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Author Topic: What are the boundaries for steampunk music?  (Read 3674 times)
LoneTraveler
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« on: July 06, 2015, 04:21:04 am »

I see that the title is a bit confusing, what I'm asking is what makes a song qualify as steampunk? What qualities does it require to be considered Steampunk? I have to say most of what I see considered "steampunk" music on, let's say Youtube, is basically some electronic with a grinding noise here and a tick-tock there, and I hate that. I wish fans would be more creative, and yes I know there's a couple of steam-rock bands (hhhnnnnn-Abney Park-nnnnnnnggggg) but they don't really do anything for me. The only mainstream (you might even say main-"steam"... I'll walk myself out) is "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave (https://youtu.be/H5dt_8xXgqo?list=LLj5k16RWnVkL7g1b-YZOoRA). Okay, I kind of went on a mini-rant there. Like I said in the beginning, all I want to know is what qualifies as steampunk music.
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« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2015, 05:10:34 am »

You know, this is something I have ranted about for a long time.  Steampunk is a literary genre that has mushroomed into many arts and practical disciplines, but music is not, and has never been developed in the same way as those other areas.

To begin with, most music labelled as Steampunk relies heavily on ambiental techniques to create an exotic atmosphere that either smacks of Far East voyages, or a carnival, or some such thing.  Like, for example, cinematic effects, and atonal scales, minor scales, and various sampled sound effects. But if you notice most of the base of the music is basically modern music which has no shred of relationship to actual 19th. C. music, and this is what I remain most critical about.

For that you would need to start blending Western music from the classical (e.g. Mozart) and Romantic (e.g. Beethoven, Liszt, etc.) periods in some sort of anachronistic way with modern styles of music. That has not really happened, so there are very few examples. You could perhaps start blending more modern music, such as Late 19th C Contemporary-Classic (e.g. Debussy) or regional popular music on the early 20th C such Blues, and Ragtime Piano.

For Dieselpunk it's much easier because you have Jazz (Swing) and the form of the latter two is much more closely related to Rock and Roll which is what we consider contemporary and recognizable to our ears (thus more palatable perhaps for pop music listeners).  You could even throw in some Country/Westerm-Swing music from the period as well (yes there's such a thing, the music of oue fellow Austin-ite Lyle Lovett is an example).


Steampunk Ragtime-Rap? An imaginary  collaboration between Ragtime writer George Bosford ("Black And White Rag," 1908) and Eminem ("Without Me," 2002), done by some brilliant You Tuber

Without me - ragtime remix


Because of that it's said that there are a lot of Steampunks who play music, but not that many musicians who play Steampunk, does that make sense?

Dieselpunk has fared much better with the introduction of the "ElectroSwing" genre - actually not related to the Dieslpunk movement, but it emerged on it's own (thus proving my point that we, the public general, relate much better to 20th. C music):

The song below is Parov Stellar's "Booty Swing" and is being danced to by Techno Shuffle dancers including some Charleston-dance steps @ around 2 minutes:

OLD SCHOOL SHUFFLE


Irving Berlin's 1927 "Putting on the Ritz" performed by Club de Belugas, featuring Fred Astaire (video find courtesy our own Brassgoggles' MW Bailey)
Club de Belugas ft. Fred Astaire - Puttin' On The Ritz (High Quality)


More Electro Swing (starts with an original "Song of the Volga Boatmen" a 1941 swing piece)
Swing and Electro Swing Collection
« Last Edit: July 06, 2015, 05:56:35 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2015, 06:12:01 am »

Because of that it's said that there are a lot of Steampunks who play music, but not that many musicians who play Steampunk, does that make sense?


Quite so, Admiral.

I have myself observed that there are certainly steampunk bands (I mean, they wear goggles and/or corsets so they must be), but steampunk music is harder to spot.  I do enjoy Abney Park with the interesting mix of rock, country, ragtime, swing and Middle Eastern elements they manage to get in their albums. That might be as close to a steampunk sound as has yet been achieved, albeit more the 'sky pirate' side of steampunk than the more pure Victorian.

You suggest what 'real' steampunk music might be like. I should be most interested if other BG members can provide examples of exactly what you describe.
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« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2015, 06:49:21 am »

I've been disappointed with "steampunk music". It doesn't help that late 19th century/early 20th popular music wasn't all that great. The Library of Congress has a playlist of early recordings.

