Last weekend, I went to one of the largest steampunk events in the world, Jeff Mach’s Steampunk World’s Fair. For those who are unfamiliar, steampunk is an alternative fashion/music/literature scene, which can essentially be summed up as Victorian futurism—imagine a world where, on the cusp of the industrial revolution, technology advanced through steam power and gears instead of electricity and computers. The fashion blends corsets and top hats with brass and goggles, while the literature tends to feature dirigibles, automatons, and mad scientists. And the first weekend in May is when hundreds of steampunks from around the country take over two hotels in the middle of Piscataway, New Jersey. I’ve been attending Steampunk World’s Fair for many years, and two weeks ago I gave you a preview of what I was looking forward to at this year’s convention in particular. Read on to see how last weekend lived up to my expectations.
I mentioned in my preview post that I was particularly excited for the Dark Victoriana track of programming called The Nightshade Society. Apparently, SPWF has been running this track, focused on the dark side of steampunk, for the past couple years, but as I hadn’t been able to attend the previous two years, this was my first time hearing about it. The track got off to a great start when I wound up inadvertently running a panel! “Black & Brown: An Intro to Dark Steampunk” was scheduled for first thing Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the two guys set to run panel were the VampireFreaks DJs, Jet and Jaycee, who had been DJ-ing the Friday night dance party until the wee hours of the morning. When they didn’t make it in time for the start of the panel, I stepped in and gave a bit of an overview of the blog post I wrote a while back on the overlap of goth and steampunk. Jet and Jaycee joined me about halfway through the panel and were able to give their insights on the goth club scene, and the advantages and disadvantages that steampunk has for being a newer subculture. The audience was very involved in this panel and had a lot of their own questions and insights to contribute. I had a ton of fun, and the experience made me realize that I’d definitely like to officially do a panel of my own, perhaps at next year’s Dark Side of the Con.
The rest of the Nightshade track was great, with my favorite author, Leanna Renee Hieber, doing a reading and some panels on the gothic novel (I always love hearing an expert validate some of the stuff I’ve said on this blog!) and other academics giving talks on eighteenth-century anxieties about death and on Victorian mourning culture. But my absolute favorite part of the programming was the Steambones workshop, led by Charlie from Bent Nail Studio. This workshop was a hands-on crafting experience that catered to goths and steampunks alike. Each participant was given a real mink skull, some fancy adhesive, and a tray full of clock parts and small animal bones to create a brooch, magnet, or pendant of their own design. While I was dubious about getting messy in my Victorian finery, it turned out to be a ton of fun and now I have a stunning new statement piece to wear to future events!
Once again, I seem to be making a tradition of missing the bands I want to see. I did not fulfill my goal of finally seeing Ego Likeness, since they were scheduled for pretty late on Friday night. Turning in early also meant that I skipped out on the VampireFreaks dance party, but I will catch them again next convention. One of my favorite things about Jeff Mach Events, though, is the opportunity for performers to “busk” and just find some space in the hotel lobby to play an unofficial show. I got to catch one of my favorite bands, Psyche Corporation, during a couple of her busking sets throughout the weekend. And I closed out the convention by dancing to Platform One in a slight drizzle as they played on the outdoor stage.
Overall, this was one of the more enjoyable Steampunk World’s Fairs in recent memory. The Nightshade Society provided some highly appreciated programming, and I enjoyed unexpectedly participating in it. Staying at my dad’s house instead of the hotel meant that I missed some of the late-night fun, but it was also nice to have a bit more of a low-key convention. I’m looking forward to attending again next year!
Were you at Steampunk World’s Fair? Did you catch the “Black & Brown” panel? What did you think of the Nightshade Society programming? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!