Thursday, January 26, 2012

Clockwork Con Brings Steampunk to Austin

Most people expect an interesting and fun, but chaotic time at brand new conventions.  The lack of communication and organization at some new events is such a problem that many won’t even attend until the second year, but Clockwork Con surprised people by being unusually well organized and well run. 


The schedule planned looked very unusual at first in that the main event had performers on it only after 8 pm on Friday and Saturday and no actual performances on Sunday.  The schedule showed comedy, magic, and burlesque starting around 8 pm the first night and Concerts by Steam Powered Giraffe and Marquis of Vaudeville the second night, but very little on the main stage throughout the day.  My confusion on this point was mostly just the result of a rather unusual floor plan in which the majority of the main room was broken up into smaller rooms used for other purposes during the day.

At times the changing rooms seemed almost like the maze from Harry Potter stories in that the layout changed drastically at different times of day, but staff were always available at the registration desk and happy to direct us to what we were looking for.  We were also pleased to find most things well attended and fairly punctual. Perhaps a little explanation of this and maps of the two floor plans on the web site, in the program, and on the wall at the registration table could easily resolve this confusion and make it more clear to those considering the ticket purchase that this con emphasizes entertaining and educational panels during the day and performances at night.

The event schedule posted about 2 weeks before the event and had panel titles, but did not mention who was presenting panels.  Content for many of the panels was posted later, which was helpful, but a few items, were not described.  One of these was the "Gathering of the Fleet" which sounded interesting, but the volunteers at the registrar desk were unable to locate anything explaining it other than one line labeled "Captain's Panel".  It turned out to be primarily a role call for the SCARS Steampunk network and a discussion of how the LARP concluded and plans for the next LARP at Aetherfest. This was a small thing, but a confusion easily amended with a fuller schedule posting on the website.


A new steam punk LARP (yea!!!) was unveiled by Airship Isabella with help from various “darker forces” serving as the opposition force to highlight the beginnings of Airship Isabella's backstory about waging a war with “The Order”.  This LARP went on for some time without being obvious or intrusive to the other con goers, but it ran throughout the convention venue.  The conclusion of the LARP was unveiled at the “Gathering of the Fleets” at the end of the convention.  This LARP war will spill over into a larger LARP and mystery at their sister Con Aetherfest this May.

The panels were many, varied, and appeared to have been well attended even as early as 11 am on Saturday.  Topics ranged from Multicultural aspects of Steampunk Attire and character portrayal to art, music, steam punk film debuts, and even such pragmatic topics as running a convention or an “airship as a business”  Overall, the variety and quality of panels appeared to be the greatest strength of this convention.

The Gadgeteer Festival was actually surprisingly impressive!  With no more incentive than an invitation on the web site and the opportunity to show their art (not even bragging rights as there was no contest) truly talented people brought surprisingly interesting items to display.  It may be best actually that there was no contest in that festival as this type of art, especially the functional or semi functional art, is all beautiful complex, and hard to compare one against another.  Some steamy inventors brought in helicopter back packs, powered glowing canes, steapunked robots, and a host of other conveyances, art, and gadgets made by creative geniuses to rival the best items I’ve seen on the internet anywhere.

The Comedy show Friday night was started off by Mr Saturday and Sixpence who led some fun improv interactions between themselves, audience members, and the events Special Guests Baron von Lahey from the Wandering Legion of Thomas Tew and Emperor Justinian of the Red Fork Empire!  While this was a difficult type of act to perform with participants from the audience and others that were not experienced at improv, it was funny just watching them try!

After that the comedy continued with Cut, Thrust, and Run, who are veterans of Renfairs and a variety of Steampunk Conventions and Steampunk events in Texas and Oklahoma.  They presenting a wonderful blend of improv comedy with highly professional & comedic sword battles on stage.  This was followed by the entertaining magic show by Roscoe from Biloxi.  Then the crowd was treated to a fine Burlesque presented by Taloolah Love and fine artists both local and from out of state including - Cocolectric, Goldie Candella, Ruby Lamb, Ruby Joule, Lula Houp Garu .   All of this was well attended with about 150 + in the main event hall.

On Saturday Night the concert was scheduled to be led off by The Voodoo Island Cannibals, a really colorful group of Pirates that drum, strum, and charm the audience right out of their doubloons!  (Or was that bloomers?  Ah well… out of their minds in any case!)  They are always great fun, so they made a great opening act to get things started for the concert. 

Steam Powered Giraffe played at both the Captain’s Dinner (available for an extra fee) on Friday and at the main concert on Saturday Night.  They were fun, funny, and very entertaining!  Their music reminded me of a blending of smooth Jazz and old style Rock from the 40s and 50s era, but all agreed they were good musicians and performers.  They had over 150 at their show as well and the crowd appeared very excited to see a group that was famous on the West Coast, but had rarely performed this far east before.

Marquis of Vaudville was great, as always.  This Diesel Punk/Steampunk band has been adopted by the south central state’s Steampunk community so completely that they are playing at almost every steam punk event in the region for 2011 through 2012.  In spite of this super saturation of thier target audience, they still can excite the crowd, especially with their newer music which has not yet been released on an album , and as such, is largely unavailable outside of concerts.  What was most evident at the concert was the fact that these new songs are not only really good music with interesting and fun lyrics, but much more appealing to the community’s dancers than anything they have performed before.  It was generally agreed that Marquis of Vaudville produced much better dance music, for this crowd’s taste anyway, than the DJ at the dance afterwards who had the freedom to choose from any song ever recorded, yet could not inspire the dancers nearly as much.