Player pianos are clearly steampunk. There are a lot of old piano rolls to choose from. There were more advanced devices. Here's one of the best - a Mills Novelty Company Violano Virtuoso, automatically playing two violins.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgGUdK30VyU

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« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2015, 08:18:31 am »

There are a few more examples we can scrounge up from the Interwebs

Rap-Classical blends or perhaps more accurately sounds to me like a Classical Trip-Hop sound IMHO

Classic Rap Instrumental Beat 2014


Epic and energetic classical hip hop banger - Kill The Strings


Other more exotic examples which simply blend classical styles with Metal and Hip Hop and other modern genres include the music from out very strange friends Jill and Louie from the duo "Rose Noire" in Japan

Metal-Classic blend.  Rose Noire's "Dual Evil"


Hip/Trip Hop Classic blend. Rose Noire's "Alice"
Rose Noire [Alice] MV FULL


Something very similar in the West: "Hard Gangsta Rap Violin Beat"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVWJKs_q9pU
« Last Edit: July 06, 2015, 08:32:38 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
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« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2015, 10:37:49 am »

"What are the boundaries for steampunk music?"

To be honest there aren't any really.

I've always maintained if it feels like Steampunk, or is mde by Steampunks, then it's Steampunk music.

There is some blurb about it on my website here:http://www.steampunkdj.co.uk/about.html & here:http://www.steampunkdj.co.uk/music.html.


Also some examples of tracks I've used (although it's not totally up to date)  in the notes section of my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/steampunkdj/notes
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« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2015, 11:02:19 am »

Quite so, many sub-cultures are defined by their music and are left searching around for a cohesive idiom as a result. Having it's roots in a more literary source I find Steampunk to be a wonderful antithesis of this. It has a strong idiom, so rich in irony that you never quite know when it's being serious or not. Usually not.
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« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2015, 01:27:14 pm »

So what I've learned, basically, is that "true" steampunk music is just about anything from 1890-1910ish, the Victorian era was pretty sparse when it came to music, and that steampunk music basically has no boundaries. Interesting. This was really enjoyable to read, especially considering it was my first post. I thank you all for your replies and and for the awesome music links.
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« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2015, 01:34:53 pm »

"true" steampunk music is just about anything from 1890-1910ish
Not really, that would just be Victorian / Edwardian music.  Steampunk isn't about re-enactment.
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« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2015, 01:38:36 pm »

If you like a piece of music; buy it. The worst thing anyone can do, is sit there wondering what other people might think of them, if they realised they liked this or that.

To be insecure and continually defer to the abstract taste of others is definitely NOT splendid. Be you and not just the you, you think others think you are, or should be. Smiley
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« Reply #10 on: July 06, 2015, 02:07:59 pm »

"true" steampunk music is just about anything from 1890-1910ish
Not really, that would just be Victorian / Edwardian music.  Steampunk isn't about re-enactment.

Good point, I didn't think about that.
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« Reply #11 on: July 06, 2015, 02:13:35 pm »

There are as many versions of what people believe Steampunk Music to be as there are about what people believe Steampunk to be. And it's usually based upon what a person's pre-existing musical tastes are, or were, before discovering Steampunk.

I prefer the term 'Steampunk Friendly Music'.

And that can be anything a Steampunk and/or group of Steampunks likes really.

We don't all like the same things.
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« Reply #12 on: July 06, 2015, 02:16:39 pm »

I must say, i was myself so confused about steampunk music than i had to go by ear to identify it, leading to the following fiasco:
http://brassgoggles.co.uk/forum/index.php?topic=44735.0


I agree than ambience prevail over any factual definition. Personally, if i had a steampunk podcast, you will mostly hear more often  Celtic Women, Sarah McLachlan , The Decemberist, the Cirque Du Soleil soundtrack, The Dubliners , Il Divo, Celtic Thunder , Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman (with a bit of Omnia, Damn The Bard ,Sarah Anne Lawless, Eagle And Hawk and Jana Mashonee for my own inner universe )  than your Abney Park and Dr Steel as steampunk music, according to the first definition i had of it , should  give you the impression to live in a steampunk world.
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« Reply #13 on: July 06, 2015, 06:41:26 pm »

There are no definitions, period. Just labels attached to people who want to sell records.  The underlying problem in my mind is that the average Steampunk is no a fan of the Western middle 19th. C musical genres, and therefore we haven’t  incorporated any of that into our anachronistic fantasy.

Some time ago (one year perhaps?) we had a young Steampunk come in and tell us he was looking at pushing the classical music as he was trained (and / or in training - Violin, if I'm not mistaken), but I never heard back from him after a few posts.

So what I've learned, basically, is that "true" steampunk music is just about anything from 1890-1910ish, the Victorian era was pretty sparse when it came to music, and that steampunk music basically has no boundaries. Interesting. This was really enjoyable to read, especially considering it was my first post. I thank you all for your replies and and for the awesome music links.

