Luke Chaos and Kenny Creation combine East and West with their British and Japanese origins in Tokyo, Japan, where they are not only active as musicians and artists, but are also the dynamic duo that is the driving force behind the Tokyo Inventors Society (also known as the Tokyo Steampunk Society) and the Japanese capital’s one and only steampunk event: Steam Garden.
First of all, congratulations on your recent-ish 1st year anniversary, what do you still hope to accomplish in the future with Steam Garden?
Luke Chaos: Thank you very much. With Steam Garden the goal is always basically the same: to enjoy creating and performing.
Kenny Creation: Thank you. We will continue to create a whole new way of looking at the world. We enjoy sharing this world with our audience: seeing the surprised faces and smiles of all of fans, this is our motivation.
Luke: We really want to bring Steam Garden to an international audience, and also to a more general audience in Japan, not only steampunk aficionados. For example, lots of people enjoy Game of Thrones or Batman even if they are not hardcore fantasy or comic-book fans. We want to perform not just at events but in a wider range of media too.
In the west we get a distinctive impression that steampunk is on the rise pretty rapidly in Japan, would you say this is really the case? How would you describe the evolution of Japanese steampunk in the last couple of years?
Kenny: In fact, a similar concept has existed in Japan for a few years – expressed in the nostalgic sci-fi worlds of Hayao Miyazaki for example. This movement didn’t have a unifying motif or form in Japan before, but today, we might be able to call it proto-Japanese steampunk.
Luke: Right now some media people in Japan have heard that “steampunk” is a kind of buzzword, and think it means “fashion with gears” or “put goggles on it”. So there’s a smallish trend for putting gears and goggles on everything, and adding the word steampunk as a catchphrase… It hasn’t got much to do with actual steampunk. The Retro-Future, Neo-Victorian side of things, that’s coming along more slowly.
Kenny: Yes, to be honest, most people think wearing brown and putting gear designs on clothes equals steampunk in Japan. We don’t want to encourage that narrow view. I strongly hope to incorporate the ideas of Science Fiction synthesized with “Japanese culture”, Meiji, Taisho…
Luke: The most interesting, most “Steampunk” part of Japanese history- the Meiji period- is actually the least popular kind of retro style right now. We are trying to fix that. Personally I hope more Steampunk fiction, alternative history and so on, will become familiar to the Japanese audience, so that people understand that steampunk is a kind of literature, part of a wider culture, and not just a “fashion trend”.
Each Steam Garden theme is very different than the other, what inspires you the most when putting together the event and deciding on a theme?
Kenny: We discuss about what makes us excited, and find the best, most interesting themes. If we share a passion for the themes then the whole team is motivated along the same vector.
Luke: We love lots of historical places, ethnic and tribal cultures, so that strongly influences our choice of theme and story.
Steam Garden is a “time travel experience”, so we can go anywhere the mood takes us, although our basic “story” is a Meiji-period SF adventure. It has to make us feel excited and interested, if we are really hyped and enthusiastic about the event, the audience will be able to appreciate it too.
Poster and impression of Steam Garden 5: Future Western.
Are there any steampunk crews, internationally speaking, you hope to work with one day? Or large international events you would love to be able to organise a Steam Garden at or be present with the Tokyo Inventors Society?
Luke: We want to do a Steam Garden at Comic Con, at Teslacon, at Wave Gotik Treffen, ah, just everywhere really. Too many to name.
Kenny: I’d love to show our activities in many ways, not just “parties/festivals” but also books, movies…
Luke: Yes, that’s where we are heading.
Kenny, according to your bio you’re crazy about absinthe and the hookah, which variety of la fée verte is your drink of choice and which is the best tobacco blend Shisha has come up with so far?
Honestly, it will take a couple of days if I try to explain to you how much I love them.
Kenny Creation at Steam Garden 5: Future Western.
Luke, you go beyond the limits of magic and science, in how far are you personally interested in SteamGoth? Is it something you’d like to explore or lean towards more?
I hope that I don’t seem hopelessly ignorant or make too many enemies by saying that I have no idea what Steamgoth is, and I think all these millions of sub-genres people argue about on the internet are stupid.
Luke Chaos at Steam Garden 5: Future Western.
If the sky were literally the limit budget wise, what kind of event would you organise?
Kenny: Uhm, make a huge castle?
Luke: Travel around the world with actual airships.
You’re both also musicians, how does your music influence your steampunk style and vise versa?
Luke: In my case it doesn’t have much direct crossover, in the sense that most of my music as Chaos Royale is far too noisy and too modern-sounding to fit in at Steam Garden. However, music is part of my overall interest in Chaos Magic, and this obviously influenced the choice of my “character” at Steam Garden, a kind of voodoo-philosopher. Also, I work with a lot of dancers, acrobats, fire performers and so on, and therefore we can create performance pieces specifically for Steam Garden. Finally, because I have a fairly good background in classical and ethnic music, it’s easy to select musical accompaniment which matches and enhances the theme of the various shows and performances at Steam Garden.
Kenny: Expression is a multifaceted thing, I try to be direct and flexible. In my case, I’ve separated my music and my Tokyo Inventors Society activities, I love both though.
Which places and events with steampunk appeal, other than of course Steam Garden, would you personally recommend to steampunks visiting Tokyo?
Kenny: Design Festa, Comic Market, various creators festivals. Around the rebuilt Tokyo Station and Yokohama Yamate area is good, we organized a tour around there before.
Luke: Maybe go on an “antique walk” around Nishi-Ogikubo. They have free maps you can pick up around the town. You can find old Japanese and western goods, used kimono, industrial items, all kinds of things. And drop in at Abilletage in Shinjuku for very neo-Victorian-friendly women’s fashion.
What’s your favourite Steam Garden memory so far?
Luke: All of Steam Garden 4… Chaos Royale live with fire and tribal dancers, getting drunk on mead with the Celtic chief while listening to live bagpipes, non-stop epic music and entertainment.
Kenny: Yeah, Steam Garden 4. A huge place full of awesome tribal steampunks and energetic, powerful entertainment. That was brilliant, I can’t describe it all…
Where, or maybe better yet when, will you guys travel next if your vessel’s time engine has finally been completed?
What can we expect from the Tokyo Inventors Society in the rest of 2013 and the future?
Luke: I can say we’ll return to Meiji Japan again sometime in the next couple of Steam Garden parties, but the schedule is still a secret.
Nowadays starting with steampunk leads to an overflow of information and contrasting, often even conflicting, opinions. As a parting note, what kind of wisdom and advice would you like to pass along to people just starting out?
Luke: The world wasn’t really brown 100 years ago, you can wear any colour you like.
More seriously: the interesting thing about steampunk is not “gears” or “steam”. It is the “gonzo historical” approach, the idea of the past-that-never-was. Playing around with the past, and how that makes us think about our own present, is where the stimulation comes from. Keep sight of that, and you’ll be fine.
Kenny: Everyone has their own imagination. It’s possible to express your own version of the 19th century freely, whether you make things, enjoy literature, or express it in your fashion. You don’t need to be conscious of the fucking trend. There is no borderline. Please show me your world!
Many thanks to Luke Chaos and Kenny Creation for making the time for this interview and Luke for his Japanese translations.
Photography by Taro Irei.