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06/01/2012 / thriftomancer

World Steam 2012

Last week was certainly more busy and exciting than I normally get. Tuesday I helped clean out and remake an enclosure at the OBC for some adorable vampire bats, Thursday saw a trip to Ann Arbor which I’ll write about in greater depth later, and a double birthday pool party/bonfire on Friday with all my college buds where I tested my boric acid-permeated fabric scraps. (I need to adjust the recipe to make a greener flame.) The most fun, however, occurred over the weekend at the 2012 World Steam Expo.

Held in the same hotel and Penguicon was, World Steam is an incredibly fun steampunk convention that runs every memorial day weekend. (Speaking of, I hope everyone in the states enjoyed their 3-day weekend.) This was my second year attending and I had a disgustingly good time.

If you’re unfamiliar with steampunk, don’t fret. You’re certainly not alone. It’s a subculture that’s gaining popularity but, unfortunately, very difficult to explain/describe in a way that does it justice. The best definition I’ve ever come up with is “A creative subculture based on ideas/speculative fiction of an alternate history where, instead of switching to electric power in the early 1900’s, civilization continued to rely on steam power and technology advanced at an increased rate in that direction.”

It’s a style that focuses heavily on remaking Victorian styles and craftsmanship with a more modern twist, exposed pipes and gears, clockwork, antiqued metal (usually bronze), leather, and lots of wacky technology. Common archetypes include mad scientists, airships/zeppelins, airship pirates, normal pirates, and anti-pirate military and mercenary organizations, as well as ordinary citizenry from sophisticated gentry and nobles to the everyday common folk. It’s terrifyingly open. Your best bet is to google “steampunk” and check out what comes up. An image search alone will give you an excellent idea of the steampunk aesthetic.

World Steam is an opportunity for all of us steampunk fans to get together, dress up in our Neo-Victorian costumes and clothing, confer about the stuff we love (costume design and fabrication, writing, history, dance, gaming, martial arts, everything), enjoy a host of excellent concerts, and, after the con activities end each day, party like mad. (Imagine a hotel ballroom with an open bar full of thirty tipsy-to-drunk men and women in full victorian garb- Dresses, corsets, bustles, suits, and waistcoats– playing “Are you there, Moriarty?” Hilarious. There was a rave the next night with a similar dress code, differing only in the addition of glow sticks and lasers.)

For me, the con began with this when I pulled into the lot Saturday morning and only got better.

The Steampunkmobile!

One of the best things about World Steam is the costumes. It’s not like other cons where a few folks cosplay but almost everyone else is in normal clothes. At this convention, practically everyone is in costume. Some folks go all-out and make ornate, wildly creative garb; some just throw on a vet or corset and top hat, but as you walk around spotting someone in mundane clothing is a rarity.

Here are a few of the more impressive costumes I saw over the weekend. (I wasn’t able to get names, which I should have, so if you see yourself or someone you know in these photos please let me know so I can give proper credit.)

A bird huntress

The layers of her bustle were covered with mesh and behind it she had attached nearly a dozen of the little carved-mushroom birds that are used in flower arranging.

Troll Hunter

This guy was so incredibly pro. From what I’ve heard, his character is supposed to be a troll hunter. A lot of times the accessories make the garb and this guy had an amazing proton pack-esque backpack full of gears, tubes, gauges, and other devices. I’m kicking myself for not taking better picture of the pack itself.

Lady + owl

This one’s simple and more realistic to Victorian fashions. Unfortunately, the texture of the fabric didn’t come across well in the photo, but just look at that owl!

Owl detail

Is it not the most adorable robot owl you’ve ever seen? His maker told me that his body’s a copper toilet tank float and his head’s a cut plastic cup.

The most awesome accessory

That tentacle was nearly 12’ long and each of those suckers was individually sewn, stuffed, and applique’d to the main tentacle section by hand. I want one. She also left it posed about the con over the weekend. Poking out of ajar doors, hanging over balcony ledges, extending from under tables, ect. It was hilarious to keep running across it.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds

The captain needs no explanation. How spot-on is he?! Apparently that coat was commissioned from the same prop maker who made the original coat used in the show. Again, I want one.

I too wore garb! Nothing as complicated as these since I slacked off on my costume creation, but still quite passable as far as steampunk goes. Here’s me taking advantage of the bathroom’s full-length mirrors.

My costume

All for that, save the sneakers, came from thrift stores and garage sales with absolutely no modifications to the pieces. I’ll make some more things, like proper pants and harness loops to hold my amassment of belts in place, for next year, but I rather like this as a starting point.

Also of note is the dealer’s room. At this particular con it’s mostly costuming vendors. Folks selling corsets, coats, vintage clothes, accessories, jewelry, hats, and other wacky headgear; as well as the raw parts (leather, old machine bits, buckles, clasps, ect.) to make your own pieces.

There are, of course, other types of vendor too. Like the War Pony Candy Forge, purveyors of fine chocolate and eccentric candies. I bought four bags of hard candy from them in rose, lavender-rosemary, spiced plum, and violet flavors. They’re tasty, though it’s an odd sort of taste that you smell as you eat, getting just as much input from your nose as you do your tongue. I know the two senses of taste and smell are closely linked, but this seems to go beyond that into a floral surreality. It’s quite good.