Not exactly. It should cover the 1910's alright. but also go back further into the early 19th. C, say to include the late Classical Period.  By the way, for reference, the music Periods I refer to are this (this is where college music appreciation/history classes comes in very handy)

https://sites.google.com/site/classicalmusicinthe21stcentury/background/periods-of-classical-music
Quote
Baroque (1600 - 1750) e.g. JS Bach

 The Baroque period marked the beginning of what is commonly considered classical music. Music during this time developed from Renaissance music into the tonal music with which we are familiar today.

 Baroque music is primarily characterized by its polyphonic texture, meaning that the music contains 2 or more independent melodic voices.

 In particular, Baroque music is known for its use of the counterpoint. The counterpoint is a pretty complex musical idea, but in simpler terms, counterpoint uses different, independent musical lines that sound harmonious when played together.

 Characteristics of Baroque music include:
 Polyphonic texture: multiple melodic lines in different voices
 Unity of mood: each piece features a single emotion (i.e. a piece that begins happy will remain happy)
 Continuity of rhythm: rhythmic patterns are often repeated throughout a piece
 Repetition of melody: the melody is repeated; though it is distinct, it is not lyrical
 Terraced dynamics: dynamics change suddenly rather than gradually
 Ornamentation (music flourishes, often fast notes, to decorate the main note)
 Less use of instrumental music; large use of the harpsichord


Classical (1750 - 1830) eg Mozart

 Music from the Classical period shifted away from the Baroque period's emphasis on polyphonic texture and more towards a single melody with accompaniment. This created music with less texture but with a more clearly defined melody.

 Characteristics of Classical music include:
 Single melody with accompaniment: one voice carries the primary melody while another voice plays a simpler line that supports the melody

 Larger variety of keys, melodies, rhythms, and dynamics
 More contrast in a piece

 Shorter, clearer melodies than in Baroque music
 More emphasis on instrumental music

 Primary forms of composition: sonata, trio, string quartet, symphony, concerto


Romantic (1830 - 1920) eg Beethoven, Liszt, Tchaikovsky

 Music from the Romantic period is characterized by its much greater passion and expression than that of earlier periods. Romantic works display an expansion of form (like the key and instrumentation of a piece).

 Characteristics of Romantic music include:
 Freer form and more personal expression of emotion
 Emphasis on lyrical melodies and themes

 More modulation (change in key) to unexpected keys: the overall effect of this is that it is harder for the listener to predict what will happen next in the piece

 More chromaticism and scales other than major/minor
 Greater variety in pitch, dynamics, and rhythm
 Less traditional chord progressions

 Program music: more pieces inspired by literary/artistic sources
 Greater emphasis on nationalism: many composers infused cultural songs or dances into their works

Contemporary (1890/1920 - present): eg Debussy, Aaron Copland (This description below is incomplete IMHO) - it started in parallel with modernism in paintings and art around the turn of the century)

 The most conspicuous differentiation between classical music in the Contemporary period and in previous periods is the shift in tone. Whereas music from the Common Practice Period was largely tonal, much Contemporary music is atonal.

 Contemporary classical music can be divided into:

 20th-century Contemporary Classical Music:
 Varies greatly, no dominant style
 Increased use of dissonance

 21st-century Contemporary Classical Music:
 Huge variety in style, which include minimalism, experimentalism
 Contains a variety of influences, from world music to technology

 Many classical composers have written for film scores



« Last Edit: July 06, 2015, 06:47:37 pm by J. Wilhelm » Logged
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« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2015, 11:11:12 pm »

We could try re-phrasing the question; maybe,

"How far can we push the boundaries of what is regarded as Steampunk Music".

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« Reply #15 on: July 07, 2015, 07:42:22 am »

The underlying problem in my mind is that the average Steampunk is not a fan of the Western middle 19th. C musical genres, and therefore we haven’t  incorporated any of that into our anachronistic fantasy.
True. Here's "After the Ball", the biggest hit of the 1890s. First song to sell a million copies (of sheet music!)

"After the Ball"

To most modern ears, this is painful.

More hits from 1890-1920, the "Tin Pan Alley" era:

Hits from Tin Pan Alley.

(These are all original recordings. This is before electrical recording, and singers had to sing loud to drive the cylinder cutting phonograph. There are later covers of all those songs, so you can hear them with modern quality. It doesn't help much.)

