Dieselpunk is a genre that combines the aesthetics of diesel-based technology influenced by the interwar period to the 1950s with futurist postmodern technology. First coined in 2001 by game designer Lewis Pollak to describe his role-playing game Children of the Sun, the term has since been applied to a variety of visual art, music, motion pictures, fiction, and engineering.
- 1 Origin
- 2 The diesel era and decodence
- 3 Dieselpunk as an art movement
- 4 Dieselpunk as a subculture
- 5 Variants
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The name "dieselpunk" is a derivative of the 1980s science fiction genre cyberpunk, and is used to represent the time period - or "era" - from the interwar period until the 1950s, when diesel-based locomotion was the main technological focus of Western culture. The "-punk" suffix attached to the name is representative of the counterculture nature of the genre with regards to its opposition of contemporary aesthetics. The term also refers to the tongue-in-cheek name given to a similar cyberpunk derivative, "steampunk," which focuses on science fiction based on industrial steam power, which is often set within the Victorian era in modern times due to different combinations of genres which eventually became almost synonymous with steampunk regardless of the origins.
The diesel era and decodence
Dieselpunk draws its inspiration from two related sources: the diesel era and a characteristic referred to as "decodence." According the web site The Gatehouse, decodence (a portmanteau of "deco" and "decadence"), "embraces the styles and technologies of the era; it rejoices in a prolonged Jazz Age ambience characterized by great enthusiasm and hopes about the future."
The term "diesel era" is a period of time that begins with the start of the interbellum era, which covers the time between the end of World War I and the start of World War II. The interbellum era is central to one school of dieselpunk often labeled "Ottensian." In addition to the interbellum period, World War II also plays a major role in dieselpunk, especially in the school of the genre referred to as "Piecraftian." (See "Common themes found in dieselpunk fiction", below.) The exact ending of the diesel era is in some dispute in the dieselpunk community. Depending on the source it ends either at the conclusion of World War II or continues until the early part of the 1950s with the advent of such cultural icons as the Golden Age of Television and the replacement of Big Band and Swing music with Rock and Roll in popularity.
Dieselpunk as an art movement
Although the term “dieselpunk” was not coined until 2001, a large body of art significant to the development of the genre was produced before that. Artwork (including visual arts, music, literature, and architecture) created in the dieselpunk style are heavily influenced by elements of the art movements most prevalent in Western culture during the diesel era such as:
- Arts - Abstract Expressionism, Art Deco, Bauhaus, Raygun Gothic, Constructivism, Cubism, Dada, De Stijl (Neo-Plasticism), Futurism, International Style, Surrealism
- Music - Blues, jazz, ragtime, cabaret, Big Band, swing, retro swing and bluegrass
- Literature - Symbolism, Stream of consciousness, Modernism, Pulp, Hardboiled Detective and Noir
Dieselpunk fiction and literature
Alternative history and World War II features prominently in dieselpunk literature. Examples of other dieselpunk novels are Tales of the First Occult War by Kevin Cooney, Fiends of the Eastern Front by David Bishop, and Hard Magic: Book 1 of the Grimnoir Chronicles by New York Times bestselling novelist Larry Correia.
A feature that was first identified by the online magazine The Flying Fortress is that dieselpunk can be divided into two primary themes or styles: Ottensian and Piecraftian. The dividing line between the two themes is commonly acknowledged as the start of World War II.
One theme, named "Piecraftian" after its proponent author "Piecraft", focuses on the aesthetics of the world wars and speculates on how human culture could theoretically cease to evolve due to constant, widespread warfare. According to Ottens and Piecraft this theme continues the aesthetics of the diesel era into later periods of history by describing a world where survival (largely based on a reliance on diesel power) is placed above aesthetical evolution (as seen in such dystopian movies as Mad Max).
A second theme, named "Ottensian" after its proponent author Nick Ottens, focuses on a setting where the decadent aesthetics and utopian philosophies of the American "Roaring Twenties" continued to evolve unhindered by war or economic collapse. Ottensian dieselpunk fiction is primarily concerned with a positive vision of technology, where the utopian ideals predicted by the World’s Fairs of the times came to light. As a result Ottensian dieselpunk incorporates "an enthusiasm for the predictions about the future," and often shares elements with retro-futurism.
Dieselpunk and the gaming industry
Dieselpunk video game titles have been extremely prominent in recent years, with the success of the popular Final Fantasy VII, Fallout and BioShock series of games. World War II is also a popular theme in dieselpunk games. One of the more prominent of these was Activision's Return to Castle Wolfenstein; other games set in dieselpunk versions of the World War II era include Crimson Skies, Command & Conquer: Red Alert and Turning Point: Fall of Liberty. The companies of Digital Reality and Grasshopper are developing a shooter game called Sine Mora that has been described as Dieselpunk. In 2009 Pandemic Studios released game called The Saboteur, which also meets dieselpunk style.
