The Midwest has finally burst upon the Steampunk scene and made a notable impression with the fabulous World Steam Expo, held in Dearborn Michigan, just outside of Detroit, land of gears, cogs, machinery and even an old Airship port.
We pulled up to the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, Michigan for the 2010 World Steam Expo in a flurry of madness. Traffic had been what one may colloquially posit as “a parking lot” and making good time with a caravan of vehicles is never an easy task to begin with. Suddenly, it was 4:55pm and we had a panel at 5:00pm. Fortunately for us, we made it, produced a well-received panel and thus began a weekend of fantastic fashion, great live shows, big glass elevators and a lot of drinking in our esteemed finery.
Update: Photos from World Steam Expo:
Every con starts with a first impression, and the WSE was certainly no exception. Fantastic relief panels of gears and gear trains, Cthulu sculptures, and fantastic arches dominated the entry to the ticketing booth. Scattered about the main floor were continued panels, columns, statuettes and many, many steampunkers.
The first evening started off well with both our “Steampunking the Home” and “On Airships” panels (stay tuned for details from our panels in a later post). The Rev. Cpt presented hands-on demonstrations of actual Zeppelin mooring bends (knots), while sharing antique books of the historic Zeppelin circumnavigations. Afterward, we went about in our outfits to meet other participants and attendees. There were a few frustrations with the organization of the con, notably that the panelist rooms were on opposite sides of the hotel and there was an irritating lack of signage letting one know when, who or where things would be or take place. The brochures became valuable objects as the convention went on, as they essentially became our only way to navigate both chronologically and geographically the con.
The vendors bazaar was far and away one of the most impressive I had seen at one of these events. The wares were top notch, a number of steps above the kind of things I had seen at past Steampunk Conventions. Vendors such as Brute Force (and thank you, might I say, to Mark Donnelly for the fantastic books on haunted locales!), Penny Dreadfuls, Blonde Swan, Myke Amend and more were really out in full force with some of the most fantastic creations seen for sale yet.
Music and Shows.
The live shows were really something too, as the Con Committee surely handled their programming with excellence. Every day starting in the afternoon and going well into the night, they had fabulous acts such as The Gypsy Nomads, The Men who Will Not be Blamed for Nothing, Tartanic, The Extraordinary Contraptions and, of course, Abney Park play at various intervals. What the Committee really did right was have the same couple of acts play multiple shows throughout the con, including a fabulous Abney Park acoustic set (and a cover of “The Rainbow Connection” caught in the hallway!). If you could not make Friday’s show you could make Saturday, if you could not make Sunday you could make Monday. The line ups did change, but seeing as all the acts played at least twice, you really could see them all. My only wish was that the “big” Abney Park set was not on Sunday afternoon (starting at 3, ending at 7). After two days of hard-core con-life it was tough to get ones energy up for that show – though I will say I made it and was not disappointed.
Speaking of music (my forte might I say). I must say that the other great thing about the con was how personable all the acts were! A huge bellows-out to the Gypsy Nomads, who aren’t just great musicians but are also a great deal of fun with which to spend time. That goes as well for The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing, whom the lovely KL Kenzie and myself found ourselves drinking with in the bar more than once. “But, Baron, what about the music?”
Well! The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing are far and away the most punk I’d ever seen in Steampunk – and that’s a good thing. Quite opposite to your more industrial or new wave influenced “Steampunk Music”, these guys are truly punks with a progressive bent. Mixing hard guitar riffs with tongue & cheek spoken word with a good deal of comedic rapport and, of course, a saw (they play a saw). The Gypsy Nomads are another one for the books with a high energy stage show that has a heavy French/gypsy punk attitude. You would never believe JUST two people could make so much (and different!) noise on one stage.
Tartanic is really something else. As someone who is not too fond of that “Celtic Punk” music, I found this mostly vocalist free band really enjoyable. They are essentially two bagpipes and a whole lot of drums. The Extraordinary Contraptions were quite enjoyable, though I felt I had heard their sonic style before as it sounded pretty new-wavey, but their stage presence is really fantastic and once you can get past the mildly synth-poppiness of it you really have a strong act. Of course, we’ve spoken about Abney Park many times before, so I’ll leave it with, they really do put on a hell of a stage show. Beyond their music, Robert, the lead singer, is quite possibly one of the most charismatic front-men I’ve ever seen. He’s a veritable expert at playing himself down.
Of the many acts, panels and activites at the Con, the only disappointment was the Masquerade Ball. I had quite the fun, however it did not really have the feeling of being uniquely special. As my friend Bill Dunbar pointed out, while it was a wonderful time, it was we participants that made it that way with our outfits and dancing. For $10 it felt like there should have been a bit more, perhaps a band, bar, or social dance interactions and lessons.
Sunday night drew a close with a fantastic anachronistic electronic dance party. Your typical con rave, spirits were high and music was loud. A fantastic laser light show was assembled to illuminate and create sci-fi ambiance to the event.
After that the ball was over, the midnight carnival began – and HANDS DOWN – that was the best show of the weekend! With GREAT opening sets by The Gypsy Nomads and one freaky freaky show by The Squidling Brothers. It was out of this world, and I would pay quite the pretty penny to see it again. It is not every day you get to use a staple gun on a clown (yes WE stapled things to him) after watching a strong man lift a “penguin man” with his ears and a woman swallow an entire sword. It really hearkened back and gave you that feeling of a twisted freak show of days gone by.
The panels and programming at the WSE was truly exciting, and we were selected to present several. As mentioned before, a panel on “Steampunking the Home” and “Airships” were both very well received. The lovely and talented Lisa Marie alias Lady No Lucky gave an excellent demonstration regarding dresses, bustles and what to do with your thrift-store finds. Being a bridesmaid finally has a use when you slice up your old dress and steampunk it! We also presented a panel on our actual, working, ghost-hunting equipment. Heavily modified and steampunked high-tech gadgetry put to use finding spectres of the beyond. Steampunk in popular culture was discussed with a slightly hungover, but well receptive audience on Sunday morning. The RL&GEMS closed the show with a panel on throwing steampunk events, the where, how and when guide.
Other panels included live demonstrations of Bartitsu, a victorian martial art; Bustles, Victorian death rites, fashion, modding, DIY, and more. A very well equipped game room was present with various steampunk themed and other popular games for Xbox, and an excellent Blu-ray mini theatre (thank goodness for closed captioning). A mad science fair showcased the finest antique, modded and home-brew objects of steampunk. Yours truly, the RL&GEMS won with our ghost-hunting equipment!
All in all it was really a fabulous time, the fact that it’s taken me until now to recover enough to write this should be proof of that. Rebecca, aka Dr. Starlight, one of the organizers of the event, was more than helpful to us throughout the weekend, and meeting her was a great pleasure. It was great seeing the Imperial Anti-Piracy Squadron again after Windy-Con. I am glad to see that Outland Armour is bouncing back after their terrible tragedy in the Tennessee Floods. And in the end, it was just a lot of fun seeing old friends and making new ones. As a doubly nice end to the weekend, a good number of us went out to BD’s Mongolian Grill in Dearborn for dinner – unfortunately we could not all fit at the same table – but hey, there is always next year.