Steamstock: An Antiquarian Exposition
by Mark Rossmore
Go behind the scenes of one of the biggest steampunk music events yet.
September
10
2012
FEATURED ARTISTS

5 Cent Coffee
Official Site: Click Here

Abney Park
Official Site: Click Here

Blue Rabbit
Official Site: Click Here

Frenchy and the Punk
Official Site: Click Here

Good Co.
Official Site: Click Here

Hydrogen Skyline
Official Site: Click Here

Lee Presson & the Nails
Official Site: Click Here

Vagabondage
Official Site: Click Here

Vernian Process
Official Site: Click Here

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October 7th. Richmond, California. The sun will set over a renovated, waterfront factory playing host to an ambitious festival event. Vintage brick walls will resonate with the sounds of another time roaring from two stages' worth of the biggest bands in steampunk music. Multi-story steel and glass walls will catch the glow of dazzling performers and dancers entertaining a crowd that will, no doubt, be a visual treat in and of itself.

This is Steamstock, and its affable organizers are Brian Gardner [BG] and Alyssa Rosenbloom [AR], both highly experienced event promoters and aficionados of anachronistic music.  Now they share their history of triumphs and troubles,  and showcase what lies in store for this epic new festival.

Note: The list of bands to the right are those which have a profile here on Steampunk-Music.com. For a complete listing, keep reading! Now, on to the interview!

SP-M: Your team members are no strangers to putting on music events. Could you tell us a bit about what you've done in the past?


Brian Gardner

BG: Well, it started with our 2nd Anniversary in 2009. We decided to go big and did a huge show with Lee Presson and the Nails (who are playing as part of Steamstock). Back then, I was the DJ, the MC, the Dance Instructor and the host. As time went on, I started bringing in friends and other professionals to support in roles where I wasn't as good as they were.

Our next big event was our first Bowie Ball, featuring 5 Cent Coffee (who are playing as part of Steamstock... you're going to notice a trend here...). That was at the Great American Music Hall and had to be scheduled twice because the first time was interrupted by a huge plume of flame. I guess that's one way to have your event make the front page of the newspaper...

Bowie Ball

Long story short, eventually we decided to go BIG and book Abney Park for the first Burton Ball, which included Vagabondage (who are playing as part of Steamstock); that's where I met Alyssa.

AR: Brian is really good at making friends and then talking them into helping with his future schemes. It's been great fun!

BG: After it attracted 720 people in San Francisco, we took the Burton Ball to New York, where it was hosted at Don Hill's in February. The night of the 5th worst snowstorm in New York history. That was fun. I remember dancing with Jody [Ellen of Abney Park] afterwards out in the streets on the ice... Probably my favorite event was The Ball of Cthulhu, which was the first time Abney Park, Vernian Process and Unextraordinary Gentlemen all played on the same stage. 


Alyssa Rosenbloom

AR: Ball of Cthulhu was my first time helping Brian, mostly as a go-for and with green room stuff. But pretty soon he figured out I could do more than hang tentacles. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of those days... (not really!)

BG: We followed up Ball of Cthulhu with a bunch of smaller shows, including our most successful "You'll Dance" to-date, "Funk Yule." For that, we brought on a funk band, Jesús and the Rabbis (http://www.facebook.com/JesusandtheRabbis), who we're thinking of bringing back for this year's "You'll Dance," but in November... with special surprise guests that we can't mention yet... but,more on that soon... then our first New Year's Eve event ever, "Gaiman vs Moore: Fanageddon" with Blue Rabbit (who are playing as part of Steamstock). Eventually we put everything aside to work Clockwork Alchemy (http://www.clockworkalchemy.com/) with The Steam Federation. Which is where the the idea for Steamstock really started to take root.

AR:  Clockwork Alchemy was a pretty amazing 3 night set of entertainment featuring Unwoman as our Guest of Honor and Not Waving But Drowning as our headliner.  There was a whole list of other amazing steampunk bands as well.  This year we hope to top ourselves.  

AR: Also, it was not too long after Ball of Cthulhu that Brian started Alt.Dance (http://swinggoth.com/sf/alt_dance/) as a weekly club for steampunks and others who wanted to partner dance to their favorite tunes. It features Boom Swing by DJ JsinJ (who runs http://turntable.fm/boomswing_cabaret) and my debut DJing steampunk as djTeslaRose, we've added lots of other dance styles and created a very fun night. I love that it's not music you would typically find in most clubs.

