It's a big week for steampunk enthusiasts.
First of all, today is the 287th birthday of Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, the man who built the first self-propelled, steam-powered vehicle. He invented his three-wheeled fardier à vapeur in 1769, and went on to build progressively more complex and better models of steam-powered horseless carriages. The birth of the steam punk world received and even bigger boost near a hundred years later, when the first airship with a steam engine traveled from Paris to Trappes on September 24, 1852.
I know that a large portion of our readers feel that the steampunk movement, which re-imagines the modern with the elegance and inventiveness of the industrial revolution, is a tried, played-out phenomenon, but you didn't grow up thinking that Final Fantasy VI was loads better a religion than the Bible. The brass, the clockwork, and the dapper approach all serve to make something very timeless, and still very specific.
It's certainly made its mark on the world of music, for instance. Here are the top 10 ten steampunk songs or music videos.
10. Nicki Minaj, "Turn Me On": I like Nicki more as a peripheral than a feature artist, but you can't help but dig her clockwork rendition of Frankenstein. It falls just short of true steampunk, but is definitely one of the closest mainstream examples out there.
Professor Elemental and Mr. B, the Gentleman Rhymer Sir Reginald PikeDevant, Esq., "Just Glue Some Gears on it and Call it Steampunk": Now, I imagine that I'll get some flack in the comments over including Nicki Minaj in this list at all, since those who like to define what is steampunk and what is not are touchier than people who define what is and is not regular punk. Allow me to offer this comedic peace offering. After all, I could've put Justin Bieber there and I didn't.
Update: Due to an erroneous entry in the author's iPod this song was mistakenly credited to Professor Elemental and Mr. B, the Gentleman Rhymer initially. Thanks to reader Abelundercity for correcting the error, and apologies to Sir Reginald.
8. Ghostfire, "The Last Steampunk Waltz": This isn't the most original music video in the world, but for some reason the execution of it makes you feel that Ghostfire is actually what bar bands in a steampunk world would sound like. Good dress sense, a tight attention to the waltz form, and a sort of drunken brilliance turn a basic performance vid into a bald look at a completely fictional music scene.
7. The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, "Brunel": There's precious little "punk" in the steampunk movement, save for The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. Named after graffiti found at the crime scene of a victim of Jack the Ripper, they do some amazing historical-themed punk songs, such as this one celebrating the life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who built the first tunnel under a navigatable river.
6. Smashing Pumpkins, "Tonight, Tonight": When it comes to mainstream portrayals of steampunk, it's hard to top the Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight" video. Strangely, it was originally completely different. The first draft was more old-school Hollywood, with a water ballet and James and D'arcy ballroom dancing. Then the Red Hot Chili Peppers came out with "Aeroplane," and the band went back to the drawing board.
5. Steam Powered Giraffe, "Brass Goggles": Think a Victorian-era Rock-a-Fire Explosion and you'll get what SPG is going for in their musical robot pantomime performances. It's a brilliant, if extremely niche, musical style.
4. Escape the Clouds, "Every Storm Has an End": Escape the Clouds is much more of an amalgam of traditional storytelling and music than traditional pop, so they lose a few points in the being-catchy department. Still, as far as musical short films go, "Every Storm Has an End" is up there with the best.
3. Les Rita Mitsouko, "Cool Frenesie": If you took high-school French in the last 20 years, then at some point your teacher played "Marcia Baïla" from Les Rita Mitsouko's second album for you. Some 15 years later, the duo put out this amazing single, about what amounts to a steampunk Tank Girl taking out giant Cybermen... basically French-frying pop-culture cult icons from two different nations at once.
2. Lovett, "Eye of the Storm": When Ben Lovett, noted film composer, put out an album one of the people he invited to the listening party was an old college friend named Christopher Alender. Alender was blown away by "Eye of the Storm," and collaborated with Lovett on a music video inspired by the Academy Award-nominated short film "The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello." The result is bar none of the most beautiful things ever put on the internet.
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1. Abney Park, "Sleep Isabella.": You could argue that Abney Park IS the musical embodiment of steampunk. Formerly the band was just a group of more conventional goths out of Seattle, but their reimagining into a steampunk dynamo has made them a highly popular carnival act. If it was good enough for True Blood, it should be good enough for you.