Since I’m headed to The Difference Engine Summit, a steampunk convention, this weekend, I thought I would post the cosplay and fashion report on A-kon 21 I wrote for Askew. It was at A-kon that I learned more about the steampunk subculture, and I can guarantee you that there will be future posts related to it on this site. (In the meantime, you can check out my friend’s blog post about why anime and manga are relevant to the steampunk community.)
The early arrival of triple digit temperatures in Dallas did not deter A-kon 21 attendees from donning their elaborate outfits. Cosplay, Lolita, and steampunk enthusiasts descended upon the Sheraton the first weekend of June to meet like-minded individuals and see special guests, which included fashion designer/musician IBI and band Abney Park.
A-kon regulars joke about how easy it is to locate the Sheraton: just look for the cosplayers wandering around downtown. In addition to the staple Final Fantasy, Naruto, and One Piece costumes, the elegant Victorian outfits of Kuroshitsuji, military uniforms and ethnic dress of Axis Powers Hetalia, and humanoid interpretations of Pokemon monsters were popular this year. Anime and video game fans weren’t the only ones dressing up though. Batman villains, Doctors and Companions, Disney princesses, and even Lady Gagas appeared at A-kon. In fact, Best in Show at the cosplay contest went to a woman dressed as UrStone from the fantasy film The Dark Crystal.
Lolita was another common look. The Japanese subculture has been rapidly growing in popularity. The Metroplex Lolitas hosted a meet-up at the nearby 650 Restaurant. It brought male and female Lolitas of all ages and styles. Some even came from out of state to meet their fellow petticoat-wearers.
Many of these J-fashion aficionados flocked to the h.NAOTO booth to check out the various collections from the gothic brand and its sister labels, HANGRY&ANGRY and SIXh. SIXh. fuses fashion and rock music by being both a clothing brand and a band. One of the its designers and the band’s vocalist, IBI, made an appearance at A-kon.
The h.NAOTO panel gave a visual history of the brand and introduced the A-kon audience to the gurokawaii (morbidly cute) cartoon world of HANGRY&ANGRY and the hip visual kei-inspired aesthetic of SIXh. The latter fused the bold rocker aesthetic of IBI with the whimsical, cat-adorned designs of Sixh.’s other designer and bassist, MINT. At the panel, IBI described the wearer of SIXh. clothing as an individual with “fighting spirit.” He also revealed in that he started as a visual artist and named L’Arc~en~Ciel, Gackt, and Janne D’Arc as his musical inspirations. When asked which designer he wanted to collaborate with the most, he stated Naoto Hirooka, the mastermind behind h.NAOTO.
If Lolita is the Japanese girl’s cute interpretation of Victorian dress, then steampunk is the sci-fi fan’s technologically-embellished rendition. Captain Simon Taineous of Austin-based steampunk group SkyDogs described steampunk as “the Victorian era that never was.” The SkyDogs hosted panels for both steampunk neophytes and those who wanted to expand their wardrobe beyond goggles, modified Nerf guns, corsets, and top hats. There was also a tea social, a dance with DJ Infam0us spinning the tracks, and a concert by Abney Park.
Abney Park is a ragtag crew of musicians who attribute their eclectic look and sound to their journeys aboard the time-traveling airship Ophelia, which conveniently landed in Dallas during the weekend of A-kon. Captain Robert Brown and his crew entertained a large crowd of stempunks and curious souls who were probably wondering what steampunk music sounded like. Playing old favorites like “Sleep Isabella” and new songs like “End of Days”, Abney Park combined industrial dance beats and hard rock riffs with Middle Eastern percussion and European folk melodies. Dan Cederman linked these sounds together on his bass while Kristina Erickson, on her new Tesla keyboards, generated moods that ranged from melancholic to jaunty. The band even had a Charleston number, “Until the Day You Die.”
With variety of instruments on-stage, modified to meet Abney Park’s past-meets-future aesthetic, it was hard to believe that the band used pre-recorded tracks. In order to play both the violin and guitar parts in their signature tune, “Airship Pirates,” Nathaniel Johnstone recruited two audience members to hold his violin and bow. Captain Robert alternated between playing the doumbek and the diatonic button accordion. He jested with the concert-goers between songs and commanded their attention with his low hypnotic vocals. When paired with Jody Ellen’s ethereal voice, it transported listeners to faraway lands in a fantastical time period. By the end of the night, those who came not having heard of Abney Park walked away with not only knowledge of what steampunk music sounded like, but also love for the free-spirited crew of the Ophelia.
As the number of A-kon attendees grow, so does the number of costumed individuals. The cosplay contest judges noted that entrants have continued to raise the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail, thinking outside the box to stand out in the crowded halls. Likewise, as the Lolita and steampunk subcultures grow in popularity, more individualized looks appear, leading to the formation of new sub-groups (steampunk Lolita is not too far on the horizon). One thing remains constant, however, and that is the dedication of these cosplayers and fashionistas that allows them to brave the Texas heat for a weekend every year.
For more photos, click here.