Abney Park is an American musical project, the life work of Robert Brown. Robert founded Abney Park over 20 years ago, and since then they’ve released 23 albums, three novels, a role playing gamed, several board games, and two Blurays. They've appeared on MTV, G4tv, in the New York Times, and the L.A. times, licensed music to HBO's Trueblood, and played all over the world, from Moscow, Russia, to Kalispell, Montana.
They’ve performed all over the world, with concerts in Russia, The Netherlands, Spain, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, The U.K., and the U.S., bringing their steampunk music and culture to the world. The exotic settings of their concerts have been just as interesting as their world travel, performing in Victorian power plants, Restored Vaudevillian Theaters, in underground prohibition era bars, on Victorian Steam Ships…they even sold out a live concert on an airship! A actual Zeppelin NT, with tickets costing $800 a piece! Pity, the flight was canceled the morning of the flight, due to a lightening storm. (Tickets were refunded, as images of the Hindenburg flashed though everybody's mind.)
ABNEY PARK'S SOUND
Abney Park’s sound can be describes is a mix of Gypsy Rock, EDM, Electro Swing, Industrial Dance, and Western music. This bizarre mix is explained as you learn more about the World Of Abney Park, and the life of Robert Brown, as discussed later on this page.
Robert is the principal song writer for Abney Park, the singer, lyricist, producer, and arranger. He sings, plays bouzouki, accordion, darbuka, harmonica, writes novels and create the aesthetic of Abney Park’s electric instruments.
He spent his childhood traveling the world with his mother, the anthropologist Dr. Carolyn Heinz, and spends the vast majority of his adulthood traveling, which explains the eclectic mix of world music styles mixed into the Abney Park’s unique sound. He was one of the princable founding members of Steampunk as a subculture,and a musical genera. Abney Park has been called everything from the quintessential Steampunk Punk Band, to “The Spokesman of the Steampunk Movement”. They’ve been featured on MTV, G4TV, The New York Times, LA Times, Evening Magazine, in the sound track of HBO's True Blood and countless other magazines, and TV shows around the world.
CURRENT LINE UP (other then Robert)
Keyboards and Piano: Kristina Erickson
Guitar: Sky Warden
Bass: Derek Brown
Trumpet : Carey Rayburn
Jake Sele : Trombone
WHAT IS STEAMPUNK?
Steampunk is a multidisciplinary artistic movement, that covers everything from literature, to dance, to fine art, music, movies, TV shows, sculpture, and just about anything else you can image. In this aesthetic artists re-envision or make nostalgic references to Victorian era fashion an art, but in a whimsical new way.
Typical themes you will see in Steampunk is Victorian era underground cultures, like gypsys, and carny’s, and street gangs, references to Victorian sciences fiction, and Victorian era magic. Victorian mad scientist, pick pockets, jugglers, busker's, hooch coach dancers…anything from the era of Steampunk, or alluding to that era, but in a gritty sub-culture sort of way.
WHAT IS STEAMPUNK MUSIC?
Steampunk music is a modern style of music with elements that is infused with nostalgic sounds of the Victorian era.
You hear mixes of things like vaudevillian music, circus music, old sea shanties, swing, eastern European gypsy music, middle eastern dance , mixed with modern musics like EDM, industrial dance, etc. Instruments often featured include The Theramin , the Saw, Violin, Banjo, Accordion, Mandolin, Calliope, Pipe Organ, Puff Organ, etc.
WHY DO STEAMPUNK BANDS ALL SOUND SO DIFFERENT?
It's not unusual for music genera's to be diverse. Certainly genera's like "Rock & Roll" or "World Music" have an incredibly diverse sound, when compared with more specific genera's like "Delta Blues". Taylor Swift, Johnny Cash, John Denver, and Hank Williams are all country artists, and all sound very different. Many generas are diverse.
Steampunk is diverse, and because it is such a new genera (steampunk music has only been around for a little over a decade), some one unfamiliar in the scene might have a tricky time hearing the commonalities between Steampunk bands. Well, at first anyway. When you spend your life working in this genera it becomes clear as day.
Why so diverse?
First off, because Steampunk musicians draw from a very broad era. We borrow musical stylings from vaudevillian, to victorian orchestral, and a million things in between. Victorian times had a lot of different sounds. That's not to say that there is no steampunk specific sound, it's just that it's much broader in possible tones and instrumentation then some musical styles.
There is also the fact that not all Steampunk bands make Steampunk music. Some times a band is simply a bunch of Steampunks, making punk rock,or folk, or 70’s rock. Nothing wrong with that, and many Steampunks love this, but that will confuse you if you are expecting all bands wearing Steampunk clothes to sound the same. Just because a band is dressed Steampunk, does not mean they are playing Steampunk music.
To further confuse things, not all Steampunk bands, who make Steampunk music, make ONLY Steampunk music. Only about 75% of Abney Park's songs are Steampunk, and the other 25% is just us paying homage to some other style of music we love. Songs like The Clone Factories, or Wasteland Warrior aren't Steampunk in sound, or content. But they are awesome, so we play them! Hey, there is nothing wrong with diversity! But that does confuse things to anyone who is looking to clearly define the Steampunk sound by listening to every song, and considering them all examples.
