Steampunk Industrial Complex: Bridging Subcultures at Malediction Society

View more photos in the Steampunk Ball slideshow.

Steampunk Industrial Complex: Bridging Subcultures at Malediction Society
Shannon Cottrell

When Xian Vox first conceived of the aesthetic behind Malediction Society four years ago, steampunk was barely a blip on the cultural radar.

"Back in 2005, nobody really knew about the genre except for a few gamers and geeks like me who are huge HG Wells fans," she says.

Even now, in terms of sound, steampunk is a largely undefined terrain. There are bands like Vernian

Process and The Unextraordinary Gentlemen, whose names and lyrics play upon the themes and major works of the speculative fiction genre, and artists like Jill Tracy, whose slightly Victorian sensibility attracted fans from this burgeoning movement, but there's are no sonic conventions. Steampunk isn't a music scene. It's about books, films and DIY craft projects. But, then, who is to say that people who like reading Jules Verne and modifying computers to look like Victorian renderings of time machines don't like to go clubbing too?

Steampunk Industrial Complex: Bridging Subcultures at Malediction Society
Shannon Cottrell

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Vox had an idea, to combine the style of steampunk with industrial, darkwave and classical music. For her, it made perfect sense. Industrial music takes its name from the Industrial Revolution, which overlaps with the era referenced in steampunk works. The look of industrial could easily morph into steampunk with its use of goggles, sturdy boots and work pants. Additionally, Industrial had spawned neoclassical, which merged electronic beats with operatic vocals and string sections. That subsection of LA's goth/industrial scene had already been dressing in Edwardian and Victorian styles, but hadn't hadn't "conceived going even slightly anachronistic about it." With that in mind, Vox joined forces with Amanda Jones, perhaps best known as the resident DJ at LA's long-running club Perversion, and launched Malediction Society inside the darkly deco Koreatown club Monte Cristo.

"The joke became that it was industrial music for industrial people," she adds."But people didn't really get it at first.

"I had to go digging around and there was a very simple Wikipedia entry that I put with the email, explained it to people and kind of held their hands on it," she recalls. "A lot of people had never heard of the term before and I think it wasn't until our third anniversary that it had become commonplace."

To be fair, Malediction Society isn't a strictly steampunk event. While the promotional materials and much of the design details at the weekly, Sunday night party fall in line with this, you won't be turned away at the door if you aren't wearing goggles and a waistcoat and many of the theme parties -- like the monthly Zodiac Balls and the annual cosplay event Otaku Society -- fall outside of the genre. But this weekly hot spot is always geek-friendly and, once a year, the club's anniversary Steampunk Ball brings out the sci-fi-loving Victorian explorer in the hundreds who travel from across the state to attend. At last Sunday's bash, we met people like LA-based photographer Michael Simpson, who modified a Nerf Maverick Rev 6 gun to give it a worn, Victorian feel, and Vanessa Cook of San Diego, who smashed two clocks and pulled apart a bunch of dollar store watches to create her jewelry for the event. All around us, there were bustles and corsets, leather aviator jackets and waxed mustaches. Retro-futurists sipped absinthe poured from a large, steampunk-looking machine designed by local craftsman Christian Marcus Florendo. Through the dry ice fog of the dance floor, club kids twirled and stomped like something from a rave inside the Haunted Mansion.

From the booth, Vox and Jones spun the biggest hits of the club's run. While Malediction Society's playlist can lean a little towards industrial standards, where the club truly succeeds is when the DJs hit on the perfect fusion of orchestral and electronic sounds. This typically includes artists like Qntal and Die Form (bands that Jones is often credited for popularizing in LA during her residency at Helter Skelter in the mid-'90s) and songs like the operatics-heavy Distant Vocals remix of Wumpscut's track "Thorns." Vox also notes that she likes to throw in classically-influenced rave anthems like Brainbug's "Nightmare" and Apotheosis' "O Fortuna."

"My own interpretation is a little different from [how] the modern steampunk genre is primarily oriented these days," says Vox. " That whole scene leans towards the avant-garde aesthetic of what the music should be. In my eyes, there are multiple styles of music now."

With its mix of tunes, occasional live performances from troupes like The Elysium Dance Theatre and The Wandering Marionettes and frequent themed events, Malediction Society has prompted club-goers who had, frankly, grown too accustomed to the casual nature of LA nightlife in recent years, to dress up and escape into an era that never really existed.


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