21-MAY-2013 I wish I had better news to report on the annual Steampunk World’s Fair in New Jersey. This is the largest steampunk event, allegedly in the entire world. It’s produced by Jeff Mach who is known also for Wicked Faire. The failures of my day and half there were mostly personal and specific only to me and my own experience with the exception of couple things.
First, the official website’s “Location” menu made you dig for the addresses and referred to the spots as “hotel1” and hotel2”. I expected the exact names of the hotels with addresses, phone numbers, and map images linking to any type of interactive map like Google Maps or Mapquest. People were checking into Foursquare’s listing for “Steampunk World’s Fair” at 100 Davidson Avenue which was the first place I ended up. I drove around lost for awhile going back and forth between exits 9 and 10 on Route 287. I pulled over to look at the site again and found at the bottom of “Location” and address on Knightsbridge Road and reset my GPS but ended up at the Cablevision parking lot which is lovely at 9 pm in case you’re curious.
I finally arrived and I went the line labeled “Press Registration” to find out they have no list of approved media contacts. Pardon me? You don’t keep a list? The girl at the table asked me for ID so I gave her one of my cards and began going through my phone’s email but the phone only keeps recent messages so I couldn’t find the confirmation from Mach’s PR. The guy next to the young woman at the registration desk said he recognized my name so they gave me the badge. Let me say this: Jeff Mach and company have produced many events over the years including Jeff’s own wedding last year. How do experienced producers fail at the first two steps: proper directions and registration? I wouldn’t hold it against them as generally most cons suck at this but I’d like to have exceptions to the mediocrity.
I inhaled deeply a few times and was determined to have the good time that I saw hundreds of other people having. Met up with friend and part time AU contributor, Jesse who was battling a vicious cold. By this point, my other main problem had shown its ugly head: my brand new Sony camera. I left a thoroughly scathing review of this camera on Amazon. Every time I asked someone else to take a photo of me alone or with someone, the photos never actually took because like me, the other folks think pressing the button takes the picture; no it actually doesn’t. The first press allegedly focuses (which is fails to do) and the second harder press of the button snaps the picture which by then the subjects have walked 30 feet down the corridor and you’ve missed your shot or even lost what you thought was a nice posed still.
Right off the bat, I’ve had my expectations of a fun Friday night thrown out. Could it be salvaged, I wondered?
My Friday plans were to see Jeff Mach’s “panel” about Gender Issues in Steampunk and see the band, This Way to the Egress. This is the point where I express my extreme disappoint in the “panel” that Jeff hosted. First of all, it wasn’t a panel; it was Jeff alone at the front of pretty filled room where he explained that he had no plan for the talk, he had no knowledge about the subject matter, and that his “committee” had assigned this to him because there was too much controversy over whether they should have a Ladies’ Self-Defense: Kicking Ass in a Corset training session. That debate lead this committee to give Jeff an assignment for which he utterly contributed nothing. Since Jeff didn’t have anything to say all he could do was invite the audience to talk about what they experience. Some volunteer, a younger man in a mad scientist coat, spoke more than Jeff and he did so not from a microphone but from the wings. A few audience members spoke also but the odd consensus is that the steampunk subculture does not have gender inequality; it does seem to have racial inequality. One radio host spoke up stating that in fact, he finds the steampunk community, specifically the Mach events, to be the most welcoming and inclusive social gatherings of all.
One radio host spoke up stating that in fact, he finds the steampunk community, specifically the Mach events, to be the most welcoming and inclusive social gatherings of all.
One woman said her concern is that photographers and press pay far too much attention to the scantily clad women than to the attendees in modest Victorian-inspired outfits; she did however point out that this is an issue with all conventions not exclusively steampunk. There are probably millions of blogs that discuss the various issues from skeevy creep with a camera to so-called media and press that harass cosplayers to the growing competitive world of cosplay that has left many feeling all the fun of costuming is gone.
Basically, if you’re concerned about finding a place to be yourself in your own sexual identity, then steampunk gatherings are less likely to make you feel uncomfortable.
