Steampunk is an underground culture devoted to the fashions and technology of the 1890s — but with a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi twist. If that's a bit vague, try thinking: “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” meets H.G. Wells' “The Time Machine.” Heavily influenced by Goth cul-ture and music, steampunk fans are known to dress in velvets and brocades, modify their modern gadgetry to give it that brassy, steam-driven look, and generally worship at the altar of all things Victorian, from corsets and cogs to velocipedes and airships.
This weekend, Arkansas will finally get a taste of steampunk with the first annual Ravenwood Music Festival at George's Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville. Billed under the tag “Arsenic and Gears: A Post-Apocalyptic Steampunk Fantasy,” the two-night event features some of the nation's hottest DJs and some of the biggest names in industrial, goth and steampunk music — including acknowledged lords of the steampunk genre, Abney Park. Part costume party, part carnival, part concert, the Ravenwood Festival promises to be quite a scene for the discerning gentleman or lady.Bobby Scarbrough of Fayetteville is the organizer of the festival. Last year, Scarbrough said, the long-time organizer of an annual goth concert called “Mask and Veil” up and moved to North Carolina, leaving behind a dedicated tribe of loyal fans. Wanting to keep alive the tradition of a yearly music festival in the goth/electronica vein, Scarbrough took the initiative at the urging of a friend who runs a music blog called Ravenwood Manor. The festival is named in honor of that site.
Looking for a bold theme to kick off the inaugural year, Scarbrough and a couple of friends were poring over ideas when one of them — who hosts a neo-Victorian costume party every year on his birthday — suggested a steampunk event. “That's where I got ‘Arsenic and Gears' from,” Scarbrough said. “I wanted to do something really cutting-edge, and nobody has ever done anything out here like that, and I figured if we did something that nobody has ever done before, we might get more of a draw for it.” Scarbrough said that to his knowledge, Ravenwood is the first major steampunk music festival in the United States.
In the interest of pulling in a crowd, Scarbrough said he has tried to make the line-up of acts as inclusive and diverse as possible, in-cluding eight DJs, a goth-tinged belly-dance troupe, fire-eaters, an old school magician and artists displaying their wares. At the top of the bill, however, are some of the big wheels of goth and steampunk music, including the Ghosts Project, Vernian Process and Voltaire. “The thing with the event is that we're not just drawing from folks who love steampunk,” he said. “If you'll notice, we have Voltaire on our ticket, and Voltaire is big with the goth community. We're trying to pull in the goth kids, the electronica kids and the steampunk com-munity.”
Though Scarbrough said he was a little worried when the opportunity to start a new festival fell into his lap — “No bands, no venue, and no money,” he said — since settling on a steampunk theme, all the other gears in the Ravenwood machine have dropped neatly into place. “Through networking and sheer luck we have a two-day festival at the nicest venue in the area, carrying the biggest bands in the nation,” he said. “That's damn near an act of God. God must love steampunk.”
Ravenwood is cheap, too. An advance ticket for $20 gets you into not only Saturday night's main event, but a Friday night pre-party fea-turing DJs Azrael, Anthony Bell, Death Mistress and Little Rock band Das Gift. (Wait to get your tickets at the door and you'll have to pay a $10 cover to get in on Friday and an additional $25 if you want to come back Saturday night.)
For more information on acts and tickets, visit the festival's website at www.ravenwoodfestival.com, or call 479-527-6618.
Ravenwood Music Festival
Friday night: Pre-party in George's garden, with Das Gift, DJ Anthony Bale, DJ Death Mistress and DJ Azrael. $10 cover at the door, or free with advance-purchased ticket.