There's a "player piano style", where all the keys are hit with the same force. Listen to "Saloon Roll" That's worth hearing. Most player pianos were like this. The more elaborate "reproducing pianos" were much rarer. (There were two main standards, Duo-Art and Welte-Mignon. They're incompatible, although a few very expensive pianos supported both systems.)

Chopin on a fully restored Duo-Art.

Anyway, that's what most people could listen to in the 1890-1910 period. This is why we have a problem with steampunk music.

« Last Edit: July 09, 2015, 07:42:27 pm by oldskoolpunk » Logged
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« Reply #16 on: July 07, 2015, 08:16:45 am »

The underlying problem in my mind is that the average Steampunk is not a fan of the Western middle 19th. C musical genres, and therefore we haven’t  incorporated any of that into our anachronistic fantasy.
True. Here's "After the Ball", the biggest hit of the 1890s. First song to sell a million copies (of sheet music!)

"After the Ball"

To most modern ears, this is painfull.

More hits from 1890-1920, the "Tin Pan Alley" era:

Hits from Tin Pan Alley.

(These are all original recordings. This is before electrical recording, and singers had to sing loud to drive the cylinder cutting phonograph. There are later covers of all those songs, so you can hear them with modern quality. It doesn't help much.)

There's a "player piano style", where all the keys are hit with the same force. Listen to "Saloon Roll" That's worth hearing. Most player pianos were like this. The more elaborate "reproducing pianos" were much rarer. (There were two main standards, Duo-Art and Welte-Mignon. They're incompatible, although a few very expensive pianos supported both systems.)

Chopin on a fully restored Duo-Art.

Anyway, that's what most people could listen to in the 1890-1910 period. This is why we have a problem with steampunk music.



But that's just period correct music (which I do occasionally include in my set) not Steampunk music
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« Reply #17 on: July 07, 2015, 11:07:19 am »

*snip*
But that's just period correct music (which I do occasionally include in my set) not Steampunk music
But no one has said that the three pieces above are Steampunk!  To generate Steampunk you need to combine the original article with newest techniques, styles, sensibilities, etc.  

Or let me put it this way.  If you don't know jack-squat about 19th. C history, then it's very difficult for you to write an anachronistic 19th C style Steampunk novel.  The same applies to music.

You need to know who Chopin, Liszt, Mahler, etc. are before you can even dream about how to adapt it to an anachronistic style. The closest Victorian Era music that will be remotely "lively" to a rocker's ears (for example) will be Ragtime and Early Blues music, as Debussy's music will instead be more "cinematic" in quality (as a lot of movie themes are actually contemporary classical music - like the Star Wars, or Close encounters of the Third Kind, for example).

But all that is very very late in the period. Most of the 19th. C music is relegated to that obscure radio station in the low end of the radio dial.  Somehow Tchaikovsky is simply not palatable to our modern ears - almost as if we had never tasted wine, and we were asked for the first time to take a sip.  Let me tell you, even the sweetest white wine will taste like rubbish to the child unexposed to wine.

Now we (contemporary folk) did adapt easily enough with Electro Swing without even using Dieselpunk at all.  Why?  Because we appreciate Jazz much better.  All popular music today comes from Jazz. We have plenty of movies that feature Jazz. We are awash in media from the 20th. C. It takes very little effort for a child to find Glenn Miller's 1940 recordings, or Irving Berlin's contemporary classical compositions.

We have plenty of recordings from the 20th. C and our music is much more closely related to Jazz derivatives. Technically and dogmatically, all Rock and Roll is categorised as an offshoot of Jazz, did you know that?  In fact Rock and Roll is as much Jazz as Swing is Jazz (ref. Henry Martin and Keith Waters, Jazz: The First 100 Years, Second Edition. Published by Thomson Wadsworth, ISBN: 0534628044).  

Again, this is taken directly from Western Music history lessons in college.  I strongly recommend buying a textbook on Jazz history and another one in the history of Western Music, to fully have a global idea on the progression of music through the Victorian Period. (ref. J.P. Burkholder, D.J. Grout, and C.V. Palisca,A History of Western Music, 9th. Ed. WW Norton ISBN 978-0-393-91829-8)

~ ~ ~

Quote
Anyway, that's what most people could listen to in the 1890-1910 period. This is why we have a problem with steampunk music.

I completely disagree that music was that limited in the late 19th. C (or any other part of the 19th. C).  I think we are missing information. And why are we limiting to late 19th. C?

The late 19th. C. was actually a "radical period," in that artists in general were trying to escape older more structured forms of art. Music was generally played LIVE not recorded most of the time.  So we have to consider that.