Spoils of Con - Candy and dice

You can also see several dice there. The two white ones are carved water buffalo bone that I got from The Amber Fox. They’re the only dice I bought over the entire con, despite there being a wealth of them available. Be proud of me.

You may be wondering, if I only bought two dice, what’s that third clear one there for? That was given to me by the gracious proprietress of the Guild House Classic gaming booth. She and her husband we in the dealer’s room at Penguicon too where I spent a lot of time geeking out over dice with the both of them and bought some crystal dice. They remembered me (as the nice dice lady, hee). That die is much cooler than it appears to be at first glance. It’s perfectly clear and the pips are painted white, but when you look through it there’s a subtle hint of purple visible. It’s just a faint tint, but it’s incredibly pretty.

Sidenote: They’ve finally gotten themselves a brick-and-mortar shop down in Newton Falls, Ohio. It’s Guild House Classic at 31. W. Broad Street. If you’re in the area, pop in for a visit.

There’s also the little disc that says “Amber Fox.” That I didn’t buy either. Richard, who owns the Amber Fox, gave it to me Saturday night while we were waiting for the modded NERF gun battle to begin. It’s a bimetallic jumping disc, which is a very cool science toy and terribly entertaining for being a flat piece of metal that flings itself into the air.

Please note that, as fun as epic NERF battle is, I participated last year and decided that this year I’d rather hang out in the in-character experience lounge for old-timey poker and chess instead of shooting people into the wee hours of the morning.

Old-Timey Poker

That’s the terribly patient Ozzie in the fez (way cool) teaching us how to actually play poker.

I ended up winning at chess, watching attempts to cut limes for drinks devolve into peeling them resolutely, and still toying around with a NERF shotgun. Good times.

One thing I saw floating around the con that I was sorely tempted by but didn’t get was the d20 sucker.

d20 suckers

So radical.

Another huge feature of the expo are the concerts. There is literally always someone playing something on one of their four different stages.

My favorite performance this years was, without a doubt, Abney Park.

Abney Park

These guys are to steampunk music what James Brown is to soul and one of my favorite bands. They sound a little bit like this:

Some other fantastic songs by them are All the Myths Are True, The End of Days, and Beautiful Decline. Give them a listen.

This year I made it to both the matinee show on Saturday and their late show Sunday night. Both were awesome musically and had funny little easter eggs, like during the Saturday show when Captian Robert’s mic stand fell over and broke, requiring emergency repairs with gaffer tape. Or how, due to a mix-up on the part of the con staff, some of the audience (me included) were let into the ballroom early and got to watch the band do their setup and sound checks. It was actually a lot more fun than it sounds.

After the Sunday show the band hung out for a while to take photos and autograph things. I got all six of them to sign the back of my con badge.

Signed badge!

I also got a chance later at the rave to dance with Daniel (the bassist) and Jody (female vocals). Huzzah! And now I swear I’ll cease my fangirling.

Two other bands that I saw for the first time and liked were the one-man band of Danny O’Ryan and Steam Powered Giraffe.

Danny O’Ryan is a terribly skilled man with a terribly impressive act. This is him, all alone on stage save for his wild selection of medieval instruments (flutes, guitar, drums of various sorts, a double-necked mandolin/bouzouki hybrid, a PVC didgeridoo, and two different varieties of bagpipes) and his loop equipment.

Danny O'Ryan

What he does is play every instrument for every song himself, recording each part on stage and then melds it all together for the final tune. The result is that the audience gets to hear the song build layer by layer as he adds in new instruments. His music is mostly medieval era and Celtic tunes that he’s modified and amped up to near rock proportions. ‘Tis very cool.

Steam Powered Giraffe is… Curious. They’re a pantomime group/Vaudeville-inspired rock band whose act is that the three of them are time-traveling musical robots from the past that are stuck in the future, our present, and writing songs about their experiences here.

Steam Powered Giraffe

Their show was equal parts comedy routine and music with as much of a visual component as an audio one. It was entertaining and fun, even if it wasn’t exactly to my musical tastes.

That said, one thing I just adored about them was their mastery of miming robotic movement. Through the entire show all three of them move in a jerky, mechanical way that’s exactly what you’d expect from the clockwork automatons their characters are supposed to be. Every movement is like that, from a shake of the head to lifting their arms to play. It’s excellent.

In short, this year’s World Steam Expo was the most fun I’ve had since Penguicon and certainly the best way I could have spent the weekend. I’ll be going next year and so should you. Seriously, show up. We can shoot each other with NERF guns. It’s fun.



Leave a Comment
  1. Ria / Jun 3 2012 10:25 am

    I’m havin serious jealousy over you getting to see Abney Park! I’ve been listening to their music for a while now, and they have an amazing sound. Let’s hear it for steampunk rock!

    One of my favourite songs of theirs is “Root of All Evil.” Plus just about every song on their “Lost Horizons” album. Definitely worth listening to!

  2. Daniel O'Ryan / Jun 12 2012 6:53 pm

    Thanks so much for your awesome paragraph about me! Stoked you liked my music!!!

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