(This is an article I wrote in 2010 in response to requests for information on steamgoth. I have now moved it to my new website here. It is subject to a Creative Commons licence which means it can be used anywhere you wish as long as it is not changed and I am recognised as the author and this site is linked to i.e. “Article by James Richardson-Brown http://www.sydeiancreations.com” If you could also let me know you’ve used it via a comment or e-mail that would be very appreciated.)
Steamgoth – An introduction by James Richardson-Brown http://www.sydeiancreations.com
Four years ago in 2007 I was asked by a magazine to write an article on steampunk, a then little known subculture. As part of that article they asked me if it was likely there would be any offshoots of steampunk and I responded I felt it was likely that we would see a darker form of steampunk emerge, which I called Steamgoth. Since that time more and more people have become interested by the idea of steamgoth. Back in 2007, the question most asked of people like myself, Thomas Willeford, Datamancer, et al was “what is steampunk?”. Now the question I am starting to be asked has become “what is Steamgoth?” A question I’ll endeavor to answer in this article.
Steamgoth is a far darker view of the steampunk world. Whereas steampunk can often be said to be science fiction set in an alternative Victorian-era world, Steamgoth would be horror set in that same world. Steampunk of course has authors contemporary to the Victorian era those that revel in science and adventure: Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, etc. Steamgoth has it’s own prototypes in the likes of Mary Shelley and H. P. Lovecraft those that delight in the darkness of man and all that is hidden.
The Victorian world was obsessed by occutism. This can easily be seen through the Victorian love of mourning wear, seances and the esoteric writings of men such as Aleister Crowley. This was partly fuelled by sociological factors, it had long been the fashion to follow the reigning monarch for ideas on correct etiquette. After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria entered into a period of mourning that would last the rest of her life. Anthropological factors also played a part. It has been said that you were more likely to live out the week in the 19th century if you were over 90 than if you were a newborn baby. People facing the realities of death before their eyes often look toward religion and the supernatural. The Victorians took to these ideas with great zeal. Seances were social events, every city had its share of spiritualists and items such as tarot cards, ouija boards and crystal balls entered popular culture.
When the explosion in interest of scientific devices and methods hit Victorian society the inevitable happened, the two worlds combined. The science and technology so loved by steampunks and the occult and esoteric worlds that enamour many goths. Edison mentioned use of a “sensitive recording device” to pick up communications from the dead (though later claims he had created a spiri-com are generally agreed to be hoaxes), William H. Mumler created spirit photography in the 1860′s (in which spirits of the dead were purportedly photographed alongside living people). In these ways science and the supernatural became entwined.
This is where Steamgoth lives. The dark recesses of the Victorian era. What if Edison really did contact the dead? Houdini really did have the dark powers that were sometimes claimed of him? Jack the Rippers miraculous escapes from the police were part of a sinister and far reaching conspiracy?
We now find ourselves with a new sub-culture to join and enrich as artists, musicians and members of a uniquely dark world. Steamgoth as a relatively new term is little used currently and often people will use alternative terms such as steampunk and goth, some people even just use steampunk for all that encompasses anachronistic Victorianism. However, some of the pieces that have been created and described as Steampunk lovingly embrace all that exemplifies Steamgoth with its dark secrets and occult fascinations.
In modern times, books, films and video games have all taken Steamgoth as their inspiration or genre. In film, movies such as “van Helsing”, “Frankenstein”, and “Re-animator”. Books such as “Monsters, Magic, and Machines”. Video games such as Darkwatch”. All of these contemporary works contain the necessary mix of an alternative Victorian-era setting, horror and that very Human trait, a love of the mysterious.
The home grown sculpting movement assisted by steampunk has a wide range of steamgoth examples. My own range of sculptures and writings known as “Sydeian Creation’s Black Laboratory” have often been described as steampunk and while this a fair label I believe the dark, esoteric nature of them fall far more into the steamgoth genre. Looking at Dr. Grymm’s “Eyepod” device, Art Donovan’s “Electric Skull” and Molly Friedrich’s “Mechanical Womb with Clockwork Fetus” it could be argued that even as well known and well loved pieces within the steampunk art world, they fit perfectly within the steamgoth genre.
Steampunk clothing has often been described as earthy tones such as brown, ivory and brass. Indeed, “brown is the new black” has been mentioned quite often as the motto of goths turned steampunk. In steamgoth fashion I saw a return towards black but also incorporating some of the rich, decadent colours of the victorian era such as red, purple and gold/brass. Colours that invoke a sense of gaslit laboratories, mysterious libraries and intrigue amongst late night London streets.
Victorian anachoronism has a new darker face. Next time you feel the need to hunt vampires in Highgate Cemetary, make sure you take a steamgoth with you, a knowledge of science and occultism may just serve you well.
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