There are a bunch of essays on Steampunk at the Tor.com website this month. A few of them have to do with Steampunk music, and have great comment threads. The first music post is by Brian Slattery: What’s the Soundtrack of Steampunk?
At this point, steampunk’s visual and literary aesthetic has become specific enough that it’s useful as a generic and critical term. Its musical boundaries, however, appear to be fuzzier.
As a DJ for steampunks in Second Life, I once somewhat tongue-in-cheek blogged:
“What exactly is Steampunk music?”
Performer self-identification? Minor key and moody vocals? Retro-futurism? Appropriation of historic styles? Subject matter? Fan appreciation? DJ whim? Unusual instrumentation? Eccentricity? Goth musicians looking for a niche? Do-it-yourselfism? All of the above? Other?
I agree with @25 AeolianDissent that “steampunk seems to be based more around an idea than a music genre,” but dissent (groan!) from his conclusion that steampunk music doesn’t make sense.
The ideas that I think are at the heart of much steampunk music include:
* appropriation of world influences
* post-modern winking at the listener
Some groups and musicians I would add to those previously mentioned (many of which I haven’t heard of before and will eagerly look for):
Dandelion Junk Queens
A Hawk and a Hacksaw
Hungry March Band
Max Raabe und das Palast Orchester
They Might Be Giants
White Ghost Shivers
Why, yes, I do have peculiar taste in music. Why do you ask?
So my particular list leans towards dark cabaret, gothic roots music, and Klezmer fusion.
I also suggest that any band that produces acoustic pop music using the accordion, tuba, hurdy-gurdy, or jaw harp is pretty damn punk without being, you know, punk rockers.