This is more about the trend in artistic movements I've seen where critics are DESTROYING the motivation of artists to learn, create, and perfect their creations.
I watched it in the old Goth scene and lately I see it much in the Steampunk movement. So anyway, on with it.
There has been a lot of debate online about what "steampunk" music is and is not lately. I've seen comments from people who are so compeltely outside of the Steampunk fan scene, musicians circles, and/or anything related that sometimes it kinda makes my stomach churn. It reminds me of philosophical debates where someone who has no interested in a certain philosophy is cramming their point of view on the practiced philosophy down the practicioners throat.
Sometimes it's enough to make me want to say "get lives. Seriously." And then there are the heavy handed "It's THIS! or you're COMPLETELY WRONG!" elitests who attempt to define the genre for the "benefit" of everyone else.
So let's get down to the nuts and bolts of what 'steampunk' is and how it relates to music. Shall we?
What IS steampunk? Steampunk is, in a nutshell, Victorian Era Science fiction. It can be related to damn near ANY art form. There are more interpretations of that vein of art that the possibilities for expressing it are nearly endless.
Does that mean something can be ruled out as NOT Steampunk? Yes. I'm sure it can. Why exactly would we want to spend our time running around the internet saying, "This is DONE RIGHT!" and "This is FAIL!" when the entire purpose of the artistic movement is to CREATE? The quality work will in and of itself rise to the top. The stuff that's not as well thought through and not as well shaped by the artist will invariably fall short even of their own goals.
Is it really our place to kick someone in the teeth for falling short of OUR expectations of THEIR work? If you don't like the art then please feel free not to show up and see and/or hear it. Feel free to spend your dollars and your time on things you feel are worth it. Don't, however, beat down artists who may still be learning and training and pefecting their art investing their time, money, and souls into their projects.
What is steampunk music anyway? That's really not as important a question as you might think if you're DJing an event. The important question really is what kind of music do steampunks listen to?
Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? I mean, who goes to a dubstep event to hear industrial? I don't know, but depending on the covention, area, and age of the steampunk fans combined with the vein of artistry they are personally interested in you will find that many MANY steampunk fans may listen to bands that are promoted by self proclaimed steampunk labels but they do not dance to them and will not request them at a dance.
Does that make the music that these "steampunk lables" are putting out "not" steampunk music? No. Sepia Chord records promotes artists who are about as steampunk in sound and stylization (they don't just wear the hats and the goggles) as you can get. Guilded age does the same. I highly recommend googling both of those outlets and giving a listen to the stuff they are promoting.
It is my passionate personal opinion that the music coming from those outlets is the very definition of what steampunk artistry IS in the music industry.
So why is there a distinction between Steampunk music and what steampunks listen to? Why would you NOT play JUST steampunk music at a Steampunk event? Or maybe not even play it at all?
Seems a little strange doesn't it? If you haven't been to an anime convention "dance" then you might not know that MOST of the kids who show up want to hear heavy hard electronica, electronic remixes of their favorite sound tracks be they video game or anime related, and internet fandom tracks with booming beats.
They are NOT interested in steampunk music for the most part. I would offer any DJ who attempts to play strictly steampunk tracks at an anime dance body armor. I may not be "doing it right" by some people's definition, but in my opinion it is the crowd that dictates what "right" is to any DJ who is brave enough to step and attempt to entertain the masses.
If they want to wear steampunk gear and glow stick that's their business. They paid for the event when they bought their ticket.
It's also not a terribly well known fact that many many Steampunks are actually old goth kids who love old school goth tracks from the mid 90s. They tend to like more music that is Victorian themed with Anachronistic sci fi themes than the younger anime fans do. Still, if you don't throw in some old "She wants revenge" or VnV nation you might find yourself staring down some angry elder goths. That, my friends, isn't fun.
If the event is strictly billed that's entirely different. Much like this year I am purposefully narrowing the music at the A-Kon steampunk ball to strictly steampunk and/or formal ballroomish anime tracks until we hit the late hours when steampunks tend to head toward their hotel rooms and the (not a) Ravers tend to over run any room with a sound system and request electronic dance music until you wanna duct tape them to a wall. The dub step and happy hardcore fans are the worst about this, but ya know I'm there to serve the convention. I'm not there for myself. If I were I'd be at home playing fallout new vegas drinking rum. And anyway I rather enjoy dubstep AND hardcore.
Who doesn't like watching overly hyper anime kids bounce off the walls till they fall down? That's a rhetorical question. Feel free not to respond.
The point is that a lot of other promoters get this, and therefore broaden the appeal of their events and djs by doing more than a purist event that tends to be ... uh... well... a FINANCIAL BLACK HOLE. Before you go criticizing an organizer or DJ consider that you might never have thrown an event in the genre you're criticizing and therefore have no point of reference for understanding how and why they do what they do.
Even if you HAVE consider that they might be in a different market and may have a different crowd to please in order to make the event financially work in the first place. Trust me. I know a lot about events that don't financially work. It's not something you want to go head long into and learn for yourself. Enough promoters have suffered in bad markets. Learn from them and save yourself the pain.
What is the point of this whole rant anyway?
Not much really. The point is: "doing it right" is subjective. You can quantify a lot of things, but attempting to put art in a small narrow package limits it. While we should stay within some boundaries maybe those of us who tend to be highly critical could stand to broaden their proverbial horizens and learn to listen quickly and criticize a bit more carefully.