Prefab Costumes: The Good, The Bad, the Benefit of an Expanded Audience

Like most of you (I assume) I love Halloween. The fun, the energy, the chance to dust off my corset post-convention and show off my favorite shoes. A few years ago you couldn’t find anything Steampunk in the costume shops (I know, because I work in them every season) besides the occasional bowler hat or mechanical decor. In the last few years though pre-fabricated Steampunk costumes have been growing in availability and now Spirit Halloween has a whole feature wall devoted to themed costumes, make-up, hats, pants, glue-on-mustaches, and more. But for an aesthetic  deeply grounded in DIY principals, how do we reconcile with prefab generics?

My opinion? Embrace it!

The reality is costuming is time consuming and can be very expensive. Normally these are spoken about as positives: applauding those who take the time to create incredible pieces and thinking of ways to pinch pennies. However, for many of us we simply don’t have the time, the cash, or (let’s be honest) the skill to create what we want. While I too would rather find a small business to get my costumes from sometimes that’s not a great option — particularly if I was new to the genre and wasn’t sure where to go.

These feature spaces in Spirit may be the gateway for news fans! Not everyone knows about us and these mainstream shops may be where they build interest. Alternatively, this may be the first time a long-term enthusiast gets a full costume for their first convention or finally gets the replacement shirt for their costume they’ve worn for years. I don’t see anything damaging to opening the doors to our community a little wider and showing off to the more mainstream sci-fi and Halloween fans. Besides, I don’t think we have to worry about damaging our brand when things like Steampunk’d exist (though that seems to have crashed and burned, but is still available on Netflix) and we all made it out okay. So maybe we need to welcome prefab costumes as helping people find us, instead of being judgy that they didn’t put “enough effort” into their outfits.

 

Now as a reward for reading my ironically judgy post about not judging where people buy their costumes, enjoy this wild-west Lindsey Stirling music video

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Vice Quadrant

As of September First, Steam Powered Giraffe has a fourth studio-album! Huzzah!

Blatantly stolen from their website
Blatantly stolen from their website

The Song Selection:

The Vice Quadrant, an impressive two-disc, 28-track ‘Space Opera’ is both totally synced with the style of previous albums, but is also completely new. We have a toe-tapping hero ballad (Commander Cosmo), a YouTube sing-a-long favorite (Fire, Fire), and a geeky-sweet love songs (Soliton). Silly songs like Sky Sharks and The Space Giant round out the album to cover just about any style of SPG you might have liked from a previous collection.

The Style:

For those who have not seen a live show, this concept-heavy set will give you a good idea (though for almost the same price as most of their concert tickets). Unlike previous collections there are also solid appearances from Qwerty (a anthropomorphized computer interface) and Gg (the robotic giraffe), who any readers who have been to a live SPG show know are regulars on stage but usually absent from albums and music videos. Tracks also include more character discussions and narratives closer to a live-show experience rather than the traditional all music pieces from The 2c Show and Album One.

Things of Note:

  • Many songs take full advantage of the music-tech skills of the members and include more complex techy sounds than their previous records. But worry not, there are still lots of ‘traditional’ sounding songs carrying on the SPG folk-style we know and love.
  • Rabbit’s voice is noticeably lighter in style and higher in octave. Though their wasn’t a noticeable feminine change in MKIII it is new and fun in VQ. For those who are interested in Rabbit’s gender-transition journey, she keeps an active video blog.
  • Hatchworth gets way more song-time than he did in MKIII, which, since I am personally not a huge fan, isn’t great. But, I also really prefer deeper baritone voices and less-abstract song structure, so there isn’t much to be done there.
  • This album has a LOT going on. There are a lot of styles, a lot of voices, and a ton of lyrics to take-in. It will take several listen-troughs to fully appreciate everything that went into create this behemoth of a record. Hot off the presses, I liked it. A month later, I love it (except for one or two songs, but hey, out of 28 that’s still amazing).

Buying It:

As always, SPG heavily rewards fans who buy a physical copy versus a digital-only copy. The full two-disc collection comes with a whopping 31-page lyric booklet filled with full-color original artwork. But for those of us who would simply scratch CDs at this point, both parts are also available via iTunes and Bandcamp.

Samples:

Steam Powered Giraffe put out several music videos for VQ. Below are my favorites, but you can see them all on the official SPG YouTube channel.

A favorite member? What? I don’t have one…

Also, this song is on the album, but the video is from a live show two years ago.

Have you heard VQ? What do you think?

Share in the comments or on Twitter @SteamLib

KURIOS – CABINET OF CURIOSITIES

Welcome to Kurios: Cirque meets Steam!

Official Kurios Promotional Image

The IT Guy and myself we’re lucky enough to get to see Kurios in Chicago last week. For those of you unfamiliar with Cirque du Soleil, the performance group brings together various acrobatic and traditional circus performance acts: contortionists, gymnastic acts, trapeze artists, and more. The acts all tie together following a general story line (for shows like Quidam) or simply all match a costume/inspirational theme (like Ovo). Shows run for about 2 hours (plus an intermission) and have a variety of acts within them. For each show there is always a distinctive selection of acts that match the theme or attitude of the show.

