Thought for the day: On creativity

Being creative can be difficult and demanding.  It is something that we have to work out.  We should expect to make mistakes and have to retry things.  This is not wrong.  Tis is an integral part of the creative process.
Remember that not everyone will like everything you create.
Create primarily for yourself rather than for others.

The Steampunk Gazette is almost here…

Around eighteen months ago I entered discussions with a delightful publisher about a new Steampunk book.  The conceit was that the book should be akin to a full colour newspaper detailing some of the splendid steampunk offerings around the World.  The Steampunk Gazette was underway.

I am delighted to say that I have a spiffing, shiny copy alongside me as I write.The Steampunk Gazette It is packed with fabulous photographs from around the World and broken up into sections from fashion to extravanganza’s.   It has been designed as a “dip into” book with the hope that you will be delighted with every spread and page.   We have worked hard to try and include steampunk from across the globe too, not just concentrating on the US so giving a broader perspective than most comparable books.

It is available for pre-order on Amazon in the UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Steampunk-Gazette/dp/0764165569 and I will be launching it at The Asylum.  (Assembly Rooms, Friday 5.30pm)  Pop down and pick up a copy and enjoy a glass of wine with me.

In the US it is published by Barrons and can be preordered on Amazon.com  http://www.amazon.com/Steampunk-Gazette-Major-Thaddeus-Tinker/dp/0764165569/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346228610&sr=8-1&keywords=steampunk+gazette    The Memsahib and I are hoping to be at Teslacon to officially launch the book in the US but you will be able to buy it online from September 1st.

Work has already started on the second edition and we will be inviting people to contribute as “reporters”.  More news of this opportunity shortly… 

A Journey Into Controversy

I feel it may be time to grasp the nettle and talk about “Journey Into Steampunk” a steampunk music festival for the August Bank Holiday weekend (two weeks before The Asylum) organised by a couple which appears to be a lady who is really getting into steampunk and her partner who is a professional music promoter according to his website.

I will admit that when I first heard about it I was disconcerted.  Why would anyone try to launch a big festival for a niche genre and go head to head with one of the best established events in the steampunk world?  Was it lack of research? Was it arrogance? Malice? Or was it about availability of the headline act Abney Park?  I can’t answer that. 

I looked at their lineup.  Seemed pretty good.  It looked expensive.  Since I promote many of these bands and have spoken to them and others I had an idea what it was going to cost to put the festival on.  I raised an eyebrow.  This seemed to be ambitious to the point of foolhardiness.

I have followed the festival’s “promotion”.  It seemed very limited.  I expected more from a professional music promoter.  It seemed to be mainly spamming facebook groups. (Indeed the promoter managed to get himself banned from a couple for spamming.)   There didn’t seem to be any real effort to engage in a meaningful way with the existing steampunk community.  There was no getting out there and meeting steampunks at events, selling the concept and the passion face to face.  There was no building a relationship or trust with the steampunk community. No attempt to show shared values and shared ideas.  It appeared a classic example of an outsider seeing the sparkle of the brass pound and assuming their skillset was directly transferable.  The trouble is if you don’t understand the values and foibles of a community it is very difficult to appeal to that community.

Their promotion has been along the lines of “get your tickets now they are selling fast”.  Well if you look at the facebook event group started by the promoter it shows just 200 people as “going” of whom around 30 are members of bands or the promoter (he is on there in at least three different guises) and the number has not been increasing.  Luckily Abney Park are a draw.  Opportunities to see them play are limited and they are one of the flagship brands for the scene.  Consequently a goodly number of diehard steampunks and some newer converts to the scene have booked.  Mind you the amount of revenue earned by my reckoning probably only was enough to cover the venue costs, facilities and perhaps one or two of the supports.

Six weeks before the event they were due to pay Abney Park.  The agreement was no fee as such but that their air fare should be covered.  The time schedule allowed for the purchase of plane tickets.  Indeed the band had already bought the tickets using their credit cards and were expecting to be reimbursed.   It must have been a real shock for Robert when he was told that this “huge festival”, as it had been sold to them, didn’t have the money to pay them what had been agreed almost a year previously.  They publicly cancelled.  The promoters faced a backlash.  They needed to rescue this. They immediately blamed the weather.  Foul weather has indeed hit events this summer. We have been flooded at home twice (luckily not badly since I was prepared).   The economic climate has also been a factor – people have limited funds so spend it carefully.  They have not blamed the fact that they were going up against The Asylum  (we are currently looking at 903 day/weekend bands to issue by the way with six weeks to go and more people coming just to evening features or to hang out) nor the fact that their promotion was sadly lacking or that they hadn’t engaged with the steampunk community.  It is comforting to blame an “act of god” since it leaves one blameless.  It also allows for the playing of a sympathy card.   Questions about “well will we be able to get refunds” are left hanging unanswered on the event boards etc. Along with requests from booked features saying “please reply you are ignoring us and we have been booked for months”.   I suspect this lack of transparency and responsiveness has further damaged their cause.

