Published: Jul 23, 2008 06:50 AM
Modified: Jul 23, 2008 06:50 AM
You might not imagine the Victorian era -- think gaslights, steam engines, elaborately layered clothing and refined social manners -- would have much in common with the goth and punk subcultures, with their tendency toward dark music, body piercings and a vampire-influenced wardrobe.
But then you probably haven't discovered Steampunk.
Steampunk -- sometimes called "neo-Victorianism" -- is an emerging subculture that marries the culture and petticoated trappings of the late 19th century with the mohawked, metal-studded ethos of more modern sensibilities. It's a growing movement in places like New York, London -- and Carrboro.
"I can't say there's anything else like it anywhere in North Carolina," said Kara O'Dor, aka Klaude Davenport, half of the Davenport Sisters, who air a weekly Steampunk radio show on WCOM and this weekend will host something called the Clockwork Ball at the Station at Southern Rail. "Steampunk rose out of the literary arts, the science fiction and romance of the Victorian era. It's an easy step to take that off the page and start dressing up and waltzing and generally acting like a fool."
O'Dor and Emma Cabrera -- alter ego, Claude Davenport - will host the Clockwork Ball on Saturday, with music starting at 10 p.m. A dance instructor will be on hand to teach people how to do steps such as the waltz and the mazurka.
What kind of music is Steampunk? The Davenports call it "Music O' Gears," and it includes, they say, anything that has a vintage feel -- "jazz, blues, swing, dark cabaret, gypsy punk, and dance music from times gone by or times that never were." A typical playlist on their radio show, "The Clockwork Cabaret" (Tuesday, midnight, WCOM, 103.5 FM) might include artists such as Tom Waits, The Decemberists, Dr. Steel, The Puppini Sisters, Beirut, Rasputina, The Hellblinki Sextet, Rickie Lee Jones, Flogging Molly and the Two-Man Gentleman Band.
The Davenport Sisters grew out of O'Dor and Cabrera's work as DJs for goth and punk shows. They each had a love of Victorian-era literature and society -- especially the fringes, like the science fiction of Jules Verne and the experiments of Nikola Tesla, a brilliant but eccentric pioneer in the fields of electricity and magnetism. All those interests found an outlet in Steampunk.
"It's something fresh, and I think a lot of people were a little disenchanted with some of the other subcultures," O'Dor said. "We sort of fell into this. It's unique and fun, and we decided to jump on it and see how far it goes."
Recently it went to Tarboro, where the pair was invited to participate in a monthly downtown celebration. Dressed to the nines in their own quirky take on Victorian-era finery, they performed in the town square and led a Fake History Walking Tour of the town.
"We would lead the group to a street corner, for example, and say, 'On this spot, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison dueled with lightning,'" Cabrera said. "People have been very friendly and open to it all. They seem to enjoy what we're doing. It's so silly that it's hard not to have a good time. We don't take ourselves too seriously, and that's what keeps it light and fun."
Where does one pick up a good Victorian petticoat these days? Most steampunkers, the Davenports say, make their own.
"You can't go down to Ye Olde Bustle Shoppe anymore," O'Dor said. "Do it yourself is a big part of the Steampunk thing. You need a good eye and imagination and a little bit of ability to take various scraps of things and piece them together into a tatterdemalion sort of outfit. You see a curtain and go, 'I can turn that into a petticoat and bloomers.' You wind up with these wonderfully strange Victorian looks."
Oddly enough -- or perhaps not -- passersby tend to respond warmly, she said.
"The Victorian era was very big on good manners and appropriate behavior," she said. "We try to carry ourselves with a certain amount of decorum. If you walk down the street all pierced and dressed in black, people will cross the street to avoid you. But if you put on a Victorian gown, they smile and greet you. Who know those things could go together?"
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