, 2011-10-17 07:00:00,
Steampunk is the most famous new trend that you’ve never heard of. To those in the know it’s been around for years. For others, it’s “Steam what?”
It’s certainly not new. The first steampunk (SP) convention took place in 2006: and the word was actually added to The Oxford English Dictionary last year. But it’s yet to hit the media or the mainstream. To me it feels like emo did in the mid-Noughties, just before it broke big: when you could see queues round the block for underground Emo gigs but no-one in the media was talking about it.
So what the hell is steampunk? The term itself comes from science fiction novels. It was allegedly coined by author Kevin Jeter as a way of distinguishing him and fellow tetro-tech sci-fi writers from future-loving “cyberpunks” like William Gibson. But it’s grown into a whole visual style, and even a philosophy. It’s all about mixing old and new: fusing the usability of modern technology with the design aesthetic and philosophy of the Victorian age. Or as US young fiction author Caitlin Kittredge put it: “It’s sort of Victorian-industrial, but with more whimsy and fewer orphans…”
In its glibbest sense, it can be seen as a way of giving your personal technology a goth make-over. Imagine a top of the range computer pimped out to look like an old typewriter, or an iPhone dock that lets you answer your phone using an old brass and wood receiver. But at its deepest, it’s a whole way of looking and living: and a colourful protest against the inexorable advance of technology itself. And it’s a trend that’s sneaking its way into loads of different sectors: from fashion to film, interior design to video games.
The look pre-dated the term. High tech Victoriana can be found in Disney’s ’50s and ’60s adaptations of Jules Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, the contraptions of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘s Caractacus Potts, and even in our very own Bagpuss. More recently, maverick creatives like Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton and Alan Moore took up the style and made it their own, in films like Baron Munchausen and Alice In Wonderland, and comics like The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But it’s only now becoming a heavily adopted style – or lifestyle.
Its biggest impact so far has been in product design. It has reignited a love of “old fashioned” materials: brass and copper, wood, glass, mechanical workings, ornate engraving. It has also co-opted the re/upcycling aesthetic in its love of the old, the…
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