So how do they try to pull the fat from the fire?  They start a wefund site asking people to pledge money in return for goodies to raise the extra ash.  One minor problem – on the boards they were saying they needed just 80 more tickets at £45 to make the event work  (£3600) the wefund says they need £5800.  Of course the additional £2200 is partly to pay for the merchandise they will be “giving away” and a little bit more for the trouble.    It’s an interesting way to fund a festival.  We never take an event on unless we are prepared to underwrite it.  We don’t take on acts etc unless we are sure we have the money to pay them.  We don’t speculate but cut our cloth to suit.  Then again we are not chasing the brass pound to line our pockets, we try to convert the brass pound into events for the benefit of the community.     Had the event been entirely funded by wefund with total transparency of the amounts pledged and needed and no risk to people unless the event goes ahead then Journey into Steampunk might have been a goer.  Unfortunately this move has come in at the eleventh hour and even here they have shot themselves in the foot.

A ticket to “Journey” was £45.  People have paid this upfront in good faith.  As part of the wefund though you can buy a VIP ticket with backstage priveledges for just £35. Remember you don’t have to pay if the event does not go ahead too so your money is safe.  The poor steampunks who supported the event from the outset currently have paid more for less and have no safety net.  This is the perfect way to p*ss people off and  lose support.   The irony is if they had launched these VIP tickets at £50 0r £55 with the option of an “upgrade” at £5 or £10 then they would have sold more tickets and got even more cash from people who were already coming.  Why did they make this error?  Ineptitude? Contempt? Desperation?

Strangely the promoters are still very quiet online.  They are relying on steampunk advocates to push the event for them.  They are not trying to reassure or build trust.  The FB boards have had very little traffic for some days and criticisms are still on them unremarked .  The main website is STILL advertising Abney Park even though the band has cancelled and with no mention of the conditional nature of the gig.  Surely this is perilously close to fraud?

I sincerely hope that the promoters can pull this one out of the fire.  They have made mistakes but they could step up to the plate and make a difference.  Engage!  Address the problems.  Take ownership and work to rescue things.  Don’t just slope shoulders, blame the weather and panic.  My personal opinion is that the promoters meant well but overstretched and were outside their comfort zone.  The steampunk community can still set up and rescue them.  Indeed we looked at actually offering to bail the event out but the lack of transparency and the pulling up of ladders has convinced us this would be foolishness.  Lessons to be learned indeed.

The wefund site can be found here for people who want to support Journey and try and rescue it.

http://wefund.com/project/get-abney-park-over-to-the-uk/p44769/

If the promoters wish to talk to me to see if there is anything we can do to help salvage this situation they are welcome to drop me a line.

Etiquette, (trans)gender and steampunk.

I regularly read the blog of Ay-leen the Peacemaker who often has an interesting and challenging slant on Steampunk.

One of the articles talks about communities such as steampunk accepting transgender but not always encouraging it.  In the UK steampunk community we have worked to actively accept and promote transgender. This may be through having transgender individuals join us as the face of the VSS at promotional events for example.  One way which has met a fair amount of success has been through the adoption of a little bit of etiquette…

When meeting someone who is transgender or indeed someone who cross dresses there can be that moment of confusion and misunderstanding about how precisely to relate to them.  Unfortunately we have gender sensitive pronouns in English that can get in the way for example.  Steampunks however habitually shake hands when being introduced or meeting.

In the 19th century a chap extended his hand with the thumb on top, palm facing to the left.  A woman offered hers with the palm down towards the floor and the fingers slightly relaxed.  By using this convention it is possible to signal very learly and unequivocally which gender you wish to be treated as.  This is not to try and force someone into a gender role or stereotype, quite the opposite, but the intent is to make that first meeting easier and more comfortable for both parties.  It allows someone to take charge of their identity and ensure that others are clear on it and accept the persons personal freedom, assertions and value as a human being.

