Immersed in the Clockwork Underworld Created by Outflyer on 6/10/2013 9:37:15 PM
Special UK Correspondent L.C. Longo takes readers along to a trip inside London's Steampunk scene with her report on Clockwork Underworld, part of The Make Believe Festival.
Hello once again from the balmy city of London. My latest adventure has seen me travel from the depths of the Clockwork Underworld, to the frenzied halls of the Goblin King’s Ball, and lastly to the streets of the Make Believe Market. Hosted and brought to the entertainment starved masses by Gorilla Zoo, The Goblin Kings Masquerade Ball and the team at Clockwork Watch, The Make Believe Festival took place at Islington Metal works in central London in May to roaring acclaim, and you better believe your dedicated roving reporter was present for all of it. The Metal Works, commonly known for hosting Slimelight (One of London’s best established Goth club nights), was the perfect location to set the scene for Friday’s steampunk extravaganza: Clockwork Underworld. The Metal Works was build in the 19th century, and all three floors were originally used to house the horses that pulled the early version London transport system. In 1925 it became a metal works, part of the business is still in operation today. Currently you will find the venue guarded by a WW2 tank and thronging with alternative types on any given night.
The Clockwork Underworld is part two of an ongoing project fronted by Yomi Ayeni of Articipate Media, and will eventually consist of a of a five year transmedia story told through graphic novels, immersive theatre, and a feature film. The event coincided with the launch of the second graphic novel, Clockwork Watch: Breakaway. With a background as intimidating as that, I knew I was in for a treat. The first and most obvious feature setting this evening apart from other steampunk events was the in-depth levels of interactive role play that first greeted me at the door. There was so much going on, that I quickly grabbed hold of the first familiar face I saw and deputized him as my second pair of eyes and ears. Armed with cameras and a double gin and tonic we waded into the fray. A clockwork courtesan immediately engaged with me, explaining the background of the world I had just entered and the dynamics of the many characters I saw walking around. It was immediately apparent that not only were the outfits of the performers amazing, but the guests at the event were some of the best dressed I had ever seen. People had clearly taken a lot of time to prepare for this and it showed. As I entered the main room of the Metal Works I was met with cobbled streets, store fronts and street signs denoting my location as seedy Whitechapel. In front of me was what appeared to be small hovel, that when approached from the side showed its true colours as the main bar. Above me floated a dirigible, at least 4 foot wide and 15 feet long. Behind it, the glass roof of the venue showed looming brick buildings and a foggy London sky. Catching my breath I turned to see behind me what appeared to be a mini circus ring being tended by a lady in a fetching blue tail coat. Inspecting closer I found it to be none other than Ms Chameleon and her Incredible Flea Circus. Talented and modest in their performance, the fleas soon had a large audience surrounding them. After watching a few jumps from high platforms and feats of acrobatic prowess, I wandered over to the adjoining snug. Here I found groups of people staring at two ladies perched delicately on the stage. On either side of them were two men, both with large canvases and a set of paints. As I sipped the last of my first G&T the frantic brush strokes of The Bohemian Artist Studio shed some light on this most novel of performances. Live art, for art’s sake.
Finding myself entranced by it all I was slightly surprised when a ‘Clock’ (the Clockwork Underworld's version of a humanoid automaton) came up behind me and cleared his throat. Introducing himself as ‘Simon’, he made me aware that the musical performances of the evening were about to begin in the main stage room. Dodging all manner of bustle and top hats, I made my way past familiar faces and to the main stage, just in time to see Sunday Driver opening the nights revelries.
The blending of Indian and European influences set the tone beautifully and reflected the exotic plot of the Clockwork Underworld itself. I soon had my hips swaying and toes tapping. Finding myself in the front of the crowd, I was greeted by one half of The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, Andy Heinz and Marc Burrows. They were performing later in the evening in a partially acoustic set due to being down drummer Jez Miller. Having heard an acoustic version of their set before and having enjoyed it, I was eager to see how this one would pan out… I would not go home disappointed… but more on that later. After the final notes of a beautiful but currently unnamed song, Sunday Driver vacated the stage and made way for the ever incredible Bitter Ruin. For those of you unfamiliar with the pair, I suggest you keep an eye out for their soon to be recorded CD. Georgia Train’s fierce and dramatic vocals blend seamlessly with Ben Richard's soulful voice and playful guitar. The duo have a brilliant head for lyrics and their performances leave the audience heartbroken when it’s over. Needless to say, the room went wild after they finished. Further entertainment was to come from the Beatrix Players - a London based alternative folk band. The ladies wove a wonderful set filled with hints of film noir, theatrical and at times deeply emotive. You can hear some of their music via their website. Along with performances from Dread Falls Theatre, Civilized Mess, and interactive theatre lead by London Quest and Firecat Masquerade, the program of entertainment was varied and fast paced. For those of us who were more interested in the social side of the event, there was plenty of space for groups to converse. Familiar faces included our recent Featured Fashionistas Alison Brewer and Cecile Dubuis, both of whom certainly impressed with their ensembles. After briefly indulging in an absinth vapour infusion; similar to an oxygen bar, but absinth, and administered by a pair of mute ‘Clocks‘, I chatted with a lovely young lady who was attending her first steampunk event it. This seemed to be a regular theme of not only the Friday event, but the entire weekend. While many of the usual suspects were present, the vast majority of people seemed to be new to the madness. It’s given me great hope for the future when it comes to steampunk in the UK!
