Few subgenres of fiction have come to life – or expanded into other mediums – the way that steampunk has.
Robert Brown, a prominent figure in the steampunk movement and lead singer-songwriter for the group Abney Park, describes its growth as “an aesthetic that first started in literature and sort of evolved into this whole subculture.”
Steampunk storytelling is usually set in an alternate universe that resembles a post-apocalyptic 19th century world, one in which steam-powered technology touches every aspect of life. From here, this retro-future science fiction branches off in different directions and often incorporates elements of other genres, including fantasy, horror and historical fiction.
Steampunk’s music follows no defined path, either. While Abney Park, playing at Harlow’s in Sacramento on Friday, takes cues from industrial dance and world music, the steampunk sound incorporates influences from punk, hip-hop, folk rock and even opera.
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Seattle-based Abney Park’s music embroiders on an elaborate story that Brown has crafted – one that’s featured in two books he’s written (“The Airship Pirate Chronicles”) as well as a role-playing board game (“Terror of the Skies”).
A deadly collision inside a violent storm between the band’s plane and a time-traveling airship serves as the jumping-off point for the story. The band commandeers the ship and forms a new group with its survivors. Together, they travel through the time as neo-Victorian marauders in a world that has been marred by sky wars.
“What we try to do with our music is we try to write the music the people on those adventures would have had,” Brown said. “So if these characters went to the Middle East, then their music would have a Middle Eastern sound. If they went into the future, the music would have science fiction kinds of overtones to it.”
The goal with each show is to be more than just a musical performance. When Abney Park steps on stage, it’s as if they have just disembarked from their airship to share their story with those in attendance for a few hours.
“You definitely get the impression that these are people who have been going through a different life,” Brown said. “Every square inch of us on stage – from our instruments, to our outfits, to our behavior, to our music – has been on this adventure. There’s no element of what we do that doesn’t fit into this steampunk movement.”
The five-member lineup features instruments including guitar, bass, keys and violin, with Brown working bouzouki, accordion, harmonic and a darbuka drum into the mix.
Formed in 1997, Abney Park found initial success as a goth act, and adopted its steampunk aesthetic in 2005. Over the years, the group has assembled a catalog that contains more than 150 songs and 17 albums.
“What we try to do (at our shows) is cherry-pick from the collection ... the most fun and entertaining sights and sounds (for the audience),” he said.
Abney Park’s Sacramento show Friday follows a Thursday stop at San Francisco’s DNA Lounge. The group hasn’t played California in two years and is working to promote its 18th album, “Nomad,” which drops Nov. 28. Brown said it’s the “most technically proficient” the band has ever recorded.
“We’re so excited about it,” he said. “I really think it’s one of our greatest achievements.”
While the Golden State is familiar stamping ground for the steampunkers, much of their past few years have been spent touring internationally, Brown said, playing in places such as Germany, France and Russia and finding fans they never knew they had.
“It’s sort of a metaphor for what the band has been doing for a few years now,” he said, “and that’s wandering around the world. And everywhere we go, we find these people from our tribe.”
What: Theatrical steampunk band parties like it’s 1899.
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Harlow’s (2708 J St., Sacramento)
Info: www.harlows.com; (916) 441-4693