With regard to cinema, dieselpunk combines the tropes, character archetypes, and settings of diesel era fiction genres such as Serial Adventure, Noir, Pulp, and War with postmodern storytelling techniques and cinematography. Some commonly referenced examples of dieselpunk cinema include: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dark City, Rocketeer, the Indiana Jones movie series, Sin City, Brazil, Inglourious Basterds and Daybreakers. The imagery of the movie Captain America: The First Avenger has been described as having a "dieselpunk quality." Even the popular film Star Wars has been noted as having strong dieselpunk influences, as it drew heavily on pulp and World War II iconography but mixed them with futuristic settings.
Though widely labeled as cyberpunk, the neo-noir movie Blade Runner may also be described as dieselpunk due its strong element of decodence. Tim Burton's 1989 movie Batman has also been referenced as a dieselpunk movie.
The 2011 film Sucker Punch directed by Zack Snyder includes dieselpunk-inspired adventures with the lead role Babydoll and her team infiltrating a bunker protected by clockwork World War I German soldiers, etc., mixing many retro and sci-fi elements.
Following in the footsteps of the successful Captain America: The First Avenger, the ABC miniseries Agent Carter continues the tale of Steve Rogers' love interest Peggy Carter, a no-nonsense female secret agent in a dieselpunk version of the 1940s mixed with sci-fi super science.
Dieselpunk visual art
According to online magazine Dark Roasted Blend, in an article titled "Dieselpunk: Love Affair with a Machine", dieselpunk art "takes an interest in various bizarre machines, full of esoteric levers, cracked-glass meters - all visually intense and pretty sinister-looking, when photographed." The article references Japanese artist Shunya Yamashita having created one of the definitive examples of dieselpunk art with his work "I Can't Explain." The article also references Kow Yokoyama as a dieselpunk artist with his figurine series titled "Maschinen Krieger."
Dieselpunk as a subculture
A person defined as a dieselpunk draws inspiration and entertainment from the aesthetics of the diesel era to achieve independence from contemporary aesthetics by blending the literature, artwork, fashion, grooming styles, modes of personal transportation, music, and technology of the diesel era with contemporary sensibilities.
Part of dieselpunk's postmodern nature can be seen in the important role that the internet as a tool of international communication plays in its development. In addition to two prominent dieselpunk online communities, Dieselpunks and The Gatehouse's "Smoking Lounge", there are a growing number of online magazines dedicated to the genre including The Flying Fortress, Dizelpanki and several blogs which are simply titled "Dieselpunk". Another active online magazine covering the dieselpunk movement is Vintage Future: Dieselpunk, which describes itself as "Retro-futuristic resources from the golden era."
While there are many web sites dedicated to the history of the diesel era, there are a growing number of sites dedicated to topics that tie directly into dieselpunk. One such website of note is RetroTimes Production, which is an independent film production company dedicated to creating documentaries about "retro living, retro design, and retro style." A few sites are springing up that have a retro pulp feel as well, including Captain Spectre and The Lightning Legion, which is an online comic written and drawn in the classic serial pulp fiction style of the diesel era, and Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, an interactive Choose Your Own Adventure-style pulp serial.
In 2012 World Brews, a craft beer manufacturer in Novato, CA, began producing "Dieselpunk Brew", a beer line (IPA, Porter and Stout) inspired and influenced by the subculture of dieselpunk, and displaying art deco-inspired dieselpunk designs on the labels.
Dieselpunk music, which has roots in the neo-swing revival, combines elements of blues, jazz, ragtime, cabaret, swing, and bluegrass commonly found during the diesel era with contemporary instrumentation, production, and composition. Some commonly referenced examples of dieselpunk bands are: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Royal Crown Revue, Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Indigo Swing, Wolfgang Parker, The End Times Spasm Band, RPM Orchestra, Big Rude Jake, and Lee Press-on and the Nails.
There has been growth of a Dieselpunk music referred to as Electro-Swing, which combines the styles of Swing music with Electronica. Prominent bands within the Electro-Swing include Good Co, Caravan Palace and Tape Five.
Dieselpunk fashion blends the styles commonly found during the diesel era with contemporary styles to create a fusion of both. The "punk" nature of the subculture comes from expressing a more complete presence in public akin to the fashion styles popular during the diesel era such as waistcoats, covered arms, hosiery, styles of shoes, and head wear to name a few. Dieselpunk emphasizes the inclusion of such accouterments to render one's look "complete," in defiance of modern custom.
A similar, related pop surrealist art movement, which overlaps with dieselpunk somewhat, is atompunk (sometimes called atomicpunk). Atompunk art relates to the pre-digital period of 1945-1965, including mid-century Modernism, the Atomic Age and Space Age, Communism and paranoia in the USA along with Soviet styling, underground cinema, Googie architecture, the Sputnik, Mercury and other early space programs, superhero fiction, the rise of the US military/industrial powers and the fall-out of Chernobyl.
- Cyberpunk derivatives
- Pop art
- Lowbrow (art movement)
- Swing revival
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- "Dieselpunks": One of the first dieselpunk websites, Dieselpunks is a social networking site that includes sections on music, photos, artwork, and fashion.
- DieselPunk entry on TVTropes.org, one of the best descriptions of the genre and a list of dieselpunk works.