Defining Steampunk

A throwing-down of the gauntlet by an academic:

Steampunk is an aesthetic that mixes elements of technofantasy, and neo-Victorian retrofuturism.

One of his points that I most agree with is likening “an aesthetic” to a glass container; we need to examine the container rather than the contents if we want to describe Steampunk more closely.

Go on over and throw in your two cents (30 comments as of this tardy reporting): Steampunk Scholar: Defining Steampunk as an Aesthetic.

Gabrielle Riel at “Music!” Aether Salon

I am oh-so-tardy in drawing your attention to the presentation given by her Grace, Gabrielle Riel at the New Babbage Aether Salon. Do go and read Aether Salon: Music! Edited transcript.

The first part of my presentation is all about the historical contexts in which Victorian Music existed. After a brief Introduction, I will discuss what is often referred to as “Classical Music” and its composers.

Then to the Ballroom, where I will give you an overview of the many types of dances that were invented in the Victorian Era, as well as the music that was needed to accompany them! Reaching further back into history, earlier than the Victorian Era, I will discuss Folk Music and its place in the 19th Century.

Next, a huge development in music that still affects us to this very day: Popular Music. I'll explain what it was and how it is the foundation of contemporary music. Finally, we travel inside of the Victorians' homes with Parlour Music.

Once I have provided you with the history, I can bring you into the present, and into what I call our “Imagined Past”, both in terms of music and how we all choose to live our Second Lives. Please keep in mind that many, many people would probably take issue with the overview I am giving you here of Neo-Victorian Music. They can go give their own presentation. 🙂 These are the examples I have chosen to give you today.

I'll speak about the music that is considered to be the some of the earliest “conscious” Neo-Victorian Music. And then I will delve into Goth (get out your black lipstick everyone), Steampunk, Dark Cabaret, Carnivale and Marching and Klezmer Bands.

And I will wrap up with how people in Second Life are using or applying both Victorian and Neo-Victorian Music in this environment.

Steampunk music discussion

There are a bunch of essays on Steampunk at the 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.

My contribution?

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:

* transgression
* anachronism
* appropriation of world influences
* diy
* 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):

Clare Fader
Dandelion Junk Queens
Diego’s Umbrella
A Hawk and a Hacksaw
Hungry March Band
Jonathan Coulton
Max Raabe und das Palast Orchester
Ode Hazelwood
They Might Be Giants
Vermillion Lies
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.

Meeting in “real life”

If you have an interest in meeting in “real life” at a convention or special event (or even if you don’t), please take a quick survey to help determine interest in meeting at SteamCon, Seattle Airport Marriott, Washington, October 23-25 or Second Life Community Convention, Marriott San Francisco, California, August 13-16. This is an effort started by those who attended and created CaleCon last year, who wish to attract a much wider range of participants this year. Please pass the word around the neo-Victorian, Steampunk, themed, je ne sais quoi communities that might be interested.

Aether Chrononauts

If you are reading this on the Tenth Life site, you may have noticed the new “What’s happening?” tab at the top of the page. In cooperation with other administrators of the Caledon calendar, I have created a consolidated calendar for the overlapping communities of historical imagineers, Steampunks, and fantasists of Second Life®, including but not limited to the Independent State of Caledon, Winterfell, Steelhead, New Babbage, Lovelace, Orcadia, Antiquity, Victoriana, Steeltopia, Al-Andalus, and Neualtenburg. Please contact me if you are a member of any of those communities (or others) and would like to participate in upkeep.

Voices in the Machine

Check out the debut episode of Radio Riel’s new podcast, Voices in the Machine. As co-producer with Gabrielle Riel, I’m very excited about this new effort. Our format for the bi-weekly shows will include a guest interview, cast discussion of news and events of interest to Steampunks and neo-Victorians in virtual worlds, and viewer opinions.

The regular cast is Gabrielle Riel, Edward Pearse, Fuschia Begonia, and Nix Sands. In this first episode, they each spend a few minutes introducing themselves.Our first guest is her Lyonesse, Kamilah Hauptmann, Vicereine of the Independent State of Caledon, and the hot topic is open space sims.

You can listen to this episode or download a variety of formats at

We welcome feedback and listener opinion pieces. Send us an email at, and we will arrange to record you reading your contribution, or a staff member can read it for you.

Steampunk Exploration, take 2

My Steampunk Exploration playlist last week for Radio Riel was over 24 hours long, so no one heard it all. And we still haven’t answered the question, “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?

Perhaps it isn’t possible to say what exactly Steampunk music is. Today’s playlist has been changed slightly from last week, notably by the addition of Corvus Corax.

Have a listen today and create your own definition—and feel free to leave comments below or at the Radio Riel post with your opinions.

From the Library is produced by Radio Riel in conjunction with the Caledon Library in Second Life.

For more information on the Caledon Library, current exhibits and the work of Second Life reference libraries in general, please visit the Caledon Library Web site, or one of their locations in-world.

You can listen now at – the ideal URL for you to use in your home parcel media address in-world – or simply visit any Caledon Library branch in-world and press Play on your embedded music player.