Dragon 2013 Recap - Part 2
by Mark Rossmore
The Steampunk Sounds and Anachronistic Artists of Dragon Con 2013

Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands
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Professor Elemental
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Haven't read part one of this article yet? Click here! All set? Let's go on with the show....

Saturday Night

The largest steampunk music event began at around 12:30am Saturday night/Sunday morning: Professor Elemental, followed by Abney Park. The Marriott Atrium Ballroom was packed, the line to enter wrapping around the outside of the building in the heat and humidity. 

Professor Elemental

I really try not to play favorites on this site. However, I can't help but say that Elemental's set was probably the highlight of the Con for me. Hip hop tends to be associated with obnoxious bravado, and he's the polar opposite of that. His affable personality comes across both on and off-stage. He's got talent and quick wit in spades. It was a real pleasure  to both watch him perform and speak with him on the music panel. 

Professor Elemental.
Image: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

His performance showcased songs  like his hits "I'm British" and "Fighting Trousers". He also dropped in a new song where he led both sides of the audience in a call-and-response chorus. His energy and humor was infectious. People who'd never heard his music before--such as my own wife--came away as real fans. Even if you don't like hip hop, his witty, intelligent, culturally observant lyrics and infectious beats may just change your mind.

Professor Elemental performing "I'm British".
Video: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

At one point, he asked audience members to hold up whatever they had in their hands. Scores of lightsabers and other sci-fi convention paraphenelia went skyward. He launched into a freestyle rap about everything he saw, showcasing his on-the-spot flow and cleverness. His finale was his original hit, "Cup of Brown Joy", where he had the whole crowd waving around their tea-drinking pinky fingers and yelling"Yes, please!" in counterpoint to his "Earl Grey?" 

Professor Elemental performing "Cup of Brown Joy".
Video: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

He left the crowd in such a great mood. To paraphrase "Brown Joy", if you're tired of Professor Elemental, I dare say, you're tired of life!

Abney Park

Abney Park taking the stage.
Image: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

The six members of Abney Park took the stage immediately after Elemental, launching into their song "The End of Days" off their album of the same name. Robert Brown led the way on lead vocals and occasionally playing harmonica, accordion, doumbek, and bouzouki. Female vocalist Jody Ellen complimented and countered Brown's gravelly vocals and stage presence with her vocal flair and a seemingly endless supply of dance energy. The band's huge sound came courtesy of Christina on keys/sequencing laptop, Josh Goering on guitar, Daniel Cederman on bass, and Titus Monteneau on  violin. 

Abney Park's Robert Brown.
Image: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

They played a healthy selection off tracks from throughout the band's history. Classics like "The Wrong Side" and "Dear Ophelia" off their 2005 album Death of a Tragedy made an appearance, with Mr. Brown taking a knee in Hamlet-like introspection during the latter. An Abney Park show wouldn't be complete without "Airship Pirate" and "Sleep Isabella" off Lost Horizons, too of their most well-known songs. The energy kicked up with crowdpleasers like "The Story That Never Starts" and "Neobedouin". Their lighting setup was the best of the bands that I saw, maximizing the visual impact of each track, casting dramatic silhouettes of the performers and focusing on Mr. Monteneau and Mr. Goering during their respective leads. 

Abney Park's Jody Ellen.
Image: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

With their new album The Circus at the End of the World coming out the following week, I was surprised that they only performed one song off the new collection, an electro-swing number  titled "The Anthropophagist's Club". I caught that one on video as I maneuvered my way thtrough the crowd. Please check it out below.

Abney Park performing "The Anthropophagist's Club", one of their new songs..
Video: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

Abney Park shows in my experience have always brought considerable energy, and they didn't forget to pack it this time either. They know how to pump up a crowd and deliver what they wanted. 


Mechanical Masquerade

Sunday night's main steampunk event is the Mechanical Masquerade, a yearly masked ball that goes on well into the darkest hours. The last hurrah on the last day of the Con, this is the place to catch the very best in steampunk finery, as attendees pull out all of the stops on their costumes and gadgetry. Of course, a mask or costume isn't required and all are truly welcome. For a ball where you've got hundreds of people dressed to the nines, it's actually very, very laid back. 

Shameless plug: Here's a theme song I wrote for the event a while ago,  with the blessing of its founder DJ Doctor Q. It was created under my musical alter-ego Escape the Clouds. It's a pay-what-you-want download  (i.e. free if you want it to be), so have at it!

Speaking of Doctor Q, DJ Doctor Q and DJ Emmett Davenport kept the musical entertainment flowing properly until the live bands took over. Unwoman was the first artist to perform. Just as she did during her concourse performances, she drew the audience close to the stage with her looped cello work and her haunting vocals. She's quite the chameleon, always changing her look, as you can surely see below.

