Things that I like: Unwoman
Recently I sent a friend a few paragraphs on musicians that I like and why I like them, and I found that I really enjoyed that process. We take in a lot of art on a day to day basis and I thought it was a lot of fun to really explore my thoughts on the art that I enjoy. Because of that, I’ve decided to start a series of illustrations and essays on things that I like.
I decided to start with the incredibly talented musician, Unwoman. She is a solo singer/ songwriter and cellist. Her music mixes cello and singing with electronic beats and a gothic sound. She’s played a lot within the Steampunk community and those influences come out in her music as well as in her dazzling stage attire.
I’ve been floating around the world of steampunk since about 7th grade. My good friend Che introduced me and my friends to tabletop gaming, and one of the early games we played was GURPS Steampunk. I remember spending afternoons reading through the books and looking at the illustrations, in love with the mixture of Victorian aesthetic and… well, robots. At the time I had no idea that there was any kind of actual community for this. I didn’t know people dressed up and went to conventions and wrote books and stories to fill up this interesting sub culture. In my teens I hit the punk scene and stopped playing tabletop games, but after college I started missing the old days of roleplaying, so I started a steampunk game of my own. It was around that time that I discovered the subculture.
It’s pretty easy to be critical of the world of steampunk. As a teenager I developed the notion that it was wrong to spend more money on clothes than you had to. It was wrong to obsess over objects. It was wrong to assume a personality that wasn’t your own. So I approached the scene with a sense of cautious excitement, amazed and delighted by what I was seeing, but having a difficult time reconciling my ideology with the community. It’s an easy thing to make fun of; you see all the adults in top hats and petticoats with robot arms and painted nerf guns and it’s pretty unorthodox. But what I found was the simple truth that these people were doing what they loved, and wearing what they loved, and having a good time. In this post-hot-topic world, it takes more courage to walk around with a top hat and cane than it does to wear liberty spikes, and in the end of the day being who you are was what I always believed in, and it’s what I saw here.
Last year I was at the Watch City Steampunk festival in Waltham, a weekend long celebration of steampunk and art next to Waltham’s mill. I spent the day working a table for my company, but by the end of the day couldn’t get myself to go home… with all the excitement and all the interesting geeks around I decided to stay and explore the night life of the festival. It’s a weird place to be alone. I like to think I blended in well enough; my personal steampunk aesthetic is less coat and tails and more post-apocalyptic, but with my utility belt and vest there was no doubt that I was there for the festival. With no friends at the event and no venders left to check out, I followed my standard instinct and found a bar. I had a few drinks and made friends with a mad scientist, and together we found ourselves at the Watch City Brewing Company. The night was pretty fun and ridiculous for a lot of reasons. Sure, I spent an awkward amount of time standing by myself and assuring myself that I didn’t look creepy, but I had some good chats, met some delightfully weird people, and got a little buzzed. But the highlight of the evening was seeing Unwoman perform.
The steampunk community is, to me, perfectly summarized by the music and performance of Unwoman. She doesn’t sing about gears or airships in every song, nor is her music particularly Victoria, but conceptually I feel like she’s a perfect embodiment of the subculture. Everything about her is anachronistic, and yet natural. Her victorian red dress is perfectly tied with her partially shaved short hair cut. Her electric cello, a futuristic and elegant device that seems to perfectly embody the steampunk culture. Her music, with the rawness and authenticity of her commanding voice and mastery of her instrument, is seamlessly tied with the electronic loop pedal and gothic backing in her album recordings.
I felt silly for having been nervous. I felt small for having felt lonely. She played her solo set in the corner of a loud bar during dinner and the Bruins game, and played a powerhouse set. Her almost supernatural confidence is well earned. She was just as adept at displaying the subtlety and beauty of the cello as she was at turning it into a rhythm instrument, wielding the bow like a weapon, and filling the room with her voice.
I purchased her albums “The Fires I Started,” and her second cover album, “Lemniscate vol. 2” and have been listening to them ever since. If you’re looking for a recommendation, I particularly like “The Fires I Started,” “Siren Ship,” and of course her covers of “Destroy Everything You Touch,” and “Seven Nation Army.”
So yeah! That’s a thing that I like. Maybe you’d like her, too.
I’m going to try and do these off and on, uh, forever, or until I get sick of it. I was experimenting with a more graphic design approach to this illustration but don’t necessarily promise to do that forever I dunno.