Scenes from Clockwork Alchemy, 2023
Music, panels, authors, Tea Scouts and more at the Bay Area steampunk convention
Thursday, April 13, 2023
“Villains and Heroes” was the theme as Clockwork Alchemy, the San Francisco Bay Area steampunk convention, took place April 7-9 at the San Mateo Marriott. Attendees could choose between “Hero” and “Villain” ribbons when receiving their convention badges, and it appears that most opted for “Villain.” But this had to be one of the nicest gatherings of villains that you could imagine. (For the record, we went for “Hero,” but it was a tough choice.)
Clockwork Alchemy always features a strong lineup of musical entertainment, and this year’s edition was no exception with performances by Strangely Doesburg, Nathaniel Johnstone Band, and Marquis of Vaudeville on Friday night, followed by Unwoman and Lee Presson and the Nails at Saturday night’s Devils and Angels Ball.
Other highlights included the Fashion Show on Saturday afternoon, featuring costumes largely designed and fabricated by the models themselves, and the weekend-long Artists’ Gallery, with steampunk-inspired paintings, sculptures, costumes, and gadgets, along with a replica of the Time Machine from the 1960 George Pal movie. (See the related story, Art and Fashion at Clockwork Alchemy.)
But with its breadth of programming, the convention catered to all kinds of steampunk interests – gaming, crafting, literature, martial arts, tea culture, and more.
Attendance was considerably higher than at last year’s convention, when Covid concerns kept some local steampunk fans away.
For The Steampunk Explorer, the weekend kicked off on Friday afternoon when we joined Clockwork Alchemy co-founder Thatch Durbin for a presentation on “Steampunk and Artificial Intelligence.” The room was packed, demonstrating that this issue is top-of-mind for many steampunk fans.
We began with an informal poll of the audience, asking whether people were generally optimistic or pessimistic about the ultimate social impact of AI. The vast majority indicated that they were pessimistic. Several raised their hands when we asked if people were afraid of losing their jobs to AI. And several indicated that they’d be less likely to purchase a book or album if it featured AI-generated cover art.
Usually, we’re so busy taking photos and talking to people that we don’t have much time for panels. But we did sit in on a presentation by Marquis of Vaudeville about how they produced their award-winning music video “We’re All Mad Here.” They did it on their own with a shoestring budget at locations in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland, the video is an impressive piece of work, especially considering the limited resources at their disposal.
They also discussed another ambitious video project, “E.N.I.G.M.A. Men,” part of which was filmed at Munster Mansion, a re-creation of the Munster home from the 1960s TV sitcom.
All the music at Clockwork Alchemy is top-notch, but it seems almost criminal that Lee Presson and the Nails doesn’t have a larger following outside the Bay Area steampunk scene. Once again, the band offered a high-energy set of its signature “goth swing” sounds, drawing so many swing dancers that the floor was bouncing (not great, though, when you’re trying to steady the camera). You can see a full concert in this video from the 2017 Clockwork Alchemy.
Presson somehow had enough energy left on Sunday to present dramatic readings from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. It was essentially a reprise of his memorable performances as Poe at the Great Dickens Fair in San Francisco. The readings are also perennial highlights at Clockwork Alchemy.
In case you missed it or want to relive the festivities, check out the scenes in the gallery below. And you can begin making plans for next year’s convention, set for April 19-21, 2024, at the same venue with an “Aetheric Ocean” theme.
Thanks to Clara Blackheart for additional photography.
Related coverage: Art and Fashion at Clockwork Alchemy
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