ABNEY PARK’S TRANSITION TO STEAMPUNK
Abney Park has been touring and releasing albums since the early 1990’s. After releasing music for over a decade, and not really finding a fitting genera for their sound, in 2005 Abney Park decided to try a new descriptor for their music. It was a genera not yet claimed or defined by any notable artists. The genera was “Steampunk”, which was a form of literary fiction based around the era of steam. At this time, Steampunk had no subculture, and no events. It was nothing more then a very obscure literary style.
But Gothic music and industrial music had both emerged from literary genres, and design styles, so creating a new genera of music based on a literary and design style was not unfounded. Abney Park took the name, created a fashion look for themselves based on this style, released a photo shoot, and starting releasing some of the first intentionally Steampunk songs, in order to build a new sub culture around this new music style.
At first they were mocked for this effort. Online communities posted threads saying, “Who does Robert think he is? You can’t just make up a new subculture, and expect people to show up!” But the move proved incredibly successful. Abney Park’s popularity shot up, and soon fans around the world showed up to Abney Park concerts dressed as Sky Pirates, or Wasteland Gypsies (Neobedouin), or Neovictorians as described in Abney Parks songs and books.
Just like the subcultures for Gothic and Industrial, turning the aesthetic into a musical style transformed what was once just a vague literary style into a entire subculture, and a full artistic movement. Fast forward a decade, and now the world is filled with Steampunk nightclubs, restaurants, festivals, conventions, and hundreds of Steampunk bands all over the world.
And Steampunk was a fitting transition for Abney Park, as many of their songs from the previous decade had already told stories set in a retro-futuristic world. Take their 1990’s song, The Change Cage, as an example. In the song the Change Cage, the protagonist lived in a walled futuristic city, were laws traped and segregate citizens in Victorian repression.
The Change Cage
(first released in the early 90's on the self titled album, Abney Park)
I take a steam train to work.
Just like the one my father took.
And I pass over the walls.
I see the people as I look.
I see there's the block, for folks who have no chin.
Theres the block, for folks with yellow skin.
Theres the block, for me and all my kin.
And over there is the Change Cage, and we throw the rebels in!
They say an artist from block six one six,
Revived some old art just for his own kicks
They say his pictures were lewd,
They say his women were nude,
And so we threw him inside.
Now that artist can run, he can hide, but sooner or later we’ll throw him inside.
I don't think the people should see,
and well thats not art to me,
And so we’ll throw him inside.
I work the Change Cage, here on my side of the wall,
and I will hold the key until the day they say the Cage Will Fall.
ABNEY PARK'S BACKSTORY
Accompanying the music is a series of science fiction novels that tie together the songs into a grand epic. This epic takes place in a world set after the fall of man, and is populated by many different groups of people. Each group has a culture, and each culture has a different style of music, that can be heard in the songs of Abney Park.
Sky Pirates live in lighter then air crafts, or floating cities hung from balloons, or mountain top cities. They live in a nautical/aeronautical style, with each citizen given a rank like Captain or First Mate. They work as traders, or pirates.
Their music has a very nautical or piratical feel. Some examples of their songs would be:
Throw Them Overboard
The Wrath Of Fate
Neobedouins are a nomadic, tribal people that live in wagon trains in the wastelands of “The New Frontier” (the wastelands of what was once the American old west). On these trains they grow food, raise crops, and around these wagons they herd their flocks.
Their musical style is a mix of Gypsy and Industrial Dance. Examples of their songs are:
The End Of Days
The Story That Never Starts
Whole Life Crises
Neovictorians lived locked behind the walls of their squalorous cities. They work day and night in their urban prison, and are required by law to keep every part of their lives as things where 250 years ago, during the victorian era.
In the center of their cities is a huge cage, as tall as a sky scraper, and anything found to be free, or not set to repressive Victorian standards, is locked in “the Change Cage”.
Being some what of an anachronistic anomaly, their music is a blend between vaudevillian, cabaret, and electro swing. Examples of their songs are:
The Secret Life of Doctor Calgori
Until The Day You Die
The Secret Life Of Doctor Calgori
The Anthropophagists Club
Automatons are mechanical beings. Clock work, usually in the shape of men or women. They were created in the cities to be servants to the Neovictorians. Slavery of course would be immoral if the slaves were intelligent beings, so a law was passed that all automatons were required to be dumb, and unaware machines.
It is not, however, possible to have a slave that can both do a good job, and yet be so dumb as to not understand they are slaves. So their inventor (Doctor Calvin Calgori) taught them to hide their intelligence. Their very survival depends on the Neovictorians not finding out they are all intelligent, and self aware.
Being mechanical, their music is very industrial, and being slaves, their music is very angry. Examples of their songs are:
Pity The Free Man
The Wrong Side
Too Far To Turn Back
The Cowboys live in the wastelands along side the neobedouins. In fact, their cultures are so closely intertwined that often the music styles merge. They also live nomadically, but are a little less family oriented, and a little less religious, spending most of their time on horse back, motorcycles, sidecars, or the occasional pickup truck or dune buggy.