Shows takes place under a ‘traditional’ big top, only better. Cirque tent: large multi-post tent made of bold yellow and blue stripes with a decorative arc entrance

Inside the tent is a full size stage with intensive rigging and (thankfully) blasting A/C. Before you get to the stage, though, you can do a fair amount of shopping for the standard theater swag like tshirts, hoodies, hats, and umbrellas (my personal selection) as well as Circ merch like art books, CDs, and the like. New to me was the photobooth where waiting ticket holders could choose from an array of props for a green-screen photo op. Luckily the ITGuy is a good sport and humored me:

The Librarian and the IT guy in Victorian hats holding fake cameras inside a green-screen hot air balloon picture

Kurios, where “Reality if Relative”, has a very upbeat and excitable attitude. The costumes range from traditional Victorian garb for the balancing gymnasts to colorful poke-a-dotted fish suits for the contortionists. True to the Steampunk aesthetic the main non-gymnastic character, The Man Scientist, was accompanied by large automatons, several phonographs, and cracks of free flowing electricity. The music, played by a live band of a cello, a banjo, a violin, and a single drum and accompanied by a live vocalist, had the feeling of Moulin Rouge: peppy, dance inspiring, and distinctly French.

Acts included:

  • An aerial bicycle
  • Russian Cradle (strong-man throws a very small woman around allowing her to complete trapeze style aerial flips)
  • Contortionists
  • Chair Balance (chairs are stacked higher and higher requiring the performer to balance carefully on at a constantly increasing height)
  • Acro Net (trampoline act with parkour inspired motion)
  • Cirque staple Aerial Straps
  • Rola Bola balancing act on an aviator’s flying machine

See a full list and description (plus costume previews) on the show’s website.

Personally I was most impressed with the Acro Net. It was incredible to see over a dozen performers all working together with perfect timing to jump, spring, and fly across the stage. It was fun to watch, and the performers seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves too. Unlike many Cirque acts which leave you staring in awe at the grace and strength of the performers this was purely entertaining.

So would I suggest Kurios as a Steampunk outing? You bet your brass buttons I do.

While it’s easy to dismiss the show as simply taping into a popular theme, that doesn’t give the choreographers or costumers the credit they deserve. They took core feelings of Steampunk — the appreciation for the self made artist, the imagination, and the re imagining of the turn-of-the-century circus — and turned it into a non-verbal performance piece. That’s no easy feat, and they did it impeccably.

Kurios will be in Chicago through September, then it will continue to travel. Check where it’ll be next on the Cirque ticket website.  Cirque shows travel a lot, and at different times over the years. If you don’t see your city listed, check back regularly OR you can join the Cirque Club and get emails whenever any show is coming to you.

Even if a circus show isn’t your cup of tea, the custom music from the show can serve as amazing artistic inspiration, or to shake up your next Steampunk event playlist. The music is distinctly jazzy and Francophonic making it not only fun to listen to, but wholly engaging and attention grabbing.

Interview with Photographer Evan Butterfield

A little Christmas treat! Evan Butterfield, who was a featured artist here in the summer, has a new interview out with fellow Steampunk site Airship Ambassador (airshipambassador.wordpress.com). Give it a read, and don’t forget to send in your reviews, comments, site shares, and art with us at submissions@steampunklibrary.net or via Twitter @SteamLib.

Airship Ambassador

This week we are talking with photographer Evan Butterfield, creator of Gentlemen of Steampunk.

Airship Ambassador: Hi Evan, thanks for joining us!

Evan Butterfield: It’s a pleasure.

blog-Evan

AA: What is Gentlemen of Steampunk about?

EB: Well, “about” could get a little complicated, because it’s not a story with a plotline, but let’s give it a try. I’ll do a short answer and a long one, and you can sort it out.

The short answer is that it’s a collection of photos of attractive, athletic men wearing Steampunk clothing, who seem to have forgotten to put on their shirts.

The long answer is a little more complicated. It’s about a few things. The first is part of my ongoing world-building effort. I have this Steampunk world in my head that is a little bit unpleasant in some ways, and a little bit better than ours in others, and in…

View original post 872 more words

Gentlemen of Steampunk

Title: Gentlemen of Steampunk

bookcover
Author: Evan Butterfield
Series: Photograph series

Age/Audience: Adult

Genre/Style: Art book paired with detailed character introduction

Read If You Like: Short stories, character art, or photo-books

 

Summary: Welcome to the creative world of Mr. Luxet Tenebrae, one of Victorian England’s grandest photographer and writer. Inspired by engineering, history, politics, and the swift technological changes of the 19th century this collection of portraits and detailed synopsis of his subject’s work. With an eye for the historical details, Mr. Tenebrae paints a detailed portrait to match his pictures.

