But can you find a station in Vancouver?

I recently found out I was into it. I’ve actually been into it for several decades, I just didn’t know that there was a name for it.” So says Luciano, a participant at the bondage event I went to recently. Actually, that’s a lie. It wasn’t a bondage event. Black leather and corsets were abundant, but it was all in the name of Steampunk.

Steampunk, according to the participants, takes Victorian and Edwardian fashion sensibilities and pairs it with brass, clocks, gears and goggles. They dress as though technology never moved away from steam power, but nevertheless kept progressing. It is a Utopian society where the Internet is steam powered and the sound of gears clanking can always be heard in the background.

But what place do these crazy people have in Vancouver, you may ask? Why do we tolerate these well-dressed, moustache-sporting radicals in our fair city? The answer is simple. We don’t.

All you have to do is spend a little bit of time in Vancouver to see that we are nowhere near the forefront of any fashion culture, or sub-culture. The craziest we really get is wearing a layer of fleece under our raincoats. Vancouverites still think Uggs are acceptable footwear, for heck’s sake. Steampunks have no place here.

Apparently there are a few kicking around, though, because the Steampunk Symposium had a fairly decent turnout of people in steam gear. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder at how many of them were wearing costumes, rather than outfits. The whole thing seemed more like an excuse to get dressed up like Steampunks, rather than a legitimate counter-culture gathering.

According to Shwa Keirstead, the event organizer, Vancouver has the largest steam punk scene in Canada. That isn’t saying much, though. Places like the US, China and Japan have much more devoted Steampunk communities, and often hold massive conventions, such as Steamcon, which just happened in Seattle. It seems that Steampunks, like most counter-culture groups, prefer to stay concentrated together rather than live in a place where nobody understands what they are doing.

Popular culture has helped to familiarize people with Steam, of course. Movies like Wild Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Van Helsing all helped to bring Steampunk into the public eye.

Keirstead himself became interested in Steampunk through watching Full Metal Alchemist, as well as through his desire to grow a curly moustache. “I started realizing that with a curly moustache, I needed to have some classy clothing.”

There are elements of Steampunk that baffle me, though. How can it be called punk if it costs so much to pull off the look? Even if you tailor your own vests and weld your own pocket watches, the materials are going to get pricey. Matty Harris, a performer at the event, insisted that it was easy to pull-off the Steampunk look on a low budget. “Just go to the Salvation Army. You can find all sorts of things, like boots”. I’ve not once seen a pair of aviation goggles in a charity store, though. It feels like this counter-culture is a little too cultured to pull off on a budget.

To the event’s credit, Steampunk was only the theme of the night. It was the second annual Symposium, a collaborative art project hosted by Keirstead. Last year’s theme was Underwater, and nobody made fun of them for not being devoted enough to their tentacles. Perhaps all the real Steampunks are hiding out in abandoned mansions, sipping brandy out of porcelain spoons and nodding at how classy and alternative they are.

I do have to say, however, the Steampunks I met were not pretentious. Maybe it’s because Vancouver forces anyone who dresses differently to be acutely aware of their differences, which in turn makes them more accepting of other people. Or maybe they just realized that it is impossible to be an asshole when you have goggles on your head. Whatever it was, all the people I talked to were extremely nice and accommodating, and absolutely everyone wanted me to take their picture.

//Sarah Vitet

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