John Cusack may have explained it best in the film High Fidelity: “To me, making a mixtape is like writing a letter – there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do.” One of those challenges is figuring out how to include every band that deserves a spot. But the sad—and also wonderful thing about the situation is that there are just too many talented steampunk musicians performing right now to include everyone. So try to think of this list as more of a mixtape; carefully selected and lovingly crafted by Xerposa for your listening pleasure.
Another challenge that arises is answering the question “Is this band really and truly steampunk?” In my opinion, yes, each of these artists can be given that moniker, but one of the awesome things about steampunk is that it is so nebulous. It defies easy definition. This genre of music is omnivorous; it absorbs elements of punk, cabaret, industrial, gypsy, even circus, and makes from them something fresh and innovative. And that, for me, is a big part of what steampunk is all about.
Some of these bands you know, and some I think you are about to fall in love with. A few are my personal favorites, while others have been recommended by the readers of Xerposa. So break out the headphones (the fancy ones that you spent too much money on) and enjoy some tracks by these fine musicians.
|15.) Steam Powered Giraffe
Steam Powered Giraffe is a pantomime musical group from San Diego, CA. The band is composed of robots (so the story goes) and the music consists of overlapping harmonies set to guitar, mandolin, and tambourine. The band is known to do improvisational skits, and from the costumes to the robotic gestures, their aesthetic is dead-on.
|14.) Johnny Hollow “Worse things”
Johnny Hollow is composed of singer Janine White, digital artist Vincent Marcone and cellist Kitty Thompson. This Ontario band has an unusual history; the group arose out of Marcone’s digital art project My Pet Skeleton, which White became the voice of. Johnny Hollow’s aim is to put an end to what they see as a “creative famine in the current state of our popular culture,” which I must say is a pretty accurate description of Justin Bieber.
|13.) Creature Feature
The vampiric California natives Curtis RX (vocals) Erik X (organ) look like they just wandered out of one of Tim Burton’s nightmares. Creature Feature blends vintage horror visuals with alluring beats and an added dose of punk anarchy.
|12.) Humanwine “Rivolta Silenziosa”
This gypsypunk group reminiscent of Gogol Bordello originally sprouted up in New England, but they’ve been traveling the globe together since 2001 (in a 72 Passenger school bus converted to run on used vegetable oil). Musical nomads Holly Brewer and M@ McNiss combine steampunk’s emphasis on reusing old materials for new, creative purposes with gypsy-folk tunes.
|11.) Marquis of Vaudeville
“An Ordinary Day”
This glam psychedelic group from Dallas TX might give you an idea of what Bowie would sound like if he went steampunk. The vocals here have a honeyed strained quality that juxtaposes nicely with the rock-infused rhythms. Imminently listenable.
|10.) The Dresden Dolls
Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione make up this American group from Boston. Artistic and theatrical in style, Palmer doesn’t like labels, but has referred to their sound as “Brechtian punk cabaret.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s catchy, and this track especially captures the steampunk obsession with the machinery of the heart.
|9.) Rasputina “The Olde Headboard”
Rasputina is a cello-driven rock ensemble headed by Melora Creager. One of the band’s main ambitions is to prove what a powerful and dynamic instrument the cello can be, and I think they’re doing a mighty fine job of it. And might I add, the cello may also be one of the sexiest instruments. Check out the video for this track to see their distinctive take on a steampunk fairytale aesthetic.
|8.) The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing “BRUNEL”
This band hails from London, their name a nod to Jack the Ripper. You may be too distracted by the rollicking guitars to notice that this song tells the story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (a Victorian engineer who built bridges and steamships). The band describes their sound as “crusty punk meets cockney sing-songs meets grindcore in the 1880s.” Stop, you had me at ‘crusty punk.’
|7.) Beats Antique
Beats Antique takes the idea of steampunk hybrid music to a whole new level. Inspired by Middle Eastern belly dance, hip hop, jazz, classical Indian and North African Gnawa music, Zoe Jakes (a tribal belly dancer) has collaborated with Sidecar Tommy and David Satori to create a hypnotic and enticing new sound.
|6.) The Cassettes
The Cassettes are Washington D.C.’s self-described “Musical Explorers Society.” They mix vaudeville steampunk with synth-infused folk. Fronted by Shelby Cinca, the band has a lively energy and a great stage presence. Falling on the Wild West side of steampunk, these gents play a mean barn party and their music is both fun and accessible. Definitely a band to watch.
This Brit band has been profiled by the likes of NME and the BBC, probably because they take circus cabaret pop and blend it with a Victorian style all their own. Working best here are the aspirated vocals, old-school ivory keys and gramophone static.
|4.) Abney Park
I had to do it. It just wouldn’t be a list of steampunk bands without Abney Park. Plus I’ve had this tune stuck in my head since Xerposa covered its use in the HBO series True Blood. “Sleep Isabella” blends gypsy strings with the rasps of electric guitars. The sultry rhythms are sure to seduce you.
|3.) Professor Elemental
“The Fighting Trousers”
Steampunk’s finest rapping Professor combines comedy, satire, and raw hip-hop talent in this charged attack aimed at his nemesis Mr B. Check out Xerposa’s interview with the undisputed winner of this rap battle.
Bonaparte is an electropunk band from Berlin. “You know Tolstoy? Well I know Playboy,” boasts lead-singer Tobias Jundt in this 2008 tongue-in-cheek tune. Jundt collaborates with up to 20 other artists at any given time, giving the band’s live performances the feel of a hedonist circus.
“The One Eyed Maiden”And our proud winner……Darkly gothic with a sinister beat, this is industrial electronica at its best. The music video for the track calls to mind Jack the Ripper prowling the rain-soaked streets of old London, which works well with the occult and mysterious feel of the music, not to mention the shifting gears and gadgetry.