The dances were attended fairly well for a steam punk event.  Ballroom style dance is unfortunately no longer a common style even among steampunks, and many of our community just don’t dance modern styles either.  As such, dance does not seem to be as big an attraction yet at our Steampunk Events as I hope for, but we are making real efforts to change that.  What seems to be confusing the DJs though, is that our hard core dancers come largely from Goth, Neo-Pagan, and Renfair backgrounds, so their tastes in dance music are much more into Darkwave and Belly Dance styles of music.  These tunes tend to have more heartbeat style trance inducing rhythms and interesting, but sometimes dark lyrics than anything most DJs are accustomed to playing at conventions.  

In fact, as Steampunk has largely appeared at anime festivals and conventions prior to this year in Texas, it is quite understandable that our DJs are largely confused as to why the steam punk audience is not attracted to rave music, electronica, or re-mixes that are normally what they play.  In fact, remixes, pretty much any type of remix actually, of favorite Steampunk songs, like say Black Day or Stigmata Martyr by Abney Park, can get a very bad reaction from avid fans of said band, which are quite common in the crowd at such events.

This is a learning experience, and hopefully our local DJs will figure out who to ask about tastes and what to play.  Part of the problem is that they are not accustomed to dancers with such specific tastes and that really dislike songs dramatically altered, sped up, or really tampered with, which are the things DJs are noted for in their field.  This is something happening at all of the new “all steam punk” events, so we will just have to pull together and find solutions to the changing landscape of dance.

The game room was well set up, well managed, and well run.  They even had special constructed wooden table covers that kept dice, papers, pencils etc. neatly in place for each of the players.  For those that wanted to take a break from the featured game "Tephra", one of the three gaming tables alternated between Tephra Games and other options such as Magic the Gathering or Laser Chess.   Yes, of course making Tephra the main game available is a bit of self promotion, since the convention’s organizers helped invent the game, but honestly, I was thrilled to see my 11 year old playing something without electricity and Tephra is one of the finest Steampunk Role Playing Games ever invented!  The game was also highlighted, explained, and questions answered in a two hour panel discussion on Saturday Morning in one of the main rooms.

The only thing they really needed to work on in the game room was setting aside a clearly labeled location where attendees can ring a bell for assistance if they come too late for instructions on setting up a new character which apparently happens only very early in the morning.  My son spent both Friday and Saturday watching his friend play, while playing himself on his Nintendo DS, because he had lost his character sheet from last year and he claimed we were not getting him there early enough to get a new one made or included in the ongoing games until Sunday.  This is easily fixed, but needs to be prioritized for next year. 

The other thing they will need to do is to advise game masters on simple tricks to allow new players to smoothly enter a game already in progress if there is room at the table.  Some Game Masters with decades of experience are able to do that on the fly, but for a convention atmosphere, it makes sense to work something into the story line in each adventure where there is some nefarious group kidnapping adventurers, or somehow using paralyzing devices to trap intruders in a way that puts them and all their equipment in stasis.  As such, any new player can get “found and rescued”, with their equipment fully intact, by the adventuring party in almost any location.  Naturally they will have to act in character to explain where the adventurer has found himself and integrate him into their party, but that has always been part of the fun of such a game.


Items that did not go as scheduled included the two 10 am panels on Saturday where both the sets of panelists apparently were not early risers.   The screening of Nickel Children also did not occur, although the reasons are still unclear.  Some attendees that wanted to see it advised this reporter that it was apparently replaced last minute with a panel on art.  This is compounded by the fact that the film is out of stock and out of print, and therefore not available for purchase anymore.  (On the good side though, the short film will soon be released for viewing free of charge on the internet.  You can of course still donate whatever you think the art is worth to the charity the director, cast, and crew have donated all profits to at  The film depicts fictional children rescued from the slave trade, but the charity does this for real!  For more information about that, contact this writer or anyone at S. S. Kali's Hourglass.)

When the event was done, what really stood out, beyond all else, was that this was a fun place for people to meet each other, hang out with friends, show off new gadgets and costuming, and generally feel a part of something exciting, colorful, and interesting!  The hallmark word that keeps coming up at all steam punk events in our area is “Community”.  While there are always some kind of conflicts whenever large numbers of people get together, here they were so few and rare as to be almost invisible. 

What is even better about this community is that when conflicts do occur between individuals or groups there seems to be a genuine effort made to find solutions, bridge gaps, and move toward a stronger and more unified community instead of falling back into the cut throat competition so common in America today.  We have been told by guests from other states that this is not true of all parts of the country, and that we are doing a good job of pioneering a better way of making Steampunk into a true community.  The Steampunk Community in Texas and surrounding states also tends to emphasize "family friendly" events where children are fairly common and made welcome.  (Our children thus far have also proven to be amazingly well behaved.) 

Instead of High School popularity contests and jocks versus nerds, this seems to be a place where people genuinely try to revive the idea of courtesy, mutual respect, and acceptance of people from all walks of life.  In fact, this is one of the few places where those that are the most different are often the most admired.  Here even the quiet, shy, inventor types stand out and are recognized as powerfully positive role models and teachers to the community as a whole!


This event was quite impressive for a first convention from the Clockwork Con staff.  Well done to all of you!  I look forward to seeing more of your events and hope to do so for many years to come!

Fair Winds to you!

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