Article | Steampunk Chicago | Time Bandits

photo by Max Herman

Time Bandits

Steampunk re-imagines how we live, dress and party.

by Joshua P. Ferguson

Originally published in Time Out Chicago Magazine | 02.16.11

It sounds like a dream. Airships rule the skies. Inventions the likes of which H.G. Wells imagined assist you daily. Men are Lords and women are Ladies. Corsets, gowns, frocks and pilot’s goggles are all the rage. It’s like a blast from a Victorian-era past, and yet it’s 2011. Welcome to the fantastical and endlessly intriguing world of steampunk.

An offshoot of Goth subculture, steampunk builds on the romantic notion that technology has never progressed to the use of petroleum-based fuels. It has adopted much of the look of that period in industrial history, specifically in Britain, with sci-fi embellishments. Emerging in the ’80s, today it draws healthy crowds to conventions—cons—all over the country to discuss their fashion, technology, literature and entertainment.

While places as close as Madison, Wisconsin, and Detroit have had thriving communities for some time, steampunk has only taken root in Chicago in the past year. This is in large part thanks to Steampunk Chicago, and its principal founders Joseph Rovner, a.k.a. the Lord Baron JCR Vourteque IV, and Sam Perkins-Harbin, a.k.a. the Reverend Captain Sam Flint.

Back in February, I shared a couple of drinks with Rovner, 30, and his girlfriend K.L. Kenzie, 32, at the Charleston, where the couple also hosts the Gaslight Sessions, a monthly steampunk soiree. The next installment goes down this Saturday 21. Dubbed the Steampunk Spring Spectacular, it features live  storytelling from the Absinthe Minded Professor, sword swallowing by San Jula and DJ sets from Dr. Xander Garrymander and the Steampunk Chicago DJs (a.k.a. Rovner and Mr. Automatic).

Although fashion plays a large part, it was the musical side of steampunk that truly wowed Rovner and Perkins-Harbin. After adapting their wardrobes and building a few props—elaborate modifications to everyday items that steampunks call “mods”—the two started attending cons in 2009. “The thing that really struck me was the dance party,” Rovner says of his first impressions. “The DJ played this crazy mix of industrial, neo-cabaret, vaudeville, soundtrack—things like Moulin Rouge—and it worked. I came back and am immediately thinking, we need to bring that to Chicago.” With a degree in film and screenwriting from NYU and a history of promoting raves and DJ events, Rovner was instantly drawn to the idea of combining the two.

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Clockwork Vaudeville Spring Spectacular transforms the Charleston on Saturday 21: More info

Want to know more about the bizarre world of steampunk? Here’s a primer.

Mixing sharp angles, asymmetrical silhouettes, industrial chic and a touch of the old world Victorian style that a steampunk craves, look no further than Bonnie and Clyde’s (1751 W Division St, 773-235-2680.

As K.L. Kenzie put it, “Tom Waits is to steampunk what Ozzie Osborne is to metal.” But if you’re after something more adventurous than that, check out quintessential steampunk band Abney Park ( or locally, magic circus band Environmental Encroachment (

  A Night at the Clockwork Vaudeville : A Steampunk DJ Mix by Steampunk Chicago DJs

Steampunk mods are some of the most fascinating things to come out of the scene. From Joseph Vourteque’s Fusion-O-Scope DJ rig to analog computers, you can find an assortment of inventions at Jake Von Slatt’s Steampunk Workshop (

Before the trend took off, Jules Vern, H.G. Wells and K.W. Jeter, who coined the term steampunk, were creating the world of this subculture. For a more recent example, turn to Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (although I don’t necessarily recommend seeing the movie).



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