Music


But it don’t make no difference
‘cos I ain’t gonna be, easy, easy
the only time I’m gonna be easy’s when I’m
Killed by death

I first encountered Motorhead when I was 14, at school in Australia. I had just moved to a new school (again!) and was getting bullied in my home room, so I was spending a lot of my time alone. In my home room was a sullen, muscly kid with a dark character, called Matthew, who was friends with a guy called Glenn – even more muscly, and rumoured to have been held back a year. Glenn had a scary reputation, but it was one of those high school reputations that has absolutely no backing – no one, when asked, could say why or what about him was scary.

One day Glenn came up to me in lunch and asked me in his rough and ready way that he had heard I was good at computers? Back when I was 14 being good at computers was a kind of novelty, and I had in fact done a one week long intensive course in BASIC a year earlier, so even though my family were too poor for a computer I was, for my time, pretty good at computers. Not too sure where this was going I said yeah I guess I am and he told me that Matthew was going to be held back a year just like Glenn had been if he didn’t pass computer class, and he didn’t get it all, and we were in the same class, so would I help? I was aware that Glenn had a reputation as the kind of boy to whom you can’t say no, but I also had a tendency not to do what other kids told me to do – a key skill when you’re being bullied at school.  However, I had noticed Matthew in class and was kind of sorry for him. I was just a year away from the abandonment of my brother by my family, who had left him in a children’s prison in the UK and moved to Australia, and I was sensitive to kids who couldn’t get it together at school. So I agreed to help.

Matthew passed computers, though I can’t say if it was my help or just because he tried. During the term that I was helping him, though, something remarkable happened – Glenn invited me to hang out with him and Matthew at lunch. It turned out that Glenn and Matthew were as outcast from school life as me, with no friends except each other, and they spent their lunchtimes in the school weights room, which no one else even seemed to know existed but which they had managed to score for themselves. We would eat our lunch in that hungry mechanical way boys do in about three minutes, spend a couple of minutes chatting while we let it settle, and then set to work on the weights. And while we lifted, we played Motorhead on the stereo. Sure, sometimes there was a bit of Anthrax or Suicidals, but mostly it was Motorhead because Glenn and Matthew were old school like that.

I have only a vague memory of that six months – my parents moved after six months of course, so my budding friendship with Glenn and Matt disappeared into the sludge of my childhood moves. But I do remember that Motorhead was the first music I took seriously in my teenage years, and those two boys were the first two boys who took me seriously. There we were, clustered around the bench press, Glenn pushing my body weight and then taking off all the weights so I could struggle with the bar, no judgments passed or scornful jokes made, just a group of young men making the best we could of our lunch hour. Compared to me their school days were harsh – I had been streamed into the top maths class and was enjoying my studies but for them school was an ongoing series of trials, trying to understand shit they just didn’t get, or understand why they had to get. Sometimes we would take our lunch hour out at the back of the playing fields, and they would get stoned and hang around with a couple of similarly outcast girls, with me tagging along sober.

Once I started hanging out with Glenn, the bullying stopped. Once I tried volleyball club, and some dickhead at volleyball club got in a fight with me in the car park, and Glenn wanted to know who? Where? And I had to ask him not to waste his time. For that rare six months, in that school, Glenn was my lucky charm, the first man who ever made me feel like I could be respected just for being alive and there, the first man who ever  understood the concept of mutual aid and just being good to each other.

And he was a stoner and a Motorhead.

After that I moved to another school, in the country on the edge of the desert, and when I arrived as usual I had nothing in common with anyone – except heavy metal. Motorhead opened doors for me, again mostly with the boys who were repeating the year because they didn’t take the first one seriously. Now we had Metallica, Megadeth and a whole new world of thrash that I would never even have known about if it hadn’t been for those six months in the weights room, with Glenn in his Motorhead singlet, thrash booming, the smell of sweat and iron …

Without those metal boys my high school would have been slightly less alive, largely a life of skulking around waiting to be hissed at by the popular kids. Through metal and role-playing (which of course those kids were doing) I found a group of people who took me seriously and cared about me. I can’t say that metal inspired those kids to be nice – after all, I’ve even heard that people who don’t listen to metal can sometimes be nice human beings – but it was definitely the soundtrack to my discovery of human kindness. And it was somehow appropriate, because that first breath of human spirit came from a pair of boys who were in their own way as cast out as I was, and we were all listening to music that was fundamentally about not compromising yourself, about rejecting people who reject you. Motorhead, especially, is about being yourself and not letting anyone drag you down.

