The Asylum Steampunk Festival is the largest and longest running steampunk festival in the world, and people come from all over the world to take part. The event takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend in Lincoln. Apparently, this year, over 120,000 people were expected to attend. Yes, you read that right, 120,000 people.
This year the event was split between the Campus of Bishop Grosseteste and a few venues in the old town part of Lincoln, and it’s clear the city has taken the festival to its heart: The shops along Steep Hill all got their steampunk on this year; there was even an ice cream shop that stayed open 20 hours a day for the punks.
The event needed a wide range of locations because there was so much going on – over 200 individual programme items. The items varied from talks, demonstrations, makes, drawing, recitals, races, duelling, promenades, markets, comics, literature, music, comedy and more. Most of the events were free with the weekend pass, but there were some are additional ticketed events, such as the Empire Ball and the Major’s Soiree.
Steampunk means a great many different things to different people; for me it’s today’s technology in a Victorian setting – but every steampunker will define it differently, and that is something that was obvious the second that you stepped into the Asylum: Costumes galore, in all colours and fabrics and forms. People of all ages, abilities, shapes and colours were there, deep in the fun being all manner of punks – from Powderpunk to Dieselpunk, WesternPunk to Apocopunk, Superheropunk and pretty much every other type of punk beside. There was even a guy with a spike mohawk for those of us who remember when punk was about Punk music in the late 70s and early 80s.
There were many cross-over costumes too. The Doctor Who stuff was expected, what I hadn’t expected were all the Star Wars crossovers, the gaming crossovers (at least two Assassins Creeds), manga costumes, androids, Alice in Wonderlands, and a whole league of superheros.
There were more corsets than you could shake a cane at, and there were plenty of canes to shake, more toppers than you can tip. There are a huge number of military uniforms too, plus any number of goggles, jet packs, fascinators, fans, faux weapons, chariots, cycles and computers. There was also a lot of promenading. Not organised, but just those in costume wandering around the city as if Victoria were still Head of State.
For those in costume, there was a stand producing authentic Victorian wetplate photography printed onto glass or tinplate, with a beautiful wooden camera, and genuine lens from the late 1800s. Although they weren’t cheap, the results were high quality, unique and entirely fitting for the event.
Since I write steampunk novels and the next one will include airships, I attended a talk on designing airships, given very ably by a young man who was a naval engineer by day. I got loads of ideas that would never have occurred to me without the talk – too many ideas in fact! There was also a great talk on the history of bicycles, and that led to an another unexpected idea for my next book. I also attended a Makers talk on “Daleks and Droids”, and another on building a “computational engine” – which was actually about building a steampunk casing for a standard Windows 10 PC, but the result was beautiful.
There was also teapot racing, Wacky Races, Wacky Pararaces, a Dinorun, Military Parades, the Queen’s Parade, music events, writer’s talks, makers displays in The Great Exhibition, life costume drawing, comics, fashion, tea duelling, facial hair fight outs, and High Noon shootouts (modified Nerf guns were everywhere!). There was even a jet pack race, which was utterly brilliant. One guy really hammed it up and played for the crowd – such a laugh!
One of the events on the programme was the “Virgin Meet” for all those attending for the first time, which was well worth the time to attend. They talked about the history of Asylum, how it came about and what it aims to do. They also talked about the inevitable outcome – sore feet from all the walking, sore face from all the smiling – so, a word of advice: If you are to attend the event in the future, remember to bring aspirin, comfortable shoes, blister plasters, superglue for on the fly costume repairs, and a smile you can wear all day!
This was my first Asylum, but won’t be my last. The organisers did a fabulous job, and clearly put in an incredible amount of work. And here’s the real kicker – it’s all voluntary. The organisers are not paid for their efforts, but they are meticulous in their arrangements. For example, the stretch between the main event venues was a roughly 15-minute walk. However, the organisers had the great foresight to provide shuttle busses between the Campus and the Cathedral, something I am sure saved more than just my aching feet.
I went as part of a family and we each got something very different out of the weekend: My husband now has some projects in mind for building next year’s costumes and props; I’ve got comics to read, costumes to make, books to write; and our daughter, a photography student, got lots of material for her portraiture project specialising in cosplay. To sum it all up, there’s only one word I can use for what I saw, experienced and enjoyed: Splendiferous.