When you are met with a man who looks amazing as a woman but still prefers to be identified as a he it works perfectly.  For someone of transgender it removes all concerns that they may be “read” and mistreated but they can relax knowing they will be treated as they would wish.   The ownership and control of the situation is firmly in the hand(shake) of the individual.

This works well in the UK and could work in the wider community.  It is a small thing, a simple thing but in promoting simple acceptance and removing potential barriers we work to encourage transgender involvement in steampunk as a place where one can feel comfortable, at home and a member of a community.

Now someone may challenge this and claim we are trying to pigeonhole, reshape people, compel them to fit a role etc.  The answer is that these ideas are part of the critics’ prejudices not the prejudices of the people who use this method.  The aim is purely to facilitate comfortable social interaction – that is fundamental to steampunk and indeed what etiquette is all about.  It is fine to criticise on an academic level but don’t demand we change what we do unless you offer something which is practical and is trying to do something in the real world (albeit our little part of it) rather than in an academic cocoon or ivory tower.

Perhaps it will suffice to help in the short term until we can have a truly equal, non sexist, non judgemental community but that will need massive changes in language if nothing else.  Until something better comes along then…?

On running steampunk events.

We run steampunk events.  We also run events for steampunks.  I will admit I like to live vicariously and can often be seen at our events standing back a little and just watching people having a good time with broad smiles on their faces.  We do not run the events for profit or kudos.  We run them because we enjoy the challenges of setting them up, the enjoyment at the time and the satisfaction of a job well done.

We are successful at running events.  The Asylum is one of the leading festivals in the World.  It has grown and developed over its four years into something we could never have envisaged at the beginning when the online UK steampunks had debated and argued for a year about what they wanted and where it should be run.  We put our heads above the parapet, risked a chunk of our own money and then put in a heck of a lot of work promoting the event.  It was a success. (Luckily).

We keep looking for new ideas.  Not because we are trying to control what is going on but because we are a creative bunch who like being able to offer new experiences to our friends in the steampunk community.  We have our ethical base – events should be as inclusive as we can make them, affordable and accessible.  All of this has to be balanced with the demands of the event and the chosen location however.  We are aware that you cannot please all of the people all of the time but we do our best and hope that people understand that sometimes difficult decisions have to be made.

We also encourage other people to run events.  The community is always looking for things to get involved in.  It is also nice to have events to go to where we do not have to work.

However it is sometimes difficult to sit back and watch other events which are out there and not be critical of them.  Normally I bite my lip and keep silent.  I have no problem of expressing my opinions to close friends but am very aware that my position as organiser of the Asylum, Steampunk Central, New Year etc means it is difficult to express an opinion as an individual without people reading more into it.

Over the last few years there have been a number of events launched.  Sometimes these are small meets and gatherings. Sometimes they are larger events.  Sometimes they work, and other times they are nowhere near as popular as people expected them to be.  The main problem seems to be promotion.  Too many people rely upon social media to promote.  This cannot work in isolation. It has to be coupled with face to face promotion and contact.  People need to know who you are and to build faith in your event before they commit their time, effort and money to it.  You have to get out into the real community and impress people with your passion for the event to make it happen.  As you build a reputation then future events become more successful because people who went to the earlier ones will act as ambassadors for you.      If you want to run an event you have to visit other events to socialise and promote.  To do this you have to be on good terms with the promoters of the events you are visiting.   The key is COMMUNITY.  You have to be part of the community, working within it to make the best possible success of it.   Failing to do this does not mean you cannot run an event but it does mean you are disadvantaging yourself from the outset and handicapping your event.  Spamming on social networks also alienates your potential visitors. You can overdo it.

Timing is very important.   You have to look at what is planned around the same time as your event. You have to consider your market demographic and the size you want (or need) the event to be.  If your event is a punknic or similar and you are looking for a smaller gathering of localish people then a similar event the same day 150 miles away is not a problem.  As the size and duration of an event, its catchment area and potential market increases then you need to avoid similar sized (or larger) events by as much time as possible.  Trying to compete with established events can be seen as aggressive, arrogant or downright foolish. 

The biggest events in the UK for steampunks are The Asylum, White Mischief, Waltz on the Wye and Steampunk Central at WGW.   These are the slots to avoid and also the people to talk to in order to help you promote your event. 

