MELVYN BRAGG – Good morning. Today on In Our Time we’re going to be looking at the Steampunk era, a time which often seems to be shrouded in a fog- or possibly even a smog, ha ha, of mystery. With me today is Dr Deuteronemu 90210, emeritus professor of Musical Archaeology at the Institute of Awesome. Dr 90210, it wasn’t all that long ago. Why is so little known about the period?
DR 90210- Well, what we have to remember is that a lot of the primary evidence was destroyed during the Martian Invasion of the late 19th Century-
MELVYN- Ah yes, the War Of The Worlds.
DR 90210- Yes, that’s right. It’s important that we remember just how much damage those fighting machines caused- as a result we’ve lost a lot of remarkable inventions. Indeed, in many ways technology was as advanced as it is today.
MELVYN- This must make it a difficult area to study- isn’t a lot of this just speculation?
DR 90210- Until a few years ago, this was largely the case- a lot of eyewitness reports from the time have been embellished, and the Victorians were notoriously untrustworthy. It was often said that to tell too much of the truth about anything could be a threat to the Empire.
MELVYN- But this has changed- why is that?
DR 90210- Recent years have seen us uncovering some recorded music from the time, and I think this gives us a greater insight into what life must have been like back then. For example, this collection, entitled This May Be The Reason Why The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing Cannot Be Killed By Conventional Weapons. It’s very eye-opening, especially on the subject of civil engineering.
MELVYN- Ah yes, it always comes back to that, ho ho! What can we learn about civil engineering from this recording?
DR 90210-Well, as we already knew, back then the role of the civil engineer was more akin to today’s rock stars, or Hollywood actors. The Steampunk bands of the day would often compose songs in tribute to them, in styles we today would probably compare to West Coast hardcore, or post-punk, depending on the engineer involved. Brunel and Bazalgette were both considered heroes by many, and were often to be found throwing the horns and stagediving at the classier social gatherings around town.
MELVYN- So there was quite a vibrant musical scene back then? Are we thinking of something like the music hall, or something more like young people’s rock and roll?
DR 90210- Both, actually- a capella four-part harmonies weren’t unheard of, though the gentlemen of the day seem to have largely preferred something not too far from today’s metal. Often the songs were very bawdy, dealing with things like- can I say “wanking” on Radio 4?
MELVYN- Erm- not again, please. Let’s just say “masturbation”.
DR 90210- Ooh, so sorry. “Masturbation” it is.
MELVYN- “Cracking one out”‘s acceptable, too. I checked. SAYING it is, I mean, ha ha!
DR 90210- Ahem. Dealing with things like masturbation, or primitive electrical contraception. In fact, on the evidence we have here, the Victorians even had a variant of what we today would call doom metal, only it was largely reserved for special occasions, such as the arrival of the Elder Gods.
MELVYN- And by “Elder Gods”, do you mean the same-
DR 90210- Yes, the very same Elder Gods that threaten our lives and sanity to this day.
MELVYN- Now that IS interesting. So we’ve had extra-dimensional horrors, self-abuse and building things. How were things politically back then? I mean, we all know about the British Empire; how did Steampunk London react to the times?
DR 90210- Ah, this is where they could sometimes become a little more serious. There’s a brilliant metal song on here exhorting soldiers to rise up against their masters, for example- it’s really quite rebellious stuff. And another, jollier number in support of the Whig party, and talking about things that seemed radical at the time, like emancipation for women, and Tories being, essentially, dicks. It’s fascinating to look back and think just how far we’ve come as a society.
MELVYN- I’m afraid we’re running out of time, so on the basis of this collection, how would you categorise the music of these Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing?
DR 90210- Fucking awesome, dude.
MELVYN- Thank you, Dr Deuteronemu 90210.
ANNOUNCER- and now, on Woman’s Hour, Jenni Murray will be interviewing David Cameron, and discussing the thorny issue of the best way to wash pants.
-DEUTERONEMU 90210 in conversation with “Melvyn Bragg”-*
*(not actually in conversation with Melvyn Bragg)