The Year in Music: 2021
From left: Abney Park, Unwoman, Professor Elemental
Monday, January 3, 2022
The Covid-19 pandemic was tough on everyone, but especially independent musicians on the steampunk circuit, who saw their income dry up as so many events were cancelled. Things began to thaw in 2021, especially in summer and fall, as bands returned to the stage. In the meantime, some of the top acts in steampunk released new recordings, and a couple of older ones staged comebacks.
The Professor Meets His Nemesis
Chap hop maestro Professor Elemental went all-out with his latest release. Entitled Nemesis, it came with a comic book, a mind-bending music video, and a shocker of a surprise ending. The Professor was joined by a large cast of musical guests, including battle rapper Adam Felman, who voiced the nemesis of the title.
South Dakota artist Nicholas Floyd conceived the villain, Time and Space Constable Jeremy Problem, after the Professor invited fans to submit ideas.
The album was produced by long-time collaborator Tom Caruana, and also featured the voices of Dr Syntax, Ella Jean, Hattie Snooks, Ashley Slater, and Mr Kapow. The Professor says it’s the fastest-selling album he’s ever released.
Nemesis followed the June release of Good Dad Club, which the Professor recorded with Mister Frisbee under his non-steampunk “Elemental” moniker.
More coverage: Professor Elemental Meets His Nemesis in New Album and Comic Book (Oct. 11)
Prolific Year for Abney Park
The steampunk rockers from Seattle had a busy year in 2021 with three new albums, several music videos, and ambitious plans for a stage musical.
They kicked things off in March with Technoshanties, a collection of sea shanties, but their major release came in October. That was The Subaquatic Opera, which band leader Robert Brown described as “harkening back to the Circus at the End of the World/End of Days era of Abney Park music.” They capped off the year with a holiday-themed album, Christmas Contraptions.
The musical, entitled Giants of Iron and Steam, will be set in Northern California, taking place both in the far future and during the Victorian era. Rather than being a touring production, it will have its own permanent venue with elaborate stage sets, Brown said. The project is funded by Sierra Energy, which is known for technology that converts waste into clean energy.
More coverage: Abney Park to Perform First Post-Lockdown Stage Show at Renfair (July 22)
More Originals from Unwoman
The singer/songwriter released Of My Own Space and Time I Am Queen, her eighth album of original compositions and perhaps her best. Consisting of 16 tracks with her signature cello playing and layered vocals, it’s “a dark album but ultimately uplifting,” she said. She successfully crowdfunded the album with a Kickstarter campaign in March and April, raising $10,552 from 314 backers.
She also found time to produce We Never Lost Control, the second album from her side project No Little Sparrow. She describes it as a “dark ambient” sound made from birdsong recordings along with her own cello and vocals. That, too, was successfully crowdfunded before its Dec. 1 release.
More coverage: Unwoman Crowdfunds for Dark Ambient Side Project ‘No Little Sparrow’ (Oct. 14)
Victor Sierra Back Aboard The Hydrogen Queen
Paris-based “steamgoth” band Victor Sierra released their fifth album, Imperfect Meridians, following an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that raised US$3976 from 70 backers. The album features 12 tracks with new retrofuturistic adventures from aboard the Hydrogen Queen, the airship captained by band leader Commander Bob.
Longtime bandmember Pierre Benoit, aka Big Machine, departed in July under amicable terms, later to be replaced by the mysterious skeletal figure Pilot X-Ray. Big Machine played synths and operated computers for the band, but the new member’s main responsibility, the Commander said, is piloting the airship.
The band also continued performing streaming concerts, including appearances at the Wild Wild West Steampunk Online gathering and C’mon-2-ence Virtual Music Weekend.
More coverage: Victor Sierra, Sarah Shay to Perform at C’mon-2-ence Virtual Music Weekend (July 5)
Mr. B Rhymes Lockdown Themes
Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer has been entertaining his fans with weekly Niceolation Parties on Mixcloud, and his Aug. 8 performance yielded a catchy music video entitled “Lessons Learned From Lockdowns One To Three.” He released the original studio version on CHBC: Uniquities Volume One, a compilation album featuring artists on his label The Chap-Hop Business Concern.
The Niceolation Parties “have reconnected me to my love of Jockeying the Disks and discovering wonderful, genre-fluid music, old and new,” he wrote in a message to fans. He was thus inspired to produce Chop Happy, a 14-track album consisting of tunes he’s “mashed up, fried, and generally mucked about with.”
Then in December, he released The Hunkerdown Trilogy, a limited-edition box set consisting of Chop Happy, CHBC: Uniquities Volume One, and his 2020 album A Thoroughly Modern Existential Crisis.
Thomas Benjamin Wild Esq. Makes New Friends
The self-described “uke-toting, tweed-clad troubadour” released his third album, Making Friends At 40, which featured prominent contributions by chap hop/electro-swing artist Madam Misfit. They collaborated on two music videos from the album: “Let’s Get Ready to Turn It On” and the Madam Misfit composition “You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks.”
The 13-track album also features musical guests Ben Dawson, Tom Carradine, and George Bartle. You can order the CD or digital version from the artist himself or purchase/stream a download from the usual suspects.
Madam Misfit also collaborated with Victor and the Bully on “Trick or Treat,” a Halloween-themed single and music video. And she released “The Wombling Song,” a cover version of the theme tune from a popular 1970s UK children’s show. The song promotes collection and recycling of rubbish, and the video features steampunks doing their part at the Papplewick Pumping Station in Nottingham.