Unwoman at the Mechanical Masquerade.
Image: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

Before and between each act, Professor Elemental once again served as master of ceremonies. He's got a gift for working a crowded room, that's for certain, and I truly hope they bring him back next year.  

We unfortunately didn't get to see Blair Crimmins and the Hookers, the second band that was going to play. By the time their set rolled around, we had to meet some long-lost friends for a late dinner, and my wife wanted to catch the Voltaire performance at midnight.  I did catch their sound check and loved the 1920's sound that I heard. Here's a vid someone shot of one of their shows a couple of years back:

Blair Crimmins and the Hookers performing "Oh Angela" at a show in 2011.
Video: Shawn Millar

It looks like we missed out. To top it off, the Saturday night before, I'd run into Brandt Cooley from The Aeronauts. At 11:30pm on Sunday--i.e. right when we were going to be having dinner and half an hour before Voltaire's show--he was performing at Meehan's Pub just down the street, as his chiptune alter-ego Professor Shyguy.

That's the problem with Dragon Con: there are so many friends to see and so many events taking place simultaneously that it's hard to do it all!


After dinner, we headed over to the Hyatt to catch Aurelio Voltaire's set of quasi-goth, quasi-comedy, and always twisted brand of music. There were old crowd favorites, like the drinking song "Die!" and "Death Death Devil Devil Evil Song". He premiered the title track off his new album Raised by Bats. Unfortunately, the CD wasn't ready in time for Dragon Con, but I really enjoyed the self-reflective and fun nature of the song.

There were quite a few off his sarcastic sci-fi homage album Bitrekual, including "USS Make Shit Up" and "The Trouble with Tribbles". After the latter, my wife said she'd never be able to bleach out the memory of Voltaire wriggling around on stage, simulating the act of inserting a tribble up his butt.... yeah. Wow. But it's Voltaire. Without that kind of stuff, it just wouldn't be a Voltaire show!

In the mix of it, he threw in his Dr. Who song "Bigger on the Inside" which was included on Bitrekual after a campaign by Whovians who--gasp!--felt underepresented on an album about Star Trek and Star Wars. He very eloquently called them "a bunch of polite but pushy cunts" in their effort to make Bitrekual into a Tritrekual release.

Voltaire singing his "Death Death Devil Devil Devil Evil Evil" songs.
Image: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

Midway through the set, he made a huge announcement: after a fifteen year run at Dragon Con, he would not be attending in 2014. Normally he's one of the first artists invited to perform, but this year I noticed they (1) didn't announce his participation until much later than usual and (2) they'd moved his performance slot to Sunday night. During the past several years, he'd always played on Saturday, the busiest night of the convention.

Voltaire making his announcement about 2014 and performing "USS Make Shit Up".
Video: Blues1956

Apparently there was a vocal minority who'd made noise about Dragon Con not refreshing the aritst lineup enough and always inviting back Voltaire and the Cruxshadows. Rather than face the possibility of more drama next year, he took the gracious option and announced he would bow out himself. 

If this isn't classic Voltaire, I don't know what is....
Image: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

The huge, 5000 person-strong crowd was not pleased. After that announcement, the show turned bittersweet. As he closed the show with the sing-a-longs "When You're Evil" and "Hell in a Handbasket", he invited much of the audience up on stage for the yearly--and possibly last for a while--"family portrait". Love him or hate him, Voltaire's a Dragon Con icon, and 2014 will not feel the same without that sarcastic rum-drinking dude around.

Now, objectively speaking, I'm all for new bands being invited. Dragon Con's been the place where I first encountered so many great bands, from Frenchy and the Punk to This Way to the Egress to Megan Jean and the KFB to The Aeronauts. None of those bands were here this year, and I missed them, but at the same time we got newcomers Unwoman and Crystal Bright and the SIlver Hands. It's all a trade-off and there are no guarantees. Just because a band isn't around this year doesn't mean they won't be at Dragon Con next year. 

So, for fans of Voltaire, it's unfortunate, but it is his choice not to apply next year. While it leaves some pretty big shoes to fill, hopefully we'll have even more cool bands in his place in 2014 and I perhaps he'll be back in town in 2015.

Voltaire's last family portrait for a while.
Image: Mark Rossmore / Steampunk-Music.com

As the last strains of Voltaire's guitar faded out, my Dragon Con 2013 musical journey came to a close. I really enjoyed myself, and I can't wait to see what 2014 brings. I hope you liked coming along on this journey with me. 

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 .

It means something different to everyone. To see how the artists themselves define it...
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