This morning I learnt that Lemmy, lead singer of Motorhead, died suddenly of cancer. It’s hardly surprising given his claim to have drunk a bottle of Jack Daniels a day, and his huge smoking habit. He was 70, and playing gigs right up until last year. His band released a statement on his death which includes this simple, beautiful admonition:

We will say more in the coming days, but for now, please…play Motörhead loud, play Hawkwind loud, play Lemmy’s music LOUD.
Have a drink or few.

Share stories.

Celebrate the LIFE this lovely, wonderful man celebrated so vibrantly himself.

HE WOULD WANT EXACTLY THAT.

Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister

1945 -2015

Born to lose, lived to win.

That statement took me back to those teenage months with Glenn, when I was fumbling around learning to be a person for the first time. It’s probably hard for modern kids to get, but back then we were still wrestling with whether it was okay for girls to swallow, whether you should wait till your wedding day to do it, whether a single toke would get you addicted to heroin for life … there was a lot of fear of just living back then, and now that AIDS was stalking the earth there were new fears of transgression and sexuality. But metal was about living, it was about life, and it rejected all that old fussy stuff about what we should and shouldn’t do. Obviously it wasn’t just Motorhead, but Lemmy was ferociously present, he was living large and telling us all to be who we wanted to be. And we did just that, and our lives are better for it.

Lemmy’s death is obviously a big blow for metal. But on a deeper level, it’s a reminder to all of us of our mortality. If ever any man on this earth could keep living just by sheer force of will, it was Lemmy, but he was killed by death. If Lemmy can’t escape that caped doom with which he was so familiar, what hope do we have? Only one: to live our lives large and as we like them, regardless of the consequences, as he did, and dare Death to come and get us. Let death be the least of our experiences, and deservedly the last.

Channelling the Ancients in a frilly vest...

Channelling the Ancients in a frilly vest…

Tonight I watched live videos of Led Zeppelin at their peak, and the official video for Deep Purple’s Child in Time. It’s interesting to watch Robert Plant’s stage persona because it is simultaneously powerfully masculine and sexual, but also coquettishly feminine and camp. For those of us who grew up after the ’70s it’s hard I think to understand how deeply transgressive metal presentations of masculinity were, though the Deep Purple video gives some hint as to the shocked response of ordinary society at the time. The men in these early bands were constructing a new vision for themselves and men generally, and a new ideal of a social order, one which I think in retrospect needs to be seen as much more than just spandex-and-weed nihilism, but as a real (and largely unconscious) attempt to drag the sexual, religious and political radicalism of the English enlightenment into the modern world. I think the only band who actually realized and understood this visionary ideal were Iron Maiden, who are the conscious and willful inheritors of William Blake, but I think the other bands of that era – primarily the British masters, but in their footsteps the American and European legends – were setting about the same project, though sometimes doing it more from a classically romantic rather than strictly enlightenment vision. In amongst the drugs, the sex and the trashed hotel rooms it’s easy to lose sight of the fundamental vision that these men were trying to put forward to the world, a vision of peace, personal religious mysticism and sexual freedom that the world was not ready for, just as it was not ready for and ultimately failed to realize these exact same goals when they were put forward 200 years earlier by Blake and his contemporaries.

I have read that the English Enlightenment is often overlooked by scholars, and that many people don’t even realize there was a separate enlightenment happening in England, but that it had some of the most radical and visionary ideals of any of the enlightenment thinkers. Certainly William Blake was a powerful spokesperson for sexual liberty and political and religious freedom, and it was through the ideals of people like Blake and Wollstonecraft that the Romantics got their chance to rewrite the cultural landscape. I’ve said before on this blog that I think heavy metal is a part of Britain’s mainstream cultural tradition, but in this post I want to go further and say that metal was not just grounded in and drawing upon British cultural history, but was a direct continuation – through Victorian figures like Swinburne – of the radical ideas of the English enlightenment. This is why we find Bruce Dickinson singing Jerusalem at Canterbury Cathedral, and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven rich with lyrics referencing the faerie and pagan dreams of Chaucer, Blake and Keats. It’s no coincidence that these men were also challenging masculine ideals of the time, wearing their hair long and singing and acting like women, because the redefinition of sexual liberty and sexual roles was an important part of the English enlightenment. I think it’s also no coincidence that the foremost bands, like Deep Purple and Metallica, lent themselves so easily to classical music, because they were themselves drawing on a musical tradition grounded in opium highs and romanticism that they could be easily adapted back to, and have shown themselves very amenable to.

