAMFest, they’ve actually requested that we perform something more along the lines of the science-based circus shows we do at middle and high schools,” says Thimblerig co-founder Adam Lowe, who performs as Molotov. “Because steampunk has that element of ‘science!’ we thought it would be a cool tie-in for us.

“The Clockwork Carnival will be much more of a classic sideshow,” he adds. “There will be things like glass walking and more traditional carnival tricks, but we’ll be doing a much more comedy-based sideshow.”

Penny Dreadful Productions

Just as steampunk fashion emerged out of the literary movement of the same name, steampunk has also grown to include its own subgenre of music. DJ Doctor Q will be spinning at the Clockwork Carnival, which is hosted by the Artifice Club, a steampunk collective he helped found.

“Steampunk, at the heart of it, is taking the best parts of the past and making something new,” says Q. “What I listen for is any musician that’s really having fun with old instrumentation in a new and innovative way. While bands like Seattle’s Abney Park and the Extraordinary Contraptions are blatantly calling themselves steampunk, there’s also some great music from Tom Waits or Adam and the Ants that [that fits]. Mumford and Sons, who just won a Grammy, have a song called ‘Little Lion Man’ that I have on my set list anytime I can play it, and people love it.”

Already a big trend in cities like Seattle and New York, it’s curious why Atlanta has become just as big as those cities when it comes to steampunk. Though it is clear that Atlanta has a collectively creative underground that has latched on to this retro-futuristic movement, some say this city’s history lends itself to steampunk’s aesthetic.

“Atlanta’s a town that has such steampunk roots from that era,” says local author Emilie P. Bush, currently working on her second steampunk novel. “We have great natural resources that lend themselves well to steampunk like Piedmont Park, Oakland Cemetery and Terminus being the original name for Atlanta back in that whole railroad era based on steam. So it’s a natural fit.”

Regardless of why Atlanta has become the Southeast’s launching point for steampunk’s little engine, it has proven to be a movement that can, and likely will, continue to chug along amongst a creative community looking to have some fun with history.

STEAMFest. $15 in advance, $20 at the door each day; $25 in advance, $30 at the door for both days. 4 p.m.-9 p.m. April 9; 5 p.m.-9 p.m. April 10. Academy Theatre, 119 Center Street, Avondale Estates. 404-474-8332.,

Clockwork Carnival. $15, $10 in costume; $25-$60 for VIP tables. 4 p.m. April 16. The Goat Farm, 1200 Foster St.

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