I am late posting this because I’ve had a lot of painful diversions this week, which I’m not going to go into in this post. Anyway, I wrote this at home last Monday. My achy feet up, the corset off, I was surrounded by evidence of cogtourrets having infected the whole household.
For those who have no idea what I’m talking about – let me explain. We; me, my husband and our daughter; attended the Asylum Steampunk Festival 2017.
Asylum has been running for 9 years, and is officially the largest steampunk festival in the universe – a NASA scientist says so, and it did attract in the region of 120,000 visitors. The event is held in Lincoln, this year it was split between the Campus of Bishop Grosseteste (no I don’t know how to pronounce that properly either) and a few venues in the old town part of Lincoln. Look you want to know the details and history of the event, here’s the website – www.asylumsteampunk.co.uk – go check it out, I’m only going to report what I experienced.
I heard about the weekend from a friend, and as soon as I looked into it, I thought “yes, I’m going.” It didn’t take much to persuade my husband to come too, or our daughter. I was a little worried in case they didn’t find stuff that they were really interested in – but that didn’t concern didn’t last long once we got there.
First things first, the second we got there – I for one felt underdressed. Everyone dresses up for the Asylum. Costumes galore in all colours and fabrics and forms. People of all ages, abilities, shapes and colours were there deep in the fun. All manner of punks. From Powderpunk to Dieselpunk; WesternPunk to Apocopunk; Superheropunk and pretty much every other type of punk beside – there was even a guy with a spike mohawk for those of us who remember when punk was just Punk music in the late 70s and early 80s.
There were more corsets than you could shake a cane at, and there were plenty of canes to shake, more toppers than you can tip. Any number of goggles, jet packs, fascinators, fans, faux weapons, chariots, cycles and computers. And that was just the attendees.
There are hundreds (think over 200) individual events in the programme.There were talks for makers, I listened to ones on Daleks and Droids, and another on a computational engine (yes that is a steampunk computer).
Now I’m not much of a maker, I can make clothes if I have to but haven’t for years; my creativity lays is more about the written word. But in the talks, there were tips on making and how to repurpose things. These were ideas that would never have occurred to me and will come in very handy for next year and the costume stuff my husband and I are going to put together for. But by the way, is cogtourrets, starting sentences with “next year [at Asylum]…”
Since I write steampunk novels and the next one includes airships, I attended the talk on designing airships given very ably by a young man who I think said he was a naval engineer by day. That was something that surprised me, the sheer number of people I meet and found out that they were ex-military. Or maybe that’s just the kind of people I attract, who knows. Anyway, I got loads of ideas that would never have occurred to me without the talk. Too many ideas in fact. There was a great talk on the history of bicycles too, and that led to an another unexpected idea for my next book.
There was teapot racing, Wacky Races, Wacky Pararaces, a Dinorun, Military Parades, the Queens Parade, music events, writers talks, makers displays in The Great Exhibition, life costume drawing, comics, fashion, facial hair fight outs, High Noon shootouts. Modified Nerf guns everywhere. There was even a jet pack race, which was utterly brilliant, the one guy really hammed it up, played for the crowd – such a laugh!
There were many cross-over costumes too. The Doctor Who stuff was kind of to be expected, what I wasn’t expecting were all the Star Wars crossovers, the gaming crossovers (a couple of Assassins Creeds at least), there were manga costumes, androids, Alice in Wonderlands, and a whole league of superheros.
And then there is the promenading. Not organised, but just those in costume wandering around the city as it the Queen were still Victoria. Apparently, over 120,000 people were expected to attend. Yes, you read that right, 120,000 people. That’s why it’s the biggest. What’s wonderful is the rules, the rules being: be “splendid, friendly and polite.” Who can’t remember that right? And everyone was.
Hopefully, this shows that there is so much going on there is simply no way that anyone can possibly attend all the organised events. So pick your programme carefully. I’d made several choices, only to find that I didn’t have time to get between the events on campus and those at the top of town on time. Now, this is NOT the organisers fault, it’s entirely my fault. Firstly I couldn’t find one of the venues, simply because there were so many people around (and I’m not the tallest person you’ve ever met), that I couldn’t see the signs for it. Then there’s the fact that I’m not the fastest of walkers, especially after that many steps, and that many blisters. Again the blisters are my fault, thought those shoes would be okay, but apparently not. Also, there was a bus service – yes the organisers aren’t stupid or inconsiderate – they actually put on a bus service – I just didn’t find out about it until day 3. My bad (oh my very bad feet!).
The old town of Lincoln is connected to the new part of town by a street called Steep Hill, and trust me, they are not kidding! Which is why one of the things to watch was the assent of Steep Hill. I didn’t manage to see it, but I’ve seen photos and it looked great fun.
I went as part of a family and we each got something very different out of the weekend. My husband now has some projects in mind for building next year’s costumes and props. I’ve got comics to review (see later posts), costumes to make, books to write. And our daughter, well she’s studying photography and one of her projects this year has been portraiture. Not just any portraiture, she’s specialised in cosplay, which is why she wanted to attend the Asylum. While she got some great portraits, she also got a whole lot more than that out of the event. In the market are there was a stand for Dark Box Photography (www.darkboximages.com). They guys were doing authentic Victorian wetplate photography. They were printed on both glass and tinplate. Now, individual photographs were not cheap, but they are quality, unique, and so fitting for the event and the costumes. As each photograph is taken, the photographer, Gregg McNeill, talks the subject through the process and it’s fascinating even to me and unlike my daughter and husband I have no interest in photography. The resulting picture, however, I liked.
It has to be said that the city of Lincoln has so taken this festival to its heart! The shops along Steep Hill all get their steampunk on. There’s even an ice cream shop that stays open 20 hours a day for the punks. Every room in town gets booked up to accommodate the number of visitors. In short, it’s not only good for the attendees, it’s great for the city’s economy.
This was my first Asylum, but it won’t be my last. The organisers did a fabulous job. I enjoyed four days, they saw the culmination of a year’s work. And for all the work they will have put into everything, I want to say a big THANK YOU! For anyone who has never organised an event before, believe me, the amount of work is incredible. A big event like this – you start planning the next one as soon as the current one is finished. And here’s the real kicker – it’s all voluntary. The organisers are not paid for their efforts, but they are meticulous in their arrangements.
To sum it all up, there’s only one word I can for what I saw, experienced and enjoyed – Splendiferous. (Considered Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but that’s indubitably a bit difficult to say!)
Next year I hope to be in a position to actually sell my books there too; there you go, more cogtourrets. But a word of advice. If you are to attend the event in the future – remember – aspirin, comfortable shoes, blister plasters, superglue for costume repairs, and a smile you can wear all day – your face will ache. And I for one am going to get into training for all the walking involved. Hope to see some of you punks out there in 2018 too.