I really thought this week would have a few more things for me to say, but it did not. So be it, I still said more than I did during Terrorfakt week. Once again, I worry about the ability of the holidays to derail my plans for posts, but so far, so good.
Dr. Steel was, as I explained in my last post, someone I found while wandering MySpace. I was just starting to explore Steampunk sub-culture (not dissimilar from my attempts to explore Goth culture, but not worthy of a separate post, I learned my lessons and just stayed to the fringes), and I was trying to find music that fit the bits of Steampunk I enjoyed. I was looking for something that could be like the visual aesthetic, velvet and lace mixed with coal and copper, in musical form. MySpace recommended Dr. Steel. You can fight me on this, but I don’t see him as a Steampunk artist. I think people think this just because of the whole “robot army” thing he talks about. Aesthetically, it’s a lot closer to Dieselpunk or Retrofuturism than Steampunk. I mean, sure, the gears and the robots and the mad scientist thing are all prevalent Steampunk things, but they carry into the other two as well. Really, his People of Earth album cover looks like something out of a fifties science-fiction pulp novel more than it looks like anything Steampunk. It doesn’t make it any less cool, I just wanted to get up on my soapbox for a second about this. It’s Retrofuturism, not Steampunk.
Musically, though, he is very much not what I would have thought of as Steampunk. If you’re really looking for a Steampunk band, Rasputina would probably be a better fit. But that didn’t make it any less cool to me. Just like his visual styles, which mix a lot of disparate elements to create something interesting, his music does the same thing. You can hear influences of Faith No More, Marilyn Manson and Mindless Self Indulgence in there along with nods to Nu-Metal and Jazz. The influences are all over the place, even going so far as to mimic Nat King Kole’s Nature Boy, mock the Sesame Street theme song and do the most metal cover of the Inspector Gadget theme ever conceived.
And that’s really what keeps me coming back to Dr. Steel. Even though the lineage and the influences are obvious and glaring, he still manages to make his own thing out of them. His look was unique, he created a character that he never broke (his shows were supposed to have his “robot band” backing him up, but he would always come up with some excuse about them being serviced or upgraded to explain the real life musicians behind him), and he created music that was conspicuously derivative but somehow also exclusively his own. His YouTube videos were hilarious.
Dr. Steel is also the most successful recommendation I have ever made. Almost everyone I recommended Dr. Steel to instantly liked it. I have never felt so inspirational in my life. Usually I can pull off a couple good recommendations per artist. I appreciate that some bands aren’t for everyone. But for some reason, Dr. Steel seemed to be universally loved by everyone I forced to listen to it. Maybe it was his amalgamation of styles that did it. With so many styles and genres he was pulling from, there was almost a guarantee that there would be something for anybody to latch on to.
I always respected and marveled at the creativity of Dr. Steel. I mean, his music was never going to win a Grammy or become the number one hit on any radio station, but it was good and he had a gimmick that make it just a little better. In spite of my recommendations, he never took off, and eventually retired. I think his battle with Joss Whedon over the Dr. Horrible thing was the last straw. If people had latched on to Dr. Steel before that, he would have stayed popular despite the similarities. Since Joss Whedon had a much bigger audience than Dr. Steel, he ended up looking like the imitation rather than an inspiration, and I think it hurt his chances to really break out.
Regardless, he made a bunch of great music. He, like Deconstruction, helps contribute to my music elitism (“Oh, you haven’t heard of Dr. Steel? Well let me show you how I know more about music than you do by talking about this obscure artist at length.”). Plus, I can never get enough of a good mad scientist. I’m a technocrat at heart, and have no issue with some misunderstood genius trying to reshape the world with fringe science. It’s a fun archetype, and mixing it with fun music just makes it better. I mean, where else am I going to hear music glorifying the Fibonacci Sequence?