Monday, 27 October 2014

God in the Steam

This week has been quite special (and busy), with the arrival of the 2014 Gothic Festival to Mancunian shores. The Steampunk art exhibition I was part of - Aerial Burglars of Cottonopolis, by the Corpse Collective - was very well received and seen by around 150 people during it's 3 day pop-up. The photo at the bottom of this post shows a lovely nod in our direction by the Manchester Evening News :)

For SUB, the main event was Friday afternoon's Steampunk tour of the Power Hall, afternoon tea and panel discussions. There were some very interesting discussions and demonstrations on fabricating Steampunk artefacts, the Victorian martial art of Bartitsu (used by Sherlock Holmes & the Suffragettes! and no, that's not the name of a rock band... yet) and Steampunk in graphic novels and films.

Claire and I were privileged to be able to present the idea of finding God in Steampunk, which was well received. There were also some excellent questions at the end, in which we were able to confirm that this is not a suggestion to return to Victorian theological thinking and values. Rather, a way of taking inspiration from those times and using that period and this gothic culture to enhance contemporary theological thinking and experience. Particularly to encourage thinking around possible better future worlds, using Steampunk creativity as good stewards of this earth (recycling, up cycling and so on) & to imagine the Steampunk tendency to fix the broken and invent the new being used in the realm of social justice.

I've added this to the Past Events page, where you can find a link to the presentation we used. There were some wonderful people at the event and contact details have been exchanged, so I look forward to seeing where this road takes us in the future. There is so much more to explore in the realm of Steampunk Spirituality and looking through a similar lens more widely at the Gothic - looking through a theological lens darkly!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Steampunk music

Clockwork Quartet ... even though there's quite a lot of them in this picture!
I've been tracking down Steampunk music recently. What I've found on the internet is interesting, in so far as there are bands being listed as Steampunk that I wasn't expecting and the soundscape isn't quite as rigid as I thought it would be.

So, for example, The Dresden Dolls, Emilie Autumn and Jill Tracy appeared on Steampunk lists. I don't think any of those groups would say they are Steampunk, but their music obviously sounds right for the subculture. And how is that achieved? Well, that's difficult to pin down.

It seems to me that there is a clear strand of Victorian/Edwardian inspired music, stretching into the 1940s - so a lot of vaudeville and cabaret sounds, accompanied by sound effects from the early 20th century, such as broken toys, circus noises, etc. This is exemplified by the likes of Abney Park and The Dresden Dolls. There's also a range of atmospheric and ethereal sound featuring in this Steampunk collective, such as from Ethereal Mists and Jill Tracy.

Then there are some quite sonically different bands being thrown into the mix. This can be through lyrical content with clear Steampunk themes, such as 'hip hop' (or rather, 'chap hop') from the likes of Professor Elemental and Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer, who write songs about tea and daring adventures and the British aristocracy inventing mad things. But also some outliers that I've not expected, like black metal band Eibon La Furies (who are apparently inspired by Victorian themes) and Emilie Autumn (dubbed Victoriandustrial)...

It's quite interesting to see this wide collection of disparate bands being brought together by enthusiasts under a single banner. It's also nice for a genre of music to be so sonically diverse. May be that represents the diversity of the characters to be found within the subculture. Some of the bands I'm sure would be surprised to be included, but others (like Steam Powered Giraffe) are clearly targeted at that subculture. Just google Steampunk Music and search throughout the resulting lists - I hope you find something new and interesting and if so, let us know in the comments!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Antichrist (2009) - review

This weekend Yvonne and I finally got round to watching the controversial Lars Von Triers film Antichrist (2009). We love movies and have seen a couple of Lars films before, so knew the kind of experience we were letting ourselves in for. He's not our favourite director, but we appreciate some elements of his style, especially (quite importantly for film) the visuals and the sound.

I guess Yvonne and I might be watching his films in the wrong order, as this is apparently the first in Lars' Depression Trilogy - we've already seen the second, Melancholia (2011), which is also visually and sonically great and a bit weird, but not seen the final instalment yet, Nymphomaniac (2013).

Antichrist had a most beautiful and heart-wrenching opening scene that gives us the premise. The locations used were simple, effective and beautiful especially in slow-motion. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg did a great job too - past interviews with them have highlighted just how gruelling the shoot was, as it's an emotionally extreme film. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Charlotte won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance.

Antichrist has several candid and extreme moments of sex and/or violence that make the film tough to watch in places. But it's in context and makes sense - just don't watch the film at all if you are not comfortable with those kind of scenes.

Aside from the subjects of pain, grief and despair (the three beggars central to the film), there are interesting theological references to explore. These include the darker roles of physical nature (the characters travel to 'Eden', but then refer to the nature that surrounds them as Satan's Church) and human nature (the actions of the characters both historically and in the present, consciously and subconsciously). The Pete Rollins (writer, philosopher & challenger of traditional theology) review of the film explores this a little more and is worth a read.

If you've seen the film, let us know your views in the comments.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Manchester's Autumn Festivals - Gothic

I couldn't complete a round up of this season's festivals without visiting the Gothic Manchester Festival. The youngest of the festivals in this blog collection, it opened last year with a bang. This year presents a more concentrated affair, spread over a long weekend rather than all week. But with Manchester Metropolitan University putting on a wide array of wonderful gothic-themed activity all year round (google their HiP programme), this is no bad thing. Keep up the energy and creativity MMU!

Every good festival should have a fringe & this year see's the return of the Corpse Collective with a pop-up art exhibition inspired by the Steampunk theme of the festival (a few SUB members, including myself, have work in this, so would be great to see you sometime Wed night, Thurs afternoon/night or Fri night at Sacred Trinity to guide you through it). While not an official opener, it's preview/launch night on Wednesday Oct 22nd will be the first event you can go to. Support this group of local artists as they explore different facets of Victorian Mancunian Steampunk and get you in the mood for the festival proper.

Thursday Oct 23rd eases you in with evening events at Ian Anthony Burgess Foundation, Friday Oct 24th is jam-packed. Twisted Tales at Deansgate Waterstones opens Friday with lunchtime discussions and readings about horror literature and the politics of austerity. Run from there to MOSI for an afternoon of Steampunk wonder, including afternoon tea, a guided tour, talks and demonstrations (Claire and myself will be on the panel for this, so come along and support us). Run from there to Ian Anthony Burgess Foundation for an event about gothic landscapes. Then come back to Sacred Trinity  from 9pm to mull it all over at festival-endorsed club night ARA (run by SUB regular Kolyn and where you'll find me guest DJing this month as well). Come in your Victorian / Steampunk finery for this VictoriARA theme night, see the Corpse Collective exhibition, chat to friends new and old about the festival and dance your New Rocks off!

Saturday brings a full day at Ian Anthony Burgess Foundation on the subject of Gothic Spaces and Places, with panels throughout the day and a wine reception to conclude. Finally, Sunday rounds off a very full festival with a series of tours (Gothic Manchester, John Rylands, then Monstrous Manchester) throughout the day. In the middle of this is the ever-wonderful Rosie Garland (aka Rosie Lugosi) regaling us with tales from her life and her books in the terribly gothic John Rylands Library. If that weren't enough happiness to make a goth explode, there will also be a fabulous cake from the Conjurer's Kitchen! The festival concludes with a jolly evening of ghoulish fun at Fab Cafe with a Vampire Pub Quiz and entertainment all night long - fancy dress encouraged!