Comebacks for Ghostfire and Fermata
Ghostfire, which was active in the UK steampunk scene between 2008 and 2015, staged a comeback with four singles, three of which were accompanied by music videos. Now a trio split between the UK and Spain, the band reconnected during the Covid lockdown.
The band’s sound “embraces folk, shanty, spaghetti western, country, and Americana,” said guitarist Andii Valo, who composes and arranges the music. The other members are lead singer Steven Sheridan and drummer Alan Mogg.
Their music is available on Bandcamp.
Fermata, which released their first album in 2009, waited another 12 years for their second, entitled Ever Colder. The band, which describes their sound as “acoustic chamber rock,” consists of Eli August on guitar, Lisa Mazza Hamilton on lead vocals, Thillman Benham on cello, and Cody Davis on bass. August is well known to many steampunk fans for his performances at U.S. East Coast events, either solo or with his backup group The Abandoned Buildings.
Following the album’s release in August, the band performed at Down the Rabbit Hole, a steampunk gathering held Oct. 9 in Maryland.
More coverage: Steampunk Band Ghostfire Marks Return With ‘Five Points West of Hell’ (July 28)
Frenchy and the Punk resumed touring in a big way, including performances at the Stupid Covid Steampunk Ball, World of Faeries Festival, Key City Steampunk Festival, Dragon Con, and Enchanted Faerie Festival.
They also brought their new Batfrogs apparel line to numerous events, including some artisan marketplaces, and released a video of “Elephant Uproar,” the title track of a 2013 album.
Meanwhile, guitarist Scott Helland released The Spy Detective Collective, a 13-track homage to spy and detective TV shows of the 1960s and 70s.
More coverage: New Scott Helland Album Is an Ode to Classic TV Shows (April 2)
The Cog is Dead released several singles during the year, with a promise of more as band leader John Sprocket built his first-ever permanent home studio. He was able to do so because he and his wife purchased their first home. In December, Sprocket performed a live streaming concert from his new digs to help pay for building supplies.
More coverage: Streaming Concert Will Help Fund New Home Studio (Oct. 28)
Victor and the Bully released Quarantinis: This Time It’s Worse N’All, a six-track EP that re-imagines some of their previous tunes. Produced under lockdown, it features guest artists Alice Strange, Jasper R, Nova Halo, and The Wattingers.
As noted above, the duo also teamed up with Madam Misfit for the Halloween-themed “Trick or Treat.”
More coverage: New EP from Victor and the Bully with Special Guests (May 21)
Steam Powered Giraffe followed the 2020 release of 1896 with a series of music videos, including “Bad Days on the Horizon” and their take on “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” They also released “Not Live and Not in Person,” a 25-minute digital concert video recorded remotely in 2020 and 2021.
More coverage: Steam Powered Giraffe Is “Not Live and Not in Person” In New Concert Video (July 29)
The Eternal Frontier once again were ambassadors of steampunk, this time at the huge New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, where they performed multiple shows and encouraged their fans to show up in steampunk garb. They also headlined at PA STEAMFest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and released a music video of “It Never Rains in Southern California” with scenes from the 2019 Gaslight Gathering in San Diego.
More coverage: Steampunk Meets S.T.E.A.M. Education at PA STEAMFest in Pennsylvania (Aug. 16)
Fate Gear, the all-female steampunk metal band from Japan, released The Sky Prison, their fourth full-length album. The band describes it as a concept album that tells the story of a girl’s adventures aboard a pirate airship.
The band is led by guitarist Captain Mina, who recruited guest vocalists and other musical guests to play on the album.
“The Sky Pirates,” the first music video from the album, garnered more than a million views on YouTube. They followed that in October with “Dancing in the Moonlight,” featuring popular solo artist Rami on vocals.
Valentine Wolfe returned to live performance, including sets at Dragon Con and Monsterama. At Dragon Con, they also performed a live score for a screening of silent film classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and at Monsterama, they provided musical accompaniment for a reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia.” And just in time for Halloween, the duo released “Somnus Aeterna,” a new song about “death, love, despair, and dreams.”
T.E. Yates, the multi-talented artist and musician from Bristol, UK, released Strange Weather, a new six-track EP, along with “Condition,” a music video of the opening track. He launched a UK tour in support of the new album, and an older video, “Evil Cat,” was featured at the Poe Film Festival in Richmond, Virginia.
Littmus Steampunk Band released its latest album, Distance, featuring 14 tracks including “Picnic on the Moon,” “The Alchemist’s Apprentice,” and “The Krakens Treasure.” The opening track, “Samuel the Inventor,” tells the “true story” of an inventor whose time-travel device has unforeseen consequences. The album is available on Bandcamp.
Brazzmatazz, a steampunk-inspired brass band from Belgium, released Live At JGG Studio, a live album featuring five new compositions and two older ones. The album is available for free on Bandcamp, or you can name your price. Videos from the performance can be viewed on YouTube.
Chap hop artist Sir Reginald Pikedevant, Esquire ended a seven-year absence with “If You’ve Only Got a Moustache,” his rendition of an 1862 song by Stephen Foster and George Cooper. He’s best known to steampunk fans for “Just Glue Some Gears On It (And Call It Steampunk),” a 2011 music video that’s drawn more than 1.1 million views on YouTube.
The BlueStocking, a band from Moscow, released “Never Ready”, a music video from their 2020 debut album Algedonic. They described it as “a look at our personal stories through the prism of magical surrealism - with a tinge of steampunk and a dark, Burton-esque fairytale.” They followed that with “I Married Myself,” their cover of a Sparks song. The album is available on Bandcamp.
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