Amongst all the modern strands of music, I think heavy metal is simultaneously the most conservative, because it fails to stray outside of the parameters set down by the classical musicians of 200 years ago, though it may sound radically different to them. It also confines itself to noble themes and the grandiose and political, studiously avoiding the personal and local themes of folk, hip hop, rock and pop; while they focus on talking about themselves and their relationships metal insists on regurgitating the age-old constants of religion, death and war. But it simultaneously describes new modes of sexual liberty, presents masculinity in a new and very camp style, sneers at the madness of modern politics and does the whole thing while hurtling through a classic opium-induced haze. Rather than being seen as the decline and fall of modern civilization, I think metal needs to be seen as the periodic revitalization and restoration of enlightenment values, a powerful and radical push back against the stultifying sameness of modernity and the growing conservatism of post-war art. Metal is also a sign that the enlightenment was not a phase the west went through, but is a constant spirit of restoration and reinvigoration that has been running through western culture for the last 500 years. And what better flag bearer for that spirit of restless change than Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Slayer??

Rabbit-headed cuckoo clocks were all the rage!

Rabbit-headed cuckoo clocks were all the rage!

Yesterday was another Gothic Lolita-styled live event by the crew at A la Mode, the 42nd event of this venerable institution. This night had the same excellent value-for-money line up of 6 or so bands interspersed by DJs, for just 3000 yen, but this time there were less of the pretty little 5 minute floor shows, and instead there was an excellent steampunk fashion show, and a very weird 30 minute theatrical performance (pictured above).

This time gas-mask free...

This time gas-mask free…

The fashion show appears to have been organized by one of the two members of the band Strange Artifact, who I refer to as Miss Artifact (pictured above, singing). I failed to get any functional pictures of the fashion show, but it was excellent – mostly women in voluminous 19th-century-styled dresses, wound about with belts festooned with mysterious gear, all intricately worked with geometric designs and brasswork. One girl was wearing a leather shoulder-guard that held glowing potions in test tubes, like an elegant and feminine version of the Witcher; two carried briefcases studded with brass designs; another carried a tiny pistol and what looked like a glowing, arcane power tube on her back. There was also a man in velvet pants and fine waistcoat, festooned with accessories and carrying an elaborate clockwork-styled gun, a feather jauntily perched in his top hat. Overall, it was an excellent showcase of craftwork and over-the-top steampunk sense, relatively free of gothic influences and heavily influenced by cowboys-and-indians railroad America, and industrial-revolution England.

Death and the Angel...

Death and the Angel…

The show wasn’t lacking in gothic influences, though. The two bands that followed Strange Artifact, himemanik and Remnant, had a healthy dose of gothic style: himemanik with a nice electronic pulse, and (as can be seen from the photo above), Remnant with a large dose of over-the-top old school coffin-guitared goodness. I really liked himemanik, actually, but I failed to get any pictures of them. I also failed to get pictures of Elupia, who I have reviewed before. Elupia are working on a new album, and were really in fine form at this gig, playing with a lot of energy and strength. They really epitomize the level of technical quality that even minor Japanese bands achieve, and are a good advertisement for the Japanese live scene – which in my experience is worth spending money on even if you don’t know the bands, because they are usually at a very high standard.

At this event, I had noticed a couple of women who had turned up wearing zombie nurse outfits, and who spent the afternoon drinking and checking their make-up (and sleeping). One of them was wearing a badge that said “Satan,” also incidentally one of the band names, so I was thinking we might be granted an audience with a zombie nurse rock band. However, as time passed my friend pointed out that the hall was becoming something of a “midgetorama” (his words) as it filled up with really, really short girls, some obviously very young (this was somehow an all-ages gig). These women seemed to have no fashion sense or style in common, but we soon discovered that they all shared a deep, powerful obssession with the headline act of the evening, Satan. For when Satan began playing, they all charged forward, unveiling Satan-themed sweat towels or t-shirts, and lined up at the front of the stage.

You spin me right round baby, right round!

You spin me right round baby, right round!