I had specifically wanted to see three bands perform this weekend: Platform One, This Way to the Egress, and Voltaire. I missed all of them. Platform One because of how late I got there (tied up with a work event and being lost); I had Egress on my calendar for 11 pm only when it got to be that time, I couldn’t find where they were performing. Since the registration process was a failure, I wasn’t even informed where to find programs which were newspapers emblazoned in vintage fonts. A welcome packet would have been appreciated. I missed Voltaire because I refused to stand up in a parking lot watching a blurry screen projection of his show nor the opening act Steam-Powered Giraffes which looked like it would have been a uniquely memorable experience. Last year I had the pleasure of being front row center when Voltaire was on a smaller stage. This time the only peek I got of him was as he chatted with someone in the courtyard. Platform One was unfortunately scheduled early Friday and late afternoon Sunday so I had no chance of seeing them but picked up a CD.
I saw a band performing on the stage under The Midway tent which joins the two hotels. Turns out it was Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys. Sickert is much like a human version of The Muppet’s Animal but with a hardcore rockstar voice that lead the band. They did a bang up job of an original hard rock version of the Ghostbusters theme, “Who You Gonna Call?” I luckily bumped into my friend Jamie Hatton, one of the top organizers of the event to ask who the band was.
Fortunately on Saturday, I was able to park myself at the one stage to see Unwoman’s show followed by Psyche Corporation then the World of Wyck. Unwoman impressed me beyond words with her electric cello and haunting vocals. Her lyrics stirred imagery of romance, heartbreak and classism. There was a hint of old French cabaret to her sound and style. Unwoman is also responsible for my biggest purchase of the show which was her complete collection of 17 hours of music on a sleek USB drive that blinks blue when powered (terrible while driving in the dark, by the way because it’s really bright).
Jesse had recommended Psyche Corporation so I watched one of her videos before I got to the convention. It could have been a smoother performance as it seemed like the sound company was not familiar with her cues. Nonetheless, she’s a beautiful performer with a vocal range in four octaves. Her schtick is that she’s part of a massive corporate structure who was sent from the future to sell you their dream software. It’s an interesting cyberpunk premise that I’m sure isn’t unthinkable considering how subliminal messages and neuro-linguistic programming are making a big comeback which had faded in the 70s.
The last act I saw on Friday night was purely by chance. I came across Hubris, the fire performance troupe. I was able to get some low quality video of their performances. The low light for better showcasing the fire meant the camera would not focus (of course because as I said it’s a piece of crap); and my other concern is with editing the videos in that YouTube has been taking action against my coverage of live events claiming I’m violating copyright laws because there’s music people are using in their shows. Hey, YouTube, I don’t control what performers do. So now if I put up the performances I can either risk YouTube backlash as I’ve had on about two dozen videos or I can add a different soundtrack which in my opinion, is not my place since it would then change the dancers’ performances and not be “their acts.” Besides, even with the soundtrack service I use, YouTube has still charged me with copyright violations. When I try to appeal to give the contact information that proves I’m allowed to use the tracks, it requires a phone call and I’m not willing to give Google yet one more piece of personal information; let’s face it, I have a Droid phone, they have my phone number. So I don’t know whether to edit and upload the videos of Hubris or not. I’ll say that if you ever get the chance to see them, you should because fire can be beautiful and fun when it’s not tearing across your house or a forest.
Finally, the most impactful moments were that of Professor Mark Donnelly. Rule number 1 when giving a lecture or leading a panel: Introduce yourself. I didn’t get his name until afterward when I asked. He lectured on Irish Gangs of New York City, which was better in content than style. This was a surprise because he’s one of the most stylish and dapper gents you’ll run into. The content was thorough and interesting, but a bit dry. Luckily he had great slides to accompany it. I was one of the few who had never seen the Daniel Day Lewis movie so it was my first glimpse into the world that produced Bill the Butcher. When Donnelly strayed from the notes, his cheery personality came through evoking laughter from the audience. That’s clearly what they would have wanted for the 45 minutes. It’s like when you have two different teachers in high school: one that bores you with static lectures versus one that is engaging, present and interested in connecting. I would have liked more of the latter.
I followed him afterward to see what Irish combat demonstrations were like; he had several such training sessions throughout the weekend and they were well-attended and well-received. Everyone dutifully picked up their canes or shillelaghs and followed along to the instructions by Mark and his assistants. People were broken into groups of about eight to ten and had the opportunities to test their new skills on each other. What first interested me about Donnelly was that we were seated at neighboring tables last year at the absinthe tasting so I only knew him as a gentleman that I’ve occasionally bumped into and photographed. I didn’t know his name until this year’s Irish Gangs lecture and now I know that his work will be invaluable to me for a story I’m in the early stages of drafting.
With any luck, I will be blessed with a miracle of technology and someone will find a way for me to get all of my images off that stupid Sony camera.