It is possible to overstretch your customer base.  Too many events too close together can create a kind of steampunk fatigue.  Your core of supporters can be overwhelmed and find they can’t scrape together the wherewithal  to attend.  Remember it is not just about admission fees.  Travel costs etc can be crippling.  Time is another commodity that people do not have an infinite supply of.  If your regular supporters become fatigued then they cease to be ambassadors for you.

You have to be seen to be trying to be fair.  Discounting ticket prices out of desperation to meet your overheads simply alienates the people who have paid full price. 

You can’t exploit traders.  They are part of the draw.  Your fees have to be reasonable.  They have other costs too (e.g. travel etc).  If your costs are high then they have to increase their prices – you are in effect taxing the people who come to the event. At WGW the cost to trade in the Leisure centre is 4 times what it is in Steampunk Central.  Consequently you might find the same items on sale at £5 more.  You also have to ensure there are customers. At one recent event where traders had paid £50 to trade only 42 customers went into the trading room.  Traders were not happy.

Guests/customers/visitors/friends.  Call them what you will.  It is essential that you remember they are the most important part of an event.  Without them the event does not exist.  There will always be the awkward ones who want what you cannot provide but you do well to do your best by them if you can.  Overselling an event to make more profit is risky.  Having more people at a feature than can get in (through selling a festival wide wristband for example) can lead to acrimony and damage your reputation for future events.  We have had people decide not to attend The Asylum because they cannot get ball tickets even though there are lots of other things available.  To my way of thinking this is preferable to the situation where people expect to be able to attend a feature they feel they have paid for but cannot get in because the room/venue is full as we saw at the Steampunk World’s Faire.

Chasing the brass pound/dollar…    Well we have all seen it.  People realise steampunk is growing and popular and think “I could do that” or even “I want a piece of that”!  There is no problem whatsoever with aiming to make a profit.  Sustainability is however based upon your visitors having a good time and feeling they have had value for money.  Including steampunk in the title of an event is hardly different from the folks who stick steampunk in the title of an ebay listing just to generate viewers.  If you really want to run events that attract steampunks then try engaging and joining in with the steampunk community.  I am not just talking about posting on the group of that name on facebook (which I founded by the way) but really engaging, talking and perhaps more importantly listening to people.

Steampunk is a fabulous community and creative world and I thoroughly enjoy being part of it.  I hope that people will continue running imaginative and entertaining evenets.  It’s not rocket science. It is about engaging with a community.

Be Splendid!

A couple of years ago I launched the Be Splendid  campaign.  Everywhere I looked I saw “Keep Calm and Carry On” and whilst it was faintly amusing (with the many variations of course) it did not really capture the essence of Steampunk for me,

Be Splendid is really just a development and expansion on the “one true rule”; be nice to one another.  It goes further though and hopefully fits into the mindset of a steampunk a little better.  It has a threefold message.

Be Splendid in all your interactions with other people.  Behave courteously and respectfully and you should expect the same in return.  Be kind in your comments and judgements and encouraging in your critiques.  Be  willing to help, advise, facilitate and encourage.

Be Splendid in how you present yourself.  Dress well and don’t be afraid to express yourself.  Don’t however demand that people pay you attention nor deliberately go out to shock or embarrass. Demonstrate good manners in your greetings and dealings etc.

Be Splendid in everything you create.  This is a creative hobby so strive to always improve upon your skills and what you have created.  Don’t be disappointed or give up if you cannot realise your dreams but persist and try again.  Remember creativity is not just about making objects, it includes writing, music, assembling outfits etc from component parts even the creation of social gatherings and events.

As an underlying philosophy it explains some of my previous posts.   It is not very splendid to make assumptions and stereotype people based on simply being judgemental.  Nor is it splendid to insult people with offensive remarks.   Attempting to put people down and inflate your own sense of self worth as an “uber-punk” might can never be considered to be splendid.  Attempts at politics, control etc – are these splendid creations? Hardly.

Be Splendid has become a rallying cry and popular greeting/farewell for steampunks.  It is not an attempt at control or foisting an ideology onto people but is an exhortation to be positive and to do your best.  I strive to Be Splendid as my approach to steampunk.  Of course I fail. I am human. Even so the effort is what matters – that and not giving up.

BE SPLENDID!

Largely because I enjoy being around so many very Splendid people.

“Steampunk – fascism for nice people.”

Last week an author tweeted that he thought of steampunk as “Fascism for nice people.”  Not surprisingly an awful lot of people took offence at this.  After all people identify themselves as steampunks and don’t enjoy being called fascists.