I spent a further hour or two (by this point in the evening, time was irrelevant), chatting away to a number of performers, and guests. I heard nothing but praise for the event. A few people were unaware of the story going on around us and after explaining the interactive nature of the event, and how they should go have a word with the Clock in the corner, I realized I had mostly avoided the plot myself.
Reconvening with my assistant, Peter, he filled me in on what he had been up to. While I had been innocently boozing it up and watching performances, Mr Bensley had been leading a world changing revolt and ditching bodies in the Thames. As we have already learned, (and can be read about in the first Clockwork Watch graphic novel, the Arrival), in the world of the Clockwork Watch, Clocks are humanoid automata created ten years previously by some dude from India. (You will have to bear with us here because by this time we had both been on the gin.) Inspired by the information that some Clocks have spontaneously manifested free will, Clockwork rights activists had been aiding some Clocks in escaping their owners. They achieved this by ‘Jail Breaking’, or artificially forcing the Clock in question to gain free will. Now, what the heck does all this have to do with the body Peter helped dump in the Thames I hear you say… Apparently my deputy reporter had fallen in with a group of Clockwork liberation types, and had managed to free the two mute absinth serving Clocks from earlier. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. The absinth was no more. I restrained my desire to choke Pete and listened to how he, and a liberation leader named Jack both tried to talk the two (now free) Clocks out of killing their master… they didn’t try very hard, and hence the body in the Thames. The repercussions of these actions will surely be reflected and fought out at further events, as well as in future graphic novels.
Now on my fourth or fifth G&T, I was finding the interactive nature of the evening excellent fun. I would never forgive Peter for destroying the absinth, but by the end of it I found myself siding with the Clock liberation group. Call me a sucker for a good ’underdog’ story, but I can’t wait to take part in the next chapter. Music floating in from the snug room was being brought to us by DJ Sacha Dieu. Electro Swing had the exhausted punters up and dancing wildly. Previously pristine gentlemen and perfectly manicured ladies lifted skirts and loosened cravats to one of the best mixes I’ve heard in a long time. You can hear part of the play list for the evening on Sacha’s SoundCloud.
Back at the bar and I ran into Andrew O’Neill, the missing member of The Men, prepping to take the stage for the last performance of the night. Jostling with the remaining patrons I plonked myself on the side of the stage. It was pretty obvious from the start that the crowd was going to be a lively one. The best way to describe The Men’s performance was, in a word, Punk. Sure they were down a set of drums, but when the crowd is moshing to ‘Moon’, a mostly slow paced song about a misguided venture to get to the Moon, it makes up for the lack of hard beat. Pushing for a ‘change’ in steampunk and a voicing desires to see it ‘become something more than dressing up’, The Men flew into their political mantra ‘Wigs’. The already exuberant crowd, their fists in the air, screamed back lyrics with gusto. About 50% of the crowd present were new to steampunk and from the faces around me I could see our numbers growing, fuelled by imagination, the desire for social change, booze and bloody good music.
Stumbling out of the Metal Works at 3am, I was filled with joy and hope for the years to come in our little sepia world. My body was weary, my throat sore, my soul rejuvenated; and still another two days to go before the end of the Make Believe Festival. Tomorrow I would be welcomed to the court of the Goblin King…
All photos courtesy of L.C. Longo.
L.C. Longo is a published author, costumer, jewelry designer, actress and performer currently residing just outside of Central London after permanently moving over from Pennsylvania in 2005. Flying the sepia flag for lovers of the post apocalyptic aesthetic, she has been known to roll a multi-sided dice from time to time and keeps a zombie survival guide by her bedside with notes in the margins.