BG: I got the idea to combine Steampunk and Boom Swing (a swing-focused sub-genre of Electro Swing) by looking at what I used to like about Goth/Industrial clubs and figuring that Boom Swing was Steampunk's industrial. It's really rewarding to see that Abney Park came to a similar conclusion by having a bunch of, what we'd call Boom Swing, tracks on their newest album!

SP-M: Steamstock is one of the first festivals dedicated to steampunk music, and it's a big one. What inspired you to push ahead and create such an ambitious event?

AR: Mostly Brian is crazy. Well, really, this is an idea Brian had been bouncing off me for a while. I thought it was a great idea but maybe too big for us to put on. I mean, who wouldn't want to see a ton of awesome steampunk musicians in one show? But Brian is a guy who makes grand visions into realities so he forged ahead and talked all of us into sharing his vision. The result is becoming something far more amazing that I ever thought was possible and I'm so excited.

BG: Wow. Did you get all of that? This is going in print, right? She's on record being that nice to me? I'd NEVER be doing this if it wasn't with the help of Alyssa and a bunch of the other members of The Steam Federation, probably most notedly Sandra Forrer and Ruth Duncan, who have been COMPLETELY AMAZING. The title is actually Gene Forrer's idea. I mean, I'd been wanting to get a bunch of Steampunk musicians on the same stage, which is how Ball of Cthulhu happened, but something of this level, I'd only be doing with TONS of support. After fires and snowstorms, I've learned my lesson.

All of that said, I don't think we're the first Steampunk festival, although we are certainly hoping to be the best!

SP-M: With steampunk music still somewhat in its infancy--and with many people, even inside the SP community, still doubting its very existence--what do you think defines what is (or isn't) steampunk music?

AR: I have very definite opinions about this subject, so much so that I built a whole blog and podcast (Behind The Steam - http://behindthesteam.wordpress.com) around the idea along with my co-host Kristin Baker. I've always thought that for it to be truly steampunk music, you had to reach back for inspiration from the music of the past, and that can be music from all over the world, and combine it with a modern elements like rock or punk or electronica. The main question I ask all the steampunk artists I interview is how they would define steampunk music and the answers are all over the place. But I think steampunk music is more than a particular sound, or lyrics, or visual aesthetic. It's an attitude towards music that, when done properly, is an intellectual combination of past music stylings, present inspirations (yes, even dubstep), and the sounds of imagined futures that tell a story of some sort. But the beauty of steampunk music is its amorphous quality. I hope it is never defined in any real sense, to be honest.

BG: I feel the same way about Steampunk music that I feel about early 80's Goth music. There's not really much holding Siouxsie, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Cure, Bauhaus, and The Sisters of Mercy together musically. The genre is defined by the people who like it rather than the people who produce it.

SP-M: What's been the biggest challenge so far in setting all of this up?


BG: Finding the boats. Seriously. We live in the Bay, you'd think that was easy, but no, we have to choose to be on the same weekend as Fleet Week and an America's Cup Regatta. You know what both of those have in common? Boats.

AR: We really have a great team on board so nothing has been too difficult (besides those @#*@ boats), but I think the real challenge is going to be the day of the event. We have 13 bands to play in 10 hours so our tech, timing, and organization are going to have to be spot on. 

BG: For the record, despite our best efforts, even though the event is on the docks, and even though we REALLY want to have them.... for this year... there probably won't be boats. Oh well, I guess that's what next years are for.

SP-M: You've got some very well known artists aboard. Thomas Dolby. Vernian Process. Abney Park. How did you arrive at the lineup, and the venue?

BG: A bunch of different ways. Mostly we asked all of the artists that we've worked with in the past if they wanted to do something really huge. It all started when Craneway Pavilion (http://www.craneway.com/) approached me and said that they'd like to host a Steampunk event.

Craneway Pavillion

The Craneway Pavilion is this HUGE building made of metal and brick. It's an old Ford Motor Factory. And I mean OLD. It's PERFECT for a Steampunk festival. It's got walls made of almost nothing but glass that look out over the Bay and the sun's going to be setting and The Blue Angels are going to be off in the distance.

Anyway, the bands.

AR: Well, if you are going to have a massive steampunk music festival then you have to ask Abney Park, perhaps the most well known steampunk band. We are also fortunate to have Vernian Process as a local band so they were an easy add. I've been dying to see Frenchy and the Punk live so I "convinced" (i.e. said, please!) the team to add them to our lineup, taking Steamstock nationwide. Good Co brings in some variety with their killer electroswing and Lee Presson and the Nails round that out with their full sound swing band. We filled in the rest of the lineup with amazing local steampunk bands including Blue Rabbit, Vagabondage, 5 Cent Coffee, etc. Hydrogen Skyline is a late add and a great story. They heard about Steamstock and wanted to be part of it so bad that they're actually raising the money to travel here themselves (see http://www.indiegogo.com/steamstock for details), just to be part of our show!