Mr. Tenebrae, the alter ego of California based photographer Evan Butterfield, blends various art types into each image. Each character is expressed through a lavishly costumed model and a creative text description. The collection takes the idea of a stuffy, repressed Victorian male and turns it swiftly on its head in this blending of cultural commentary, art, and pseudo-science in a way only a steampunk master can.

 

Bottom Line: A thin volume filled-to-bursting with fantastic and complex images paired with descriptions sure to inspire anyone out of writer’s block.

 

Find the Book:

http://www.amazon.com/Gentlemen-Steampunk-Evan-Butterfield/dp/1500582042

Find More from Evan Butterfield Photography:

http://www.ebutterfieldphotography.com/

Steam Powered Giraffe

Performers: David Bennett, “Bunny” Bennett, & Sam Luke

Media Type: Musical Group / Pantomime

Audience: All/ Family Friendly

Summary:

Steam Powered Giraffe is an entertainment group, first and foremost. They mix original musical and vocal performance with turn of the century-styled robotic pantomime. Music style varies from folksy to soft rock to pop-covers. From the band’s FAQ page their influences include “The Band, ELO, The Beatles, Queen, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, The Mills Brothers, The Bee Gees, Amanda Palmer, Danny Elfman, Frank Sinatra, Radiohead, Muse… And the list goes on!”

The act includes full make-up and costume, plus mechanical movements whizzing, gear popping, and the occasional malfunction. Family friendly without feeling watered down, SPG offers a full artistic steam punk experience you can enjoy at home in your corset via their iTunes and their YouTube channel or get gussied up to watch them in person at any one of dozens of conventions across North America. When you inevitably decide to purchase their music, consider a physical CD over iTunes to get their original steam punk art filled lyric books.

 

Bottom Line: A great band that’s equal parts musical quality and visual performance.

Find It: http://www.steampoweredgiraffe.com and via YouTube:

Evan Butterfield Photography

Evan Butterfield is a photographer based out of California. His work covers a wide array of topics, but lately he’s found he has an exceptional eye for steampunk.

"Your Hair Wants Cutting" c2014
“Your Hair Wants Cutting” c2014

Starting with custom created costumes and accessories with models enthusiastic about dress-up, Mr. Butterfield’s finished pieces encompass the best of traditional and digital photography. The images begin as detail-oriented traditional photographs that are then digitally manipulated to create a unique, antiqued look. Many images are faded, other crinkled, and some so meticulously edited that they look like they were lost in a drawer for generations.

Originally trained in English and a holding a degree in Law, Mr. Butterfields’s inspiration comes from his passion for literature and the steampunk butterfly affect: the notion that things are so dramatically altered by one small technological change. He credits The Difference Engine and The Diamond Age as his gateway and various conventions as his visual inspiration. In all of his steampunk works, he represents what he calls the “triple goddesses” of this particular SciFi aesthetic: Curiosity, Progress, and Science.

“It all comes down to the stories being told,” he said during our lovely phone conversation, “re-imagined into photo reality”. This reimaging comes in a variety of formats, from his series of literary themed pictures to turning Victorian sexism on its head through a series of “Steampunk Beefcake” shoots.

Steampunk Vincent  c2014
Steampunk Vincent c2014

Even though his art is labeled SciFi, Evan Butterfield has a much more down to Earth feeling about the genre. “Despite all the gears steampunk is not divorced from reality,” he says, “its just playing with themes that have always been there – using them to connect.” This enthusiasm and social understanding of the esthetic come through with every image, and I personally cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

 

Beauty and the Beast c2014
Beauty and the Beast c2014

Evan’s work is available for license or purchase via his online gallery,  or at FineArt America.

Read more about his process and stay up to date on projects by following his blog, Lens Caps.

Jeremiah Congleve, Reflecting  An informal portrait of young Master Jeremiah Congleve, Tertiary Journeyman at the Royal Aetheric Engineering Academy. In later life, Congreve’s work with filamental liquid phenomena would revolutionize phlebotic medicine, military strategy, and commercial air transport; but during his student and journeyman years he struggled with personal demons (of the psychological, rather than phantasmal variety), inappropriate social behaviours, and, as has been previously suggested, rare varieties of addiction. That he overcame these obstacles to become one of the first non-nobles to ascend to the Board of the Imperial College speaks volumes both for his manly character and, of course, for the class-blind and deeply democratic principles that have always been at the very core of the Royal Scientific order, if not always visible on its surface.
Jeremiah Congleve, Reflecting
An informal portrait of young Master Jeremiah Congleve, Tertiary Journeyman at the Royal Aetheric Engineering Academy. In later life, Congreve’s work with filamental liquid phenomena would revolutionize phlebotic medicine, military strategy, and commercial air transport; but during his student and journeyman years he struggled with personal demons (of the psychological, rather than phantasmal variety), inappropriate social behaviours, and, as has been previously suggested, rare varieties of addiction. That he overcame these obstacles to become one of the first non-nobles to ascend to the Board of the Imperial College speaks volumes both for his manly character and, of course, for the class-blind and deeply democratic principles that have always been at the very core of the Royal Scientific order, if not always visible on its surface.