What followed was a revelation. Satan (pictured above) are a standard thrash/punk band with nothing special to recommend them – good, savage, loud and raw, but so are all of their kind – except the slavish devotion and energy of their fans. They proved this early on by producing a troll doll and spinning it around before the audience. This was the trigger for all of their fans to form up in serried conga-line ranks and do a complete circuit of the dance floor, charging around in one revolution and returning to their places to resume head-banging crazily to the thrash. Satan invoked this ritual regularly through their songs, somehow managing to hold out an arm or do a spinning sign with one hand and get all their fans to charge around the room. The rest of us had to step back in stunned incomprehension to allow this horde of tiny 16 year olds to take the floor.

It was then that Satan produced his pogo stick. At the sight of this wicked device of ancient power, his fans formed into three neat ranks, all facing in the direction he pointed, and began pretending to be pogo-ing, moving slowly up and down as the guitarist drew out a deep, ferocious roar. Then, of course, off they charged. Their dark lord could reproduce this pogo action just by crouching down on stage.

Other things that Satan got his little girls to do included worshipping the guitarist – whenever a solo was played, the girls all fell to their knees and genuflected – and a kind of mini bus-stop dance, in which the entire crowd went through the same series of arm-crossing and uncrossing, head banging motions.

He also produced a rubber hammer with which he whacked girls at the front of the stage, got them to slap his arse, spat water on them, and whipped them with his dreadlocks. Thus does Satan rule supreme over the gathered hordes of Tokyo’s schoolgirls …

Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of all this because, even though Satan is just some second-rate Tokyo thrash/punk band with about 30 devoted followers, he fancies himself special, and has a staff member who came over to tell me further pictures were banned. Further proof, if proof were needed, that intellectual property law is the work of Satan.

At this point as well my phone batteries died (all these photos were taken on my phone), and I failed to get any photos of the last band, Velvet Eden. No loss, since they were completely boring aside from the fact that their singer was cross-dressing, and stopped halfway through the performance to tell us that the band had been running for 10 years and this meant he had also been wearing a “T-back” (g-string) for 10 years. It was, he told us, 10 years since he became TBO – T-back Ore (g-string me!). Just as well he had the gimmick, since the band was ordinary.

So, another a la mode gothic lolita night passed in style and (mostly) musical excellence. This one was quite different to the last, and it’s clear that they put a lot of effort into each night they run, with very different performances and themes for each one. The next will be in early March, and if you are in Tokyo then and have a chance I strongly recommend it …

Last night I stumbled on this video of Bruce Dickinson, from Iron Maiden, singing William Blake’s Jerusalem with Ian Anderson (from Jethro Tull) accompanying him on flute. It was performed at a Christmas concert at Canterbury cathedral last year. He performed GK Chesterton’s Revelations, the inspiration for Iron Maiden’s song of the same name, at the same venue, and this can be viewed on youTube as well. The performances are stirring stuff, though at times Dickinson over-eggs the pudding and you can tell he’s used to a slightly different venue, but if you like good British poetry and appreciate the New Wave of British Metal (NWOBM) then you’ll get a lot of enjoyment from these two short clips.

The songs also show very clearly the strong influence of British classical poetry on the direction the ‘Irons took under Bruce Dickinson. Listening to these songs is like listening to any of their more famous efforts, though obviously the lyrics are more skilfully crafted[1], and it’s clear that Iron Maiden drew heavily on their British heritage when they wrote their works. Their most famous songs are steeped in what could probably be broadly described as the cultural origins of modern Britain – the romantic poets, the modernists, and some of the key debates in colonial and Victorian Britain that shaped the growth of the post-industrial British world, all feature prominently as themes in Iron Maiden’s work. Sometimes these are direct translations to metal – as in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – and sometimes they are a pastiche of poetry and history, as in Revelations. In other cases they are merely inspirational material, as in The Trooper‘s interpretation of The Charge of the Light Brigade. But in all cases, these influences and thematic elements are obvious in the work.

