Just when old sages had declared that the very notion of dressing up and freaking out had disappeared from popular culture a new twist in the plot has emerged.
For several years the popular media notion had been that the youth tribes had disappeared off our streets and that is was not like the 'good old days' when skinheads would beat everyone up and there were several different wardrobes to choose from.
Of course, like all these media cliches, this was no exactly true and a whole host of mini tribes have been running around on our high streets for the past decade- from the various shades of metal heads to indie kids to hipsters to the so called chavs…each one with their own distinct dress codes and soundtracks.
Added to this is now Steampunk, which looks like a take on the early goth look if it was transported back to 1890 and to a time of industrial revolution prowess and a real sense of the machine as king that tallies neatly with sci fi. No-one can agree where the scene started and their are many antecedents of similar things going on back through pop culture and especially to the early goth scene with that fast forward to the future thing allied witha fascination for the gloomy yet glamorous, forward thinking cam do attitude and yet a very conservative Victorian age.
Initially a sub genre of science fiction from the late eighties that recast sci fi into the Victorian times, Steampunk has become definitive musical sub genre where dressing up in Victoriana but with a shade of the sci future links together a disperate selection of bands who are only loosely connected musically. The diversity of the bands is breath taking from industrial, Darkwave and goth to singalong punk, folk and Indian raga to vaudeville. The bands are loosely linked by their flamboyant Victoriana wardrobes and their fictional back stories where the reinvent themselves as characters in their own stories.
Originally a Goth band (and there does seem to be a lot of Goth DNA embedded in steam punk) Abney Park are from Seattle and are looked on by some as the quintessential steampunk band. Their initial dark and heavy brooding sound, which mixed Goth, industrial and black metal was embedded into their new Steampunk identity which they took on in 2006 when they recast themselves as Steampunk. They even went as far to invent a sci Fi backdrop for themselves and new Victoriana stage names before making an unlikley tilt towards a world music twist to their sound on recent releases.
Hailing from London gives this steampunk crew of Dickensian ragamuffins the added advantage of having the perfect backdrop. The band, who are the punk wing of steampunk, steep themselves in the city's Victotiana. They describe themselves as “Crusty punk meets cockney sing-songs meets grindcore in the 1880s” and took their name from the graffiti that appeared above the blood stained evidence discarded by Jack The Ripper. Sounding like Blyth Power or one of those melodic bands that appeared in the Crass period, the band also amusingly had a fallout with EMI when they decided to call their debut album Now That's What I Call Steampunk…volume one. Rather than face a costly court battle the band agreed to change the album title to The Steampunk Album That Cannot Be Named for Legal Reasons. Their songs are either cockney knees ups, Oi anthems or proto metal punk assaults and are sing, amusingly, from the perspective of a punk band operating in 1890.
Named afer a gene found in mice and fronted by the sari wearing Chandrika Nat, Sunday Driver explore a sometimes Indian and Carnatic flavoured take on the form that makes a powerful change from the more Goth industrial flavours of most of the bands. They also have many vaudevile touches but with a dark, atmospheric undetow as they fuse all their influences. Popular at festivals with their lush and tranced out Indian flavours and their added fusions, Sunday Driver are quite special.