Thomas Dolby is really Brian's amazing get. He just never really took no for an answer and I know there are many a steampunk who are fanboying/girling all over themselves with excitement about his addition to the lineup.

BG: It just made sense to me. Thomas Dolby was probably the first retro-futurist in music... and a maker to-boot. His whole first album is songs about science, submarines, airplanes, radio, plus an allegory about how World War II ripped Europe in twain. Okay, he's probably more Deisel Punk than Steampunk, but his whole career is chock full of retro-futurism. He's like Abney Park's Father... oh, and speaking of people fanboying out, did you see Robert's email about playing a show with Thomas Dolby?

SP-M: Steampunk shows don't usually stop at the music. What kind of visual, dance, and performance treats can your audiences expect?

AR: How did you know? We will be having aerialists, dancers, fire, and visual media up on a huge video screen. But I think the real treat is going to be the audience themselves, all decked out in their steampunk finest. That's really one of the beautiful things about a steampunk show, that the audience is just as much a part of the visual experience as the bands.

BG: And the dancing. We like to make sure there's room at our shows for people to dance. This is actually going to be our first show ever that doesn't START with dance lessons. There was just too much music to be shared. Hopefully, if people want to learn out to dance, they'll come to our weekly night. We teach swing every Thursday night, but we also have a rotating cast of guest instructors that teach Waltz, Blues, Tango, etc. 

AR: And I DJ! This is the Alt.Dance club night I mentioned earlier.

BG: I remember when I first suggested that Alyssa DJ. She was all, "Brian, I don't know how to DJ," and I said, "I know that, but you will and you'll be a great one. You read people well and you KNOW Steampunk music." Happily, I was dead-on. You can train almost anyone to mix and play songs; it's really feeling a crowd and knowing music and dance that needs to be brought to the table.

AR: Yeah, talk about throwing me in the deep end. I was very fortunate to get some great pointers from DJ MzSamantha and DJ Fact.50 to start and of course, my partner in crime, DJ JsinJ, teaches me so much every week. Now I'm addicted... Dance for me! Dance I say!

SP-M: Which bands or performers are you personally most excited about seeing?

BG: I don't play favorites. I don't book bands just because I like them, but I also don't book bands that I don't like. In fact, the only thing that I don't like about this show is that I'm throwing it and won't be able to be dancing for 10 hours straight!

AR: I totally play favorites! The difference is I have so many! I'm an aural addict so I've been listening to most of these bands for a while now and I'm really excited to have many more people see how good some of these lesser known bands are, like Blue Rabbit and Good Co, that I really enjoy. Frenchy and the Punk should be amazing live... and well... I could go on and on. 

SP-M: Please tell us a bit about the venue itself, and the list of vendors you have coming aboard.

BG: So far, the outlook is amazing! We've sold almost 200 tickets and have some AMAZING vendors. You can see the full list here: http://www.steamstock.org/store.html.

AR: Yep, attendees should make sure to tuck some cash or a credit card into their utility belt. 

SP-M: Do you plan on making this a yearly event, or possibly taking it to other locations?

BR: We'd love to make this a yearly event, but everything depends on how well this year goes. As far as taking it other places... after suffering a huge loss due to the snowstorm in New York, I'm a bit shy about taking things on the road. I'd rather build a HUGE show here than try to take a small show touring. That said.... we've done it before, so I'm not against the idea either. But, that would be in the future. First we do this year. Then we think about what comes next. 

AR: The best way to make this a yearly event is to have tons of people come this year! So go buy tickets! 

SP-M: Besides visiting www.steamstock.org, where can one find the latest information and ticket information?

Facebook (Event): http://www.facebook.com/events/255055264609786/
Facebook (Group): http://www.facebook.com/groups/SteamStock/
Twitter: @steamstock
or email us: steamstocksf@gmail.com

Bowie Ball

 SP-M: Thanks for the time, and good luck to you and your team on this epic undertaking! 

  
Author Bio: Mark Rossmore
Mark Rossmore has released three atmospheric albums of steampunk-inspired music as Escape the Clouds. A multimedia artist who enjoys telling dramatic stories, he has self-produced three acclaimed music videos and is a published author of steampunk short fiction, aviation articles, and music-related non-fiction. Learn more about his music, videos, and writing at: http://www.EscapeTheClouds.com .
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