And so many things were changing across the board. Neo-Classical architecture gave way to Jugendstil and Art Nouveau. Modernism, and Impressionism emerged among painters and replaced Baroque and Neo-Classical styles which almost got to photographic quality (e.g. Dutch Golden Age paintings), and eventually that break would lead to more radical ideas like Cubism in the 20th. C.

Similarly, musicians were trying to use sound, not necessarily music, to create emotions in your brain. Artists had an idea that they could capture abstract "deconstructed elements" and use them to convey ideas and emotions without using actual structure. This set the stage for a "new type" of classical music.

Musicians in the late 19th C developed the idea that they could capture fear, love, hate, just by the use of sounds.  The Romantic music of Beethoven was far too "structured" even though it was beautiful, and that gave way to a lot of 20th. C "movie music"eventually. Listen to Debussy - I recommend Claire de Lune. It will make you feel like are in the middle of the night in a wooded location looking at the moon, and there is no discernible structure to the music - its very "ambiental" to use a modern language.  It's the direct analogue to Matisse's Impressionist paintings. This evolution of classical music would continue into to the 20th. C.

Spoiler (click to show/hide)

~ ~ ~

Now, if I was trying to compose Steampunk music I would use the music history book much in the same way that I use a history book to come up with an alternative time line in a novel. Like something analogous to the "Franco American Aerial War over the Sonoran Desert" (An alternative offshoot of the American Civil War), for example, but just in the history of a musical genre.  If one has the musical chops, then one can imagine a blended genre that is anchronistic, and justify it as well in your alternative universe.

But we can’t even do that if we refuse to listen, and understand the music from the period.
« Last Edit: July 07, 2015, 11:38:45 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
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« Reply #18 on: July 07, 2015, 12:24:11 pm »

There are no definitions, period.

Oups, sorry, wrong use of word. I ended up unnuanced while trying to be nuanced. What i meant to say is than steampunk music should be nearer to period music than it is. What join your own opinion.
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« Reply #19 on: July 07, 2015, 01:05:13 pm »

I think you're both barking up the wrong tree.

Rockula's approach is much closer to the reality of the situation.
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« Reply #20 on: July 07, 2015, 01:11:15 pm »

I think you're both barking up the wrong tree.

Rockula's approach is much closer to the reality of the situation.

It's only my own opinion but thanks.

Steampunk isn't real. Assigning it a time period is also difficult.
Much Steampunk in literature is not even set in Victorian/Edwardian time lines.
Victorian/Edwardian re-enactment is not Steampunk although they are not mutually exclusive.

Kettle of fish, herding wasps....etc.  Wink
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« Reply #21 on: July 07, 2015, 02:39:42 pm »

Might I suggest an ambiguous answer to an ambiguous question;

1: Is this: <insert track here> a "Steampunk" piece of music.
2: Well I don't know, dear boy. Is it Splendid?
1: How can a piece of music be "Splendid"
2: Well, do you like it?
1: I, Yes. Yes I do.
2: and do you consider yourself to be Steampunk?
1: I suppose.
2: Then form dictates meaning dear boy. If a Steampunk likes this track then it must be by it's very nature; Steampunk.
1: But other Steampunks may not like it.
2: Won't tell that, to Schrödinger's Cat. Fluffy and friendly, impeccably bred. Strangely alive, contrarily dead.

 
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« Reply #22 on: July 07, 2015, 06:20:20 pm »

All right then let's assume Strampunk music is only defined by the listener's individual knowledge

There are as many versions of what people believe Steampunk Music to be as there are about what people believe Steampunk to be. And it's usually based upon what a person's pre-existing musical tastes are, or were, before discovering Steampunk.

I prefer the term 'Steampunk Friendly Music'.

And that can be anything a Steampunk and/or group of Steampunks likes really.

We don't all like the same things.

So if I was a teenager who only had heard J-Pop, and Visual Kei Death Metal bands before I discovered Steampunk, then Death Metal and J-Pop would be Steampunk.

And what about Irish jigs?  And Polka?  I can make I much better case for the latter two, as they are genuine 19th C music forms that would fit my Steampunk characters in an alternate timeline.  But Death Metal and Visual Kei?
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« Reply #23 on: July 07, 2015, 06:23:49 pm »

What the hell do characters have to do with it???


We're talking music not soddin' cosplay!

You're trying to force period music on something that is only loosely period based.
« Last Edit: July 07, 2015, 06:25:27 pm by Sludge Van Diesel » Logged
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« Reply #24 on: July 07, 2015, 06:32:56 pm »

There's no reason that Steampunk can't be Metal (just don't say it within earshot of Abney Park)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upbpADg0fWU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43DEGAlKoT4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrSed4MFq1w

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