The last two years have been good (or should I say splendid) for those who love all things vintage and retro. Keep Calm posters, Downton Abbey, knitting, tea sets, and more Union Flags than you can shake a umbrella at.
But there are those for whom crown emblazon tea towels just don’t quite cut it. They like their history with a bit of sci-fi and debaurachy thrown in! This is the world of Steampunk; a globe spanning sub culture fusing Victorian etiquette and maniacal futurist creativity.
To find out more, I donned my pith helmet and caught up with Louie Hamblett, the self styled Brigadier Lord Azrael Rataxsis, who runs the Greater Manchester Steampunk Society.
TB: For the uninitiated, what is Steampunk?
LH: “19th century fantasy containing alternate history-style presentations of such technology, also the artistic styles, clothing fashions and the developing subculture. Var
TB: How did you first come across it?
LH: “Mainly through friends and my love for the steam engines and clothing of the Victorian way of life and fashion, I liked as there is no strict rule in how you dress its not re-enactment its just pure fun and lots of friendly people.”
TB: Apart from dressing up and having fun, what other outlets are there for Steampunkers? I’m thinking books, music etc?
LH: “Well there is the classic H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, H.P Lovecraft and Even Edgar Allen Poe. But if you go into somewhere like Waterstones and once your eyes open to the steampunk world, you soon see lots of book in that style from Steampunk arts and Crafts, to Grandville and lots of other Sci, Fi/ Fantasy books. Music well there is many, many bands from BBBlackdog, Gladstone’s, Abney Park and two very good Steampunk/Chap-hop rapper Professor Elemental and Mr B.”
TB: Steampunk seems to be very popular in the US. Do they have a different take on it?
LH: “They do utilize their own history with the Wild West, Prospecting, American Civil War, frontier expansion and the idea of air pirating and so forth . They do have a similar take on things when it comes to the art music style and fashion. Its all mainly down to individual personal takes and idea’s that make no two steampunks the same.”
TB: Is there something in the British physique that makes us predispostioned to such eccentric whimsies?
LH: “In some ways yes. Using old former imperial fashion idea’s e.g with the use of pith helmets for exploration and Military uniforms, also using templates of fashion from many by gone days and finding that most will hunt down tea rooms and drink tea and eat cake during lunch hours and tipping ones hat when greeting in the street it makes it even more fun and extraordinary.”
TB: Why do you think it’s gaining popularity today?
LH: “Yes there are more people joining up to there local groups on Facebook or creating groups and generally meeting up for social events. Although it has been making some attention to big main stream high street business it is still and will remain an alternative lifestyle as it is truly down to individuals in what they wear and accessories they have. That helps keep it alive and growing as something unique that attracts people to moving away from the norm and taking a different approach to both how they dress and socialise. There is a huge age range of people coming along to events and from many backgrounds weather old, young, single, couples, families and so forth its nice mix of people.”
TB: Taking inspiration, as it does, from a by-gone age, do women take a lesser more subservient role?
LH: “No not all in steampunk circles everyone is treated with decency and respect allot of the Ladies are at some of the forefront of the socialisation, fashion making, writing and music in the Steampunk world, its not about who is who its how you interact the one main rule is that you are nice to each other, respecting people’s views and values regardless of their background and lifestyles.”
TB: How would one know if they were a potential Steampunker but just didn’t know it yet? What traits, habits, interests might they have?
LH: “Oh well if there are visiting lots of craft fairs, vintage fairs, love for films with a Victorian/fantasy style genre, old weaponry maybe antiques, Victorian
The Greater Manchester Steampunk Society, or Cottonopolis Coglective, can be found here.
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