Metal Teeth – Machines & Themes in Dieselpunk
The construction of a world, of an aesthetic, is a highly personal experience; an experience that certainly draws on the things we have seen, done, and thought. When I was first introduced to the term and ideas of Diesel-punk (a very recent introduction, mind you), my mind spun away, filling in the blanks of the concept with bits and pieces of my own experience. One of these thoughts stick in my mind currently: a Backhoe. Permit me to briefly explain how such a disjointed jump of the mind can help weave a world together.
As a child, I read a story – its name is long forgotten to me, and when I attempted to find it during while drafting this, all I could think of were a few key terms: monster, teeth and smoke. In this particular story a child, every day on his way home from school, must walk past the stuff of nightmares – a looming figure of jagged metal teeth, rising high into the air and spitting gouts of thick black smoke from its body. The creature twists, its mouth hanging open in the air for a brief eternity before sinking its great maw into the ground and cutting a gash in earth. The child, very naturally, steels his courage and presses on past the construction site – a combination of horror and awe at the beast.
The aesthetic of a Diesel-punk universe, from my perspective, has always included images of this backhoe-monster. In a Diesel-punk world, a world of technological expansion, if not outright technocracy, machines have become not only the tools of life, but the tools of war and subjugation. Fearsome profiles, jagged lines, and whirring gears appear as the norm –overt examples of the power of technology, and the authority of those who control it. These visualizations of power seem to be very important to a diesel-punk world and although not every individual may view the aesthetic with the same trepidation as I do, through the eyes of a child looking upon a backhoe, in my mind there can be no separation between the world, and the terror that machines are capable of inflicting, as if possessed of their own sinister consciousness.
To me, this is one of the fundamental explanations for the ways in which many Diesel-punk artists have depicted technology. Images as recent as the leaders of WWII appear to follow this theme – as exposed wires, visible pistons and dark colors contrast with the vibrant colors and simple designs of the flags, as if to suggest that technology, though enslaved to its purpose is the antithesis of values for which the flags originally stood.
There are many aspects of Diesel-punk that separate it from other thematic universes, but the visuals it produces are the most jarring examples of the difference, and those examples, in large part, set the tone for how we each view the genre. Steampunk Airships are a common denominator to the dirigibles and Zeppelins that sometimes populate Diesel-punk skies, but the emotions that they evoke are completely different due to the lines, color choice, and context. Sharper lines, ominous shadow-play and aspects of barely contained fear prove to create a tone in Diesel-punk works that even Steampunk depictions of war utterly fail at.
Of course the individual experience of Diesel-punk will vary between persons, but, on the whole, artists have imbued the art of the genre with a somewhat uniform feel. This visual style of course plays upon the wartime (WWII) style of the world, but remarkably expresses the emotions and insecurities of the time in the machines which effectively power the entire world. It is the power of machines which truly defines Diesel-punk for me, and the primary reason why the story of a child, fearful of the raw power of an unknown technological marvel, has so impressed itself upon my construction of a world.
Are there any particular images, thoughts, or experiences that have defined the Diesel-punk look for you?