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Dieselpunk is shorthand to describe a fantasy society with an industrial level of development, informed by Cyberpunk sensibilities. This concept that became the foundation of the RPG game Children of the Sun. The term, coined by game designers Lewis Pollak and Dan Ross, was used to help market said game. Dieselpunk is an alternate-history environment in which the most important aspect of society is diesel fuel, and the machinery that depends upon it.


A manipulation on an alternate version of a future 1950s from the developed technology and society of the 1930's, where the Great Depression never arrived and World War II is still being fought as a prolonged Cold War. In turn, Japan continues its progress towards technological modernization, developing the earliest computers and terminals. Nazi scientists continue experimenting by taking the route of biotechnology, sparking off a genetic revolution of bio-mods, clones, and organ harvesting. Whilst the Americans and British take both of these technologies to develop mind-control devices, spawning man-machine interfaces and sparking the atomic-powered machine age.

Several devices which are affiliated to the genre are generally linked to 1920s architecture, such as the introduction of the skyscraper, along with the automobile and aeroplane, and diesel as the prime resource for fuel. The genre also borrows influences from the 1950's, such as postmodernism and the googie design. The dieselpunk world is a post-Atomic dystopian world that is still stuck in the 1950s (a post-WWII environment) and is usually cast in the future capitalist-run world that relies on the nuclear values of an isolationist America. Its main source of influence would be from George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four along with Fritz Lang's 1927 film, Metropolis. Aspects of the Futurist art movement are also relevant to the development of the genre relating to dieselpunk and atomicpunk. However, Italian punks argue that futurism is punk, claiming it to be the opposite of punk.

Themes that usually surface in the genre relate to:

  • The Red Scare - fear of intrusion sparking mass hysteria.
  • Space Race - conquest of Outer Space. This is also a relevant theme which incurred the spacepunk genre.
  • Arms race - continued research and development in new weapon systems.
  • Suburbia - restructuring of society into new community developments.
  • Nuclear power - heralding the new age of power and technology.
  • And the possibility of a World War III emerging.

The iconic imagery associated to dieselpunk in terms of technological prowess and advances would be given with the extraordinary progress in technical engineering that would develop from the Victorian steampunk era. Ideal elements that would not only influence but also inspire the genre would be the Wartsila-Sulzer RTA96-C turbocharged two-stroke diesel engine, a self-contained nuclear powered version of the Bagger 288 with the addition of a modified supercharged Napier Nomad diesel-engine employed for a power-plant. The enhancement of transportation would evolve into newly developed airliners and oceanliners that would be larger than life in their construction, descended from the Convair B-36, Graf Zeppelin (LZ 130) as well as The Titanic, these new-born developments of their predecessors would sustain almost an entire city - equivalent to the idea of Noah's Ark and the fictional flying island of Laputa. Albert Speer could be considered the godfather of the monumental design in architecture with his work on Welthauptstadt Germania - which would influence dieselpunk architecture and urban engineering throughout.

see also: Diesel cycle

Examples of atomicpunk can be found in films that employ the 'fantastical' element of entering into the Nuclear Age, employing elements that mainly subscribe to technology and science such as: Dark City (1998), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) (considered to be the prototypical dieselpunk movie), The Rocketeer (1991), Tim Burton's Batman (1989) and The Shadow (1994). On the other hand, more pessimistic views of an imperfect war-torn future in a postmodern world can also appear: The War of the Worlds (1953), Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), as well as Eraserhead (1977), and Delicatessen (1991).

Atomicpunk/dieselpunk can also be confused for spacepunk due to the strong affiliations both have with the 1950s era, however the latter depends largely upon the landscapes of alien planets and Outer Space in the case of Flash Gordon, rather than a futuristic world on Earth that relies heavily on a means of fuel or power.

Dieselpunk post-apocalypse[edit]

Another aspect of dieselpunk is recognised as having emerged in the late 80s, relating to a post-apocalyptic, anarchistic world where there is no future or remnant of the past other than ruins and the left-over machines of mankind. The Apocalypse is usually blamed on a horrendous consequence of nuclear war or another terrible global disaster such as extreme climate change. This idea usually employs the elements of big, oily, smokey, rusty, machinery and the savage, tribal, neo-primitive, anarchic civilisation. Examples of this kind of dieselpunk can be equated to the Mad Max series of movies and Waterworld. This form of dieselpunk is also referred to as petrolpunk, as the characters in The Road Warrior are not interested in diesel at all, but rather gasoline also known as petrol and "the precious juice."

Therefore two different scenarios are recognised as using the genre of dieselpunk, that of a post-apocalyptic world after a cataclysmic war or world disaster, or a world that continues after the continuation of WW2 and a prolonged Cold War.

Art & Culture[edit]

The art and culture of the dieselpunk world would be influenced heavily by the Futurist and Modern art movements that occurred towards the end of the first Great War (1919) - therefore the fashion, architecture, fine art, cinema and even music, would be drawn upon towards the future development of a dieselpunk world. Art Deco is a predominant style in dieselpunk, particularly in affluent surroundings.

