World Steam Expo to Show Off Metro Detroit’s Punk Scene

Detroiters know to dream of a better reality. We take the best of the past and mix in hope for the future. We’re very steampunk in that way.

Thus it is fitting that Metro Detroit will host its second annual World Steam Expo on Memorial Day weekend. Thousands of Steampunk fans from all across the United States and points beyond will converge at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn from May 27-30 to talk shop, drink tea and party like it’s 1889 (sorry, so, so sorry…couldn’t resist it).

The event, held in cooperation with Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford, does good on many levels. First and foremost, it is a cool tourist event. We want these sorts of punks to infiltrate our streets. Secondly, it creates a strong buzz about what Detroit is doing and all there is to see and do here. Finally, it is raising funds for some great groups, including Cornerstone Schools of Detroit.

For you less-than-hipster types, let your Master of Ceremonies tell you a little about Steampunk. An introduction: Morgan Kollin, Chairman of World Steam Expo, is a 31-year-old, fourth-generation Detroit area entrepreneur who, for the past six years, has been bringing thousands of anime (Japanese animation) fans from throughout the world to Youmacon in Detroit each October.

Kollin told me Steampunk is “the science fiction of the steam age, re-imagined with the advantage of modern hindsight.” It uses the Victorian and Edwardian eras for inspiration, then mixes in some history, science fiction, fantasy and imagination. They also draw inspiration from authors including Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to blend what never was with what might have been, Kollin said.

“It really is the new scene,” Kollin notes. (Sure, sure. That’s why the event’s tagline reads “World Steam Expo: 120 Years in the Making.”)

Detroit is taking Steampunk, adding its own attitude and making it different than other cities, Kollin noted. “We like to fashion things in our own way,” he added. “This is the city the French built. We have such great cultural diversity here.”

Kollin spoke to me this week from Chicago, where he is helping with a similar event. He described Detroit’s Steampunk scene as “fantastic – we’re seeing all sorts of events pop up here. There are great places like Off the Beaten Path in Farmington and the Phoenix Café in Hazel Park. It is spreading out, and people are meeting on Facebook and elsewhere to really make this happen.”

Everything about Steampunk fascinates me – the costumes are elaborate beyond words. The makeup and hair is dramatic. It’s like looking into a well-crafted dollhouse; every detail seems so well thought out. Just check into the event website…the photographs of the bands, musicians and speakers coming to the World Steam Expo are luscious in every sense of the word.

The event has many facets: live events, discussion panels, video programming, contests and shopping. The topics are endlessly fascinating: the dos and don’ts of Victorian etiquette, how to create and dress to character, finding the right thrift store duds if you cannot sew your own, the art of Victorian burlesque, how to create a bustle and the proper way to wear a corset. (Really, today’s teens should skip the whole Goth phase and do this instead; it’s so much more fun and less tedious than trench coats, Sid Vicious T-shirts and black nail polish.)

Tarilyn Quinn

There is a High Tea, formal Charity Masquerade Ball (Saturday night), Black Tie Monte Carlo Night and a Midnight Carnival. There will be dance lessons in the Waltz, Tango, Swing and Bellydancing. There will be conversations with Steampunk experts including G.D. Falksen, vaudeville-style magic by Pop Haydn and music by well-known groups including Abney Park and The Clockwork Dolls.

As luck would have it, The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village is hosting a huge Civil War exhibit Memorial Day weekend. Greenfield Village will host one of the nation’s most comprehensive and inspirational Civil War tributes — hundreds of military re-enactors, parades, artillery demonstrations and hours of music performed by the Camp Chase Fifes and Drums  and the Dodworth Saxhorn Band. How’s that for some costume inspiration.

If you need more reason to attend (and why would you?) check out a couple local Steampunk websites (kudos to the impressive Miss Kagashi – loved you at the Nain Rouge!) or our story about Off the Beaten Path or the YouTube video that highlights some of the things you’ll see and hear at the Expo. Four-day registration is $50 and it’s a cash society at the door, punks. Have a ball.

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