Their music is a mix of Gypsy and Western music. Examples of their songs would be:
Off The Grid
Dominion Of Dust
Born At The Wrong Time
The Ballad of Ranch Hand Robbie
I’m Glad I Lost You
The Jypseas are only briefly talked about in the novels. They live on boats, or beaches, or floating dock-like cities that drift in the sea. Some have been know to put on mechanical tails, so that they could swim like mermaids, but this habit is more of a sport then a life style.
Their music is nautical like the sky pirates, but not as aeronautical. Examples of their music would be:
Buy The Captain Rum
The Ballad of Rosie and Max
Neither One Lets Go
The Victorain Apocalypse
When Robert first began writing the novels that stitched together the songs of Abney Park, he had a dilemma. He personally enjoys science fiction that makes sense, scientifically. Without science, science fiction just becomes magical fantasy. So he set about with the goal of envisioning a setting that could actually explain things like, “Why WOULD their be airship pirates? Why would people need to live in cities in the clouds? How would victorians be able to make walking, thinking automatons when we our selfs still can not?” He didn't want magical, bullshit, "don't look behind the curtain" explanation, but a scientifically believable set of circumstances.
The answer was a Victorian apocalypse, set in the future.
A political tyrant 150 years in the future requires people to live exactly as they did during the victorian era. He did this for control, and for a sick sense or moral superiority. We as a society have seen political and religious leaders through out time require similar steps backward in societies. What was once enlightened, feminist, creative, tolerant culture is suddenly dailed back to 1886, or worse, and people become repressed and intolerant again.
In the Abney Park novel Retrograde we see this tyrant take violent steps to reduce the worlds population. Set and enforce laws dictating fashion, technology, and even morality to what it was during Victorian times. Disobey, and you will be thrown in The Cage Cage.
So the rebels of this society are the ones that defy him. The ones that use the lighter then air tech to float their cities or airships out of his reach, or the engineering tech that that brought the automatons to life. They are the pirates, and gypsies and cowboys who refuse the Victorian law, and live a life in the wastelands, free and independent.
OBJECTS IN THE ABNEY PARK WORLD
In the stories of the songs, and the novels and roll playing games, and boards games, many devices have been described. Far more detail on the world of Abney Park exists, then is the scope of this article, so I’ll just mention and few.
For more information, read the novels, or Roll Playing games!
The Chronofax is an invention of Calvin Calgori, and it looks like a typewriter with a screen on topic. The machine featured some of the earliest of Calgori’s chrono-tech, allowing the user to send messages forward or backward in time.
This machine is mentioned in the song “Letters Between a Little Boy and Himself As Adult”, and in the novels The Wrath Of Fate, and Retrograde, as well as being briefly describe in The Toyshop At The End of The World.
Chrononautilus is a more powerful version of Calgori’s chrono-tech. The machine consists of a series of orbs filled with various “aethers”. When placed around an area, these machines can transport themselves and anything between them to any place in time.
This is not a smooth trip, as effects of air pressure, and wind speeds, as well as the rotation and orbit of the earth will effect the subject.
This device appears in The Wrath Of Fate, Retrograde, as well as a primitive version appearing at the beginning of Toyshop at the end of the world.
The H.M.S. Ophelia at the beginning of the The Wrath Of Fate, the British Crown hires Calgori to fit a old fashion tall ship with a series of chrononautili.
Since time travel is so tumultuous, and therefore fearing the effects of time traveling on a submerged ship, Doctor Calgori has the ship lifted from the ocean by way of a huge balloon, much like you’d see on a Zeppelin.
“Hauls”, “Vardo”, or “Caravan Houses” are large homes on wheels, brightly painted and beautiful, often with multiple stories and roof top gardens. They are pulled around the wastelands in wagon trains, and are the homes of Neobedouins.
Flying Cities the Sky Pirates (or Skyloft) live in aerial city that hang from gain helium balloons. Isla Aether and High Tortuga are two such cities. By removing electrons from oxygen, the sky people can synthesis their own helium, and create a constant supply of lighter then air mass to keep the city aloft.
Harpies are airborne automatons. Each skeletal machine dangles from its on small Zeppelin. The have huge mechanical claws, and are employed by the cities to retrieve any one who should escape, or to imprison any one in the city acting in non-victorian ways.
Harpies are described in the novels Retrograde, Toyshop At The End Of The World, and can me seen in the music video for Pity The Free Man.
Mechapedes are giant mechanical centipedes used to capture of kill any free people living in The New Frontier.
The are described in the novel Retrograde, and referred to in the song The Secret Life Of Doctor Calgori.
Abney Park's Sound
What is Steampunk
What is Steampunk Music
Why Steampunk Music has so much variety
Abney Park's Transition To Steampunk
Abney Park's Backstory
A Victorian Apocalypse
Objects in The Abney Park World
“Hauls”, or “Vardo”