Fashion would also heavily rely upon the winning side of either the Axis or Allies, depending on who won the Second World War. Mostly, it would appear that the fashions that were present between 1930s and 1950s would most probably be reflected in the new society - as well as having a slight militaristic touch to clothing, especially seeing as society would still be under a high threat of the Third World War due to the prolonged Cold War, or just because of the post-nuclear war environment.

Examples: Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Coco Chanel, Cristobal Balenciaga, Giacomo Balla, Hugo Boss.

Cinema would most definitely be montage or expressionist in style, reflecting cinematic genres of both Germany and Russia. The Hollywood musicals and comedies (reflecting vaudeville acts) would also continue throughout as well. Racism and xenophobia would still be a dominating sentiment felt within society (due to the paranoia of "invasion" in the 50s), however it would be slightly more subdued due to the progress of radical ideas and the changing mentality of the times, in regards to the overpowering threat of destruction and the possibility of a new war breaking out.

Examples: the cinema of Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Robert Wiene, Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Howard Hughes, Leni Riefenstahl, Charlie Chaplin, Lloyd Bacon, Vincente Minnelli.

Music would mostly be defined by the fusion of the popular genres of the time, anthems, jazz and blues, classical and chamber music as well as early rock and experimental or musique concrete.

Examples: musical styles of Luigi Russolo, Lev Sergeivitch Termen, John Cage, Pierre Schaeffer, Robert Johnson, George Gershwin, Richard Wagner, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Antonín Dvořák, Richard Strauss, Ella Fitzgerald, Yvette Guilbert, Édith Piaf.

The art world would mostly adhere to the schools of Modern art such as: Avant-garde, Surrealism, Futurism, Cubism, Dada and Modernism.

Examples: the art of Yves Klein, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Piet Mondrian, Henri Matisse, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso.

Society and politics would follow the ideologies of postmodernism which would then progress into a modified version of futurology. This could also be said for the architecture of the dieselpunk world, which would also follow in the footsteps of Albert Speer, Antonio Sant'Elia, William Van Alen (designer of the Chrysler Building), and Frank Lloyd Wright's style. Other aspects of social life and technological design would reflect Retro-futurism to a certain degree.

Dieselpunk politics[edit]

The post-Apocalyptic dieselpunk environment could be seen as a dark realisation of anarchy in a dystopic society. In other words a regression back to primitivism, however a complete lack of authority and organisation prevailing a destructive, warring and chaotic society which is generally how anarchy is stereotypically idealised in the world of fiction.

Whereas the future of the post-1950s environment of the dieselpunk/atomicpunk world would vaguely resemble the past political ideologies, those that have a semblance of Fascism, Sovietism, new-era Capitalism incorporating Syndicalism, and even Monarchism - however each would considerably be fused into a technocratic system.

Dieselpunk sub-culture[edit]

It can be observed that although dieselpunk is still a relatively new and emerging sub-genre in comparison to steampunk and cyberpunk, there has still been a considerable interest by many individuals with the ideas surrounding the dieselpunk universe by emulating them throughout modern fashion and music. An example of dieselpunk's themes and ideals can be noticed in the musical works of F.M. Einheit who's music reflects a nostalgic idealism upon the early 20th century with examples such as: Deutsche Krieger an album dedicated in covering the history of the German War Machine during the 20th century, as well as Radio Inferno an experimental and interesting take on Dante Alighieri's Inferno with the use of combining industrialesque and punk elements. Dieselpunk fashion is predominantly closer to the Rivet style, by incorporating the dirty, greasy look of big workman boots, Soviet styles as well as Militaria from the Second World War.

Literature that has inspired and often ascribed to the genre[edit]

Other forms of dieselpunk[edit]

Dieselpunk related games[edit]

Dieselpunk related animation/anime[edit]

References in music videos[edit]

  • Garbage - Special
  • Busta Rhymes - Turn It Up (Remix)/Fire It Up directed by Paul Hunter, appears to combine elements from 1984 the movie, as well as Citizen Kane and even Mad Max.
  • 2Pac and Dr. Dre - California Love directed by Hype Williams, has a distinct Mad Max look to it, and was even titled as Version 2: Mad Max in honour of the movie.
  • Madonna - Justify My Love directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, emulates aspects of 1984 and Metropolis.
  • The majority of Thomas Dolby music videos which have a strong connection to the imagery and iconography represented in the post-WW2/Cold War dieselpunk genre.
  • Nine Inch Nails - Closer directed by Mark Romanek, references 1984.
  • The band Rammstein usually use elements that are common in the dieselpunk genre, their music is often affiliated to a post-WW2/Cold War Germanic sentiment (especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall) as well as iconographic imagery of oil and fire and dystopic society.

List of dieselpunk related films[edit]

Note: most of the films listed are dieselpunk-related either through narrative or by thematic context.


Post-Apocalypse Dieselpunk[edit]

See also[edit]


  • "Dieselpunk." Wiktionary: The Free Dictionary. 28 November 2005 <http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Dieselpunk>.

External links[edit]