Orlando, a metalworker and KSW founding member who built the Tree House with the help of a Burning Man grant, shares Rukstela’s obsession with steam and its aesthetic power. “With steam engines and steam boilers, the guts of the machine are on full display, and the guts are so very interesting,” he says. Among his inspirations for the Steampunk Tree House were Verne, the film City of Lost Children, and the computer game Myst. “The landmarks and monuments that we have all over the world are an inspiration to me,” says Orlando, naming the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, and the Taj Mahal as examples, “because they were made artistically, creatively, intelligently — and they were made to last.”
FOR RICH NAGY, a/k/a Datamancer, whose laptop is pictured below, Steampunk is a way to make technology “fun again.”
The era of the amateur
The 19th century ushered in the era of the amateur: a wild-eyed tinkerer in a lab had the capacity to stumble upon a discovery that just might alter society, a common theme paralleled in Victorian and Gothic fiction and, now, in Steampunk. “I find the optimism of Steampunk rather refreshing,” says Rich Nagy, a/k/a Datamancer, a popular Steampunk artisan originally based in New Jersey but now living in California who was represented at the Maker Contraptor’s Lounge. “Steampunk has a way of making technology, which is becoming more transparent and taken for granted every day, seem novel and fun again,” adds Nagy. That much is clear in his finely wrought pieces, like the “Computational Engine” computer casemod and his sophisticated “Steampunk Victorian Laptop,” a Hewlett-Packard ZT1000 laptop with a clockwork-under-glass display that, when it’s closed, looks like an ornate antique music box. It turns on with a clock-winding key. In effect, Steampunk is poised to bring the proletariat craftsman his 21st-century renaissance.
Though Steampunk’s artisanal outputs have stolen much of the mainstream limelight so far, there is a whole other creative side to the scene that has received little attention in comparison. Countless bands have formed, filing their music under the Steampunk genre or citing Victorian fantasy as a muse. One of them, Vernian Process, is the solo project of San Francisco–based Joshua Pfieffer. A true testament to the notion of the ambitious dabbler, Pfieffer has no musical training, and writes songs with the aid of basic audio-production software. “The atmosphere is actually more important to me than writing good hooks, or melodic structure,” he says of his music, which he makes free to download. “I feel that what I do represents the genre as I would like it to sound.”
“Captain” Robert Brown is the brash leader of Abney Park, a five-piece conceptual Steampunk band from Seattle that played at Maker and modifies its own instruments in the Steampunk aesthetic. Its members invented fictional back stories for themselves, claiming to be the crew of an airship named The Ophelia. “I think the world is tired of rock stars in $500 pairs of jeans talking about how ‘real’ they are,” says Brown. “I think that’s the music industry’s way to cover up the fact that the mainstream music they’ve been brass-knuckling into our eardrums is flat, lifeless, unimaginative, and boring. Steampunk is the creative mind’s answer to a world that has flat-lined.”