British comedy, television and especially music is, I think, the strongest part of its modern culture, and even seemingly nihilistic and barbaric elements of it – like the NWOBM or modern genres such as britpop – can be seen as part of a cultural continuity stretching back 200 or more years. This continuity is often obscured by the blandishments of modern art – the gutter style of modern drama, the spandex and satanism of the NWOBM, or the very modern and superficial faux working class posturing of some of the reformed toffs of the britpop scene – and of course it is also unrecognizable in some of the less talented and more degenerate products of modern British culture. But at its finest, modern British art, comedy and drama shows a strong appreciation of, and indeed directly channels, that long cultural tradition. I think for those of us from newer countries like the USA or Australia, this long cultural continuity can be surprising and perhaps also something we can be envious of (hence Australia’s historic “cultural cringe”). It’s also something we don’t always notice or appreciate, being more focused on those things that are fresh or new. But I think Iron Maiden is a really exceptional example of this tradition, being on the one hand embedded in what is often seen as a nihilistic and cultural vacuum (heavy metal) while simultaneously enormously dependent on a long cultural legacy for its themes and artistic influences. It isn’t just a case of a diamond in the rough, but of the ability of a traditional and often conservative entertainment and cultural establishment to continually reinvent itself without losing its roots.

fn1: this may earn me a fatwa from the fan club.

It came from Mars … to ROCK!

Saturday night saw me at Ikebukuro Chop, a tiny underground live venue, to see a couple of bands. My partner’s friend’s friend’s husband is the singer for the band pictured above, The Lechery From Mars, whose style clearly begs to be described as Cthulhupunk. The music is a kind of raucous light metal, not really gloomy enough to fit the standard goth rock pattern of bands like Sisters of Mercy, and definitely with an edge of punk to it. You can hear it at the band’s myspace site. It’s a bit like a collision between Jello Biafra, the Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I don’t know what they’re singing about but I get the impression they take a light-hearted approach to horror and occult topics.

A servant of the elder gods?

In style, this band resembles a carnivalesque distortion of Garden of Delight or Fields of the Nephilim, and I suspect that the themes of their songs are similarly light-hearted reinterpretations of the original invokers. Garden of Delight act as if they really do believe in the ancient Sumerian gods and creeping abominations that they sing about, whereas The Lechery from Mars are probably just a bunch of guys having fun. Though I guess it’s possible that the bassist really is a creature from beyond space and time.

Invoker or Invokee?

Anyway, they were fun. Sadly – and this problem followed all the bands this evening – even though they were clearly playing with gusto and had a lot of skill, it was impossible to get a clear sense of what their music was all about, because the sound system was absolutely appalling. In a small room with low ceilings it’s a really bad idea to turn it up to 11, and on top of that the mixing didn’t seem to be very clear. There was a huge amount of that low-key electric humming sound when the bands weren’t playing, so I think something was wrong with the set up. In the tight confines of this space, the extreme volume simply meant that you couldn’t make out any sound beyond a roar. Taking these photos actually hurt when I crouched near the speakers (though maybe that was another manifestation of the dark will of the Elder Gods). Live Inn Rosa is vastly superior to Chop, and if you go there you would be well advised to wear earplugs. Though last time I went the sound was fine, so maybe it was just last night’s technicians…

After The Lechery From Mars we made a switch to the band Baal, a three piece that could probably best be described as operatic hardcore: a kind of high-tension mix of bands like Insurge with good old fashioned hardcore power, Ministry meets ebm. You can hear them at their myspace page, and their website gives a nice range of promotional pictures that pretty much capture their style. Their visual style is very reminiscent of post-apocalyptic, mad-max style survivalist, but when they played Chop they had added zombie-attack style injuries to their necks. It’s hard to see in the photos I took but it really gives them a zombie survivor look. Have we finally stumbled onto Zombiecore?

Post-apocalyptic Magua got bit!

It’s a nice mixture of post-apocalyptic zombie survivor, punk, and basic hardcore aggression. I frankly thought that hard core was long dead, smothered by its own genre restrictions,  but it’s nice to see new things being done with it in the city of lights … hardly surprising though, considering the amazing quality of Japanese live acts. Which makes the terrible sound mixing even more of a disappointment – these bands should have been raising the roof with their style, aggression and skills, but instead we were all being stifled like experimental subjects for some kind of new sonic death ray. Hopefully next time I see them the sound mixing will be better, and I’ll be able to experience the full joys of this new musical genre, Zombiecore!

