What is Steampunk?

What is Steampunk?

11/11/2021Written by Malika Andress

In November we are hosting our annual Steampunks in Space event, but many people want to know “what is Steampunk?”

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mascot Telescope Right

Hello, my name is Malika and I am a Steampunk… yes, alongside having the best job in the universe, making cakes, living with a Dalek and loving all things science fiction, about 15 years ago I discovered a cultural phenomenon called Steampunk and I jumped right in!

If you ask ten different Steampunks “what is Steampunk?” you will get ten different answers. Now, that could be based on their level of immersion, their time being a Steampunk, their route in, their age, their other pastimes, and all manner of factors, but there are no rules in Steampunk, so they could all be right, and in a community of splendid individuals, most people won’t question or argue with your ideas.

One friend once described Steampunk as “Early Downton Abbey with Meccano” and in a simplistic way (the fashion and gadgets) that is a good visual summary for the “steam curious”.

The term Steampunk originally comes from literature and the basis of the movement definitely grew from the arts. Many people point to an author called K.W. Jeter who coined the term “steam punk” to cover a theme within books of the time, however, the themes of alternative history, steam power, cogs, gears and time travel pre-date the term.

The routes for me are most definitely H G Wells, Jules Verne and the imaginations of Victorian inventors.  The idea that time travel exists, computers are steam powered, Brunel built giant gear whirring automata and Queen Victoria was a steam powered monarch.

Steampunk contraption from Wild Wild West

This may sound like utter madness, but it is all about having fun with your imagination, spending time with like minded (and VERY polite) people, making gadgets, dressing up, drinking tea and being splendid.

You will definitely have seen Steampunk in the mainstream and maybe never realised; the Will Smith film Wild Wild West is filled with Steampunk gadgets, McCain chips had a Steampunk machine making chips in one of its TV adverts, the opening credits for Doctor Who, Mattel launched a Steampunk doll as part of their Monster High range and there have been Steampunk cakes on the Great British Bake Off, to name but a few.

Can I attend a Steampunk event as a non-Steampunk?

Can I attend a Steampunk event as a non-Steampunk?

Absolutely! There is only one rule to being a Steampunk, you must be splendid. This means that it is a very welcoming community, who love people to come along and enjoy the spectacle and immerse themselves in all the fun happenings.

Obviously, the splendid nature should extend to everybody and there is a definite split between those who enjoy being photographed and those who don’t, so if you are attending to photograph people, please ensure you are polite and ask permission (civil and friendly photographers are always welcome).

Going to an event is also a great way to meet local groups, buy outfits and props, as well as just have a great day out with lovely imaginative people.

What is Tea Duelling?

What is Tea Duelling?

At many events you will see the “extreme Steampunk sport” of Tea Duelling. This was created by Major Tinker and Doctor Geof as a way for well mannered Steampunks to solve any contentious matters in an amicable and fun way.

The basic premise is competitive biscuit dunking, but with a defined structure that must be followed; the biscuit must be a Malted Milk, there must be an officiate (called a Tiffin Mistress/Master), the beverage should be no less than 65 degrees at the time of competition, a count is given where two thirds of the biscuit must remain submerged, and a clean nom (full biscuit consumed without a “splosh”, “splash” or “splatter”) must be achieved to win.

The rules are a little lengthier, but it is a hilarious sport to watch, competitors get a free biscuit, and anybody can participate (they host gluten free, lactose free etc. rounds).

How do I become a Steampunk?

How do I become a Steampunk?

Go to events is the first thing you should do. Don’t worry about creating characters, making outfits or anything else that may bring stress in your early Steampunk life, just go to an event as yourself.

Here you will meet people to talk to, you can get ideas and fully understand the Steampunk scene in your part of the world.

I have attended Steampunk events in the UK, Europe and the US and it is a very different look and feel, although it is always welcoming.

Most cities and counties will have a Steampunk group, so by attending events you can immerse yourself locally. There are also online communities and events, especially at the moment with people still unsure about attending live events.

  • Sign up to Steampaper (monthly free listings email of all UK events and happenings)
  • Join the British Steampunk Community to find your local group and chat with UK based Steampunks.
  • Do NOT go to eBay/Amazon and buy the mass produced “Steampunk” outfits and gadgets, there are hundreds of amazing independent makers and traders, as well as some really cheap and easy upcycling options from charity shops.
  • Come to Steampunks in Space and have a full day out enjoying the National Space Centre, with the addition of authors, artists, exhibitions, performances, crafts, traders and all manner of wonderous steam powered delights.