This is an author of steampunk novels, amongst others, although apparently he has said he doesn’t like them being called steampunk.  His publishers tried to make light of the comment.  They said that he likes to use his twitter feed as a “consciousness dump”.  That misses the fact that we have a law here in the UK which makes illegal the sending of a public electronic message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to the Communications Act 2003. There are at least three people currently jailed in the UK for this offence.  I would have thought that “consciousness dumping” is therefore a bit risky and they might like to encourage their author to avoid it.

Notwithstanding that incident.  Why might anyone wish to equate steampunk with fascism?   Let’s look at a common definition of fascism:

“Fascism (/ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology.[1][2] Fascists seek elevation of their nation based on commitment to an organic national community where its individuals are united together as one people in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry and culture through a totalitarian state that seeks the mass mobilization of a nation through discipline, indoctrination, physical training, and eugenics.[3][4] Fascism seeks to eradicate perceived foreign influences that are deemed to be causing degeneration of the nation or of not fitting into the national culture.” (Wikipedia)

Obviously steampunk is not a nation but is some kind of  international scene or sub culture.  In these days of the internet however it could be argued that we form a kind of nation – a micronation type thing perhaps.  It’s a stretch but we could concede this.

Is steampunk radical? Well it’s hardly mainstream but I am not sure it is radical.

Authoritarian?  Interesting this one.  There may be some people who would like to control steampunk.   An awful lot of my friends are quite the opposite.  We may espouse certain views and encourage folks to join with a particular behavioural code but it is hardly authoritarian.  Indeed there is a very strong movement to encourage freedom of expression and variety. (see my previous blogs which touch upon this subjecy.)  Is that “edict – you will be individual” actually authoritarian?

Ideology – there is no single steampunk ideology.  People have a wide range of different political views etc.  Indeed steampunk’s main forum Brassgoggles forbids discussion of politics (amongst other things) because it always turns ugly.  Hey is that the totalitarianism?   Playing Devil’s advocate though we do have our own “Be Splendid” campaign. (Be splendid in everything you create, how you interact with other people and how you present yourself.)  Could this be our ideology?

So “united as one nation”?  Well we could be working towards this with our  globalised nation.

“Connections of ancestry”  well this is a tough one since we see steampunk and versions of steampunk across the globe.*   Mind you our ancestry could be “the 19th century”.   People use it for their inspiration after all.  Shame the whole world had a 19th century though and all of it seems to be fair game for steampunks.

As for “culture”, well there is a steampunk culture.  It is not really one that is restrictive though since it is a culture of creativity and individual imagination as far as I am concerned but nevertheless a culture.

“Mass mobilization”.  Well we do have conventions and flash mobs etc.  Oh dear our picnic gatherings may actually be fascist rallies.

“Indoctrination”.  I have not seen any of this unless you can call people getting together, dressing as imaginatively and creatively as they wish (indeed celebrating the folks who make leaps of imagination and come up with new ideas around the theme) and encouraging them to have a good time is indoctrination.

“Physical training” – best skip over this one lest I offend many of my steampunk friends.  As for “eugenics” this is now however a proven fact… http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/arts-entertainment/becoming-a-steampunk-best-way-to-prolong-virginity-2012062932516

Of course we do seek to eradicate foreign influences which lead to the degeneration of the nation.   Foreign influence such as poor behaviour.

I can see where the author was coming from now.   Oh dear he may be right!  If we ignore the anarchic nature of steampunks organisation, the emphasis on creativity, the inclusiveness and the international nature of the scene we really are all fascists.

It is of course preposterous.  I suspect that the author was actually stereotyping the scene as many people have done (see my earlier blog) and there are some commentators who have an axe to grind about politics and steampunk.  The psychologist in me wishes to point out that comments like this consciousness dump usually say far more about the writer than the subject they are commenting on.

Is that it? Does the author feel excluded from involvement in the fun aspects of steampunk and has made the classic “oh they are all evil anyway” leap of understanding?   He did have rather a hard time on a panel at the SFX weekender.  I am more than willing to extend an olive branch and invite him to The Asylum which just happens to be the largest gathering of steampunks in Europe and is well attended from across the globe so he can actually get a first hand understanding of what the culture is really about.

Well that is all for today.  I am off to a fascist rally – OK it’s actually a music festival for a wide range of alternative subcultures, including steampunk, but because we are part of it, it must be fascist…