 

I have always had a strong suspicion that the Pink Floyd song Wish You Were Here is a homage to Ivan Denisovich, the fictional figure of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s famous novel of the same name. This possibility doesn’t become clear until you’ve churned through Solzhenitsyn’s opus – A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago, and The First Circle at the minimum – because the references are oblique and cunning. They’re not so sneaky that I couldn’t ferret them out in Year 12 of high school, when I was obssessed with Pink Floyd and doing a full review of Solzhenitsyn for my special topic in English. Do a search on the internet and you’ll find all sorts of theories about what the song is really about, but they’re all wrong, because it’s about the Soviet prison camps and particularly, about the injustice visited on Soviet soldiers returning from the Great Patriotic War.

The big clue is in the following line:

And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
located somewhere in the middle of the song. This is exactly what happened to a huge number of Soviet soldiers – captured by the Germans but then rescued by the advancing red army, they were suspected by red army political agents to have been corrupted into the ways of the West, and thus to be ideologically suspect, so were banished to the Gulag for a period of 5 or 10 years after the war.
The first line of the song also evokes a strong image of prison camp tales, the train line passing through the vast and unforgiving wilderness of Russia to its cruel destination:
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
and follows with a sneaky reference to the ever-present stool-pigeons of the society Solzhenitsyn describes when it follows up this “can you tell” with “A smile from a veil?” Large sections of the song also speak to the disillusionment that Solzhenitsyn describes in Cancer Ward and The First Circle:
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have you found? The same old fears.
I think the latter part of this song is also about the futility of revolution, and the way that it always seems to shake the same filthy power mongers to the top. It’s an anthem to cynicism, really, which is pretty much what Solzhenitsyn managed to put together over the best part of his literary career. There’s an enormous amount of cynicism in Pink Floyd’s work – the song Mother (delivered at its best, in my opinion, by Sinead O’Connor) drips with cynical venom, for example, and The Wall Part 3 may seem like overly rebellious stupidity to anyone under the age of 30, but to anyone who experienced British schools in the 70s it is 100% spot on in its nastiness. They certainly give it a try, but it’s a rare Englishman who can match the cynicism of your average Russian, and Pink Floyd during the era of Roger Waters were exemplars of those few who were more than up to the task. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that they would have been able to take on the deep, dark and pure cynicism of early Solzhenitsyn. Without David Gilmour I don’t know how they would have avoided sublimating into pure darkness – how Solzhenitsyn does it I can’t even begin to guess.
So, I think Pink Floyd rote a song in homage to Solzhenitsyn’s experiences and never bothered to tell their fans what it was about. If Iron Maiden can make their most famous effort from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, then why not? Good literature has always been the foundation stone of good rock, and Pink Floyd are no exception. So next time you’re listening to this fine song, spare a thought for all those people who only took the steel rail one way …

Is it Gypsies and Lace?

About a week or two ago I went to another goth-lolita night courtesy of a la Mode Tokyo. Three of the bands were the same as the last time I went, and the night seemed to be running on something of a steampunk theme. One of the bands, Strange Artifact, even claims to play “Steampunk Music,” and have been invited to the steampunk worlds fair (in Washington, I think) this year. Which got me thinking, what actually is “steampunk rock”? The picture above shows the singer from Strange Artifact – she is wearing a kind of gypsy/lace/punky outfit. The picture below is her bassist, who was wearing a gasmask last time but this time just looks like a standard leather-and-spandex rocker.

Parlour music, Ikebukuro style...

So I’m not sure what makes them steampunk. The other band that seems to have a bit of a steampunk styling is Black Dead Butterflies, pictured below in their pirate capes. These guys are calling themselves a Gothic Unit and styling themselves as lovers (I don’t know if they are). Surely pirate lesbians have a steampunk element?

Lesbian pirates are steampunk ... right?

So what is steampunk rock? As a genre steampunk literature seems to be marked out by a few simple properties:

  • Victoriana and the general industrial/technological trappings of the steam age
  • A fascination with Europe and European history
  • Girls in lead roles

The last part might not seem obvious but it seems to me that there is always a lead female character in a steampunk story, at least all the ones I’ve read. Philip Pullman, Stephen Hunt, Scott Westerfield, Steven Harper, are examples that spring to mind. Obviously steampunk as a literary genre is also not so perfectly defined, but it seems to have this as a strong element. And the goth-lolita scene is really noticeable for the prominence of women as organizers, performers and traders within the scene. So they at least have this in common with steampunk. But shouldn’t music genres be at least partly defined in terms of their musical style? What makes steampunk rock steampunk rather than just rock? Or is it just gothic rock wearing a bit more brass and lace, with the odd lesbian pirate thrown in?

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