The Redcoats Were Coming – A Review of Up in the Aether Steampunk Convention

Good evening, gentle readers.

I do hope that you have been enjoying the slow stroll into summer. It does seem that some days are warm and sunny while others are chill and grey, but such is the wont of Mother Nature particularly in Canada.

I simply must, and need, to let you know of an event that I attended recently that has reset the bar for all Steampunk fetes. I have attended many many conventions over the last three plus decades and DJed nearly countless events in about the same amount of time but Up in the Aether [UitA] has created new expectations and hopes for all such Steampunk Conventions [and I do need to attend more to see if they are ALL so incredible]. Both as a guest and as an attendee I found this convention to be incredible.

The weekend after our Victoria Day, accompanied by my noble and trustworthy soundman and fellow DJ, Danr, I traveled over the world’s longest undefended border to the city of Detroit to attend and DJ at Up in the Aether. I had recently relocated cities and so found the trip would now take a further four to five hours and, combined with my temporary financial situation due to moving cities and seeking common employ, I initially turned down the offer of being a guest. Mr. Wiggins, however, was very insistent and did a fantastic job of convincing me to set out on this adventure, and I am glad that he was so persuasive. And so we journeyed off to this four day happening as it was the weekend our Southron neighbours call Memorial Day Weekend.

There were occasional issues throughout the convention and I am sure others discovered challenges which I did not but it was how the convention folk dealt with these small things that made all the difference.

After a rather lengthy trip, with gratitude to our road construction workers and all those other drivers who felt a need to be on the road with no knowledge of how to drive properly in order to keep traffic flowing well, we arrived on the Friday evening at the Double Tree hotel in Dearborn, Michigan. Our room keys were presented promptly though, being guests, it took a touch of walking about and asking after various people to ensure we were properly tagged and badged and ready to enjoy the weekend.

They had wisely booked all of the DJs and bands together at one end of a hallway that we could make as much noise as we desired and so Saturday night we hosted a three-room room party with the Steampunk Mixologist and a reasonable bar [which shall grow next year] as well as music and conversation throughout the rooms and hallway.

It is estimated that between seven hundred and one thousand attendees accompanied us though due to the layout of the hotel and the large selection of panels, workshops, concerts and other attractions it never truly felt crowded: my own guess was that perhaps four hundred or so had strolled through the door.

There were, methinks, about a half dozen or more tracks of panels and workshops including writing and publishing [with readings by several authors], clothing and fashion [of course], food and alcohol and tobacco [with sampling], a well supplied makers’ room with ongoing discussions and teachings, Steampunk socials, a Port Party, a room dedicated to Self Defence particularly as regards sky pirates, and many, many more. There was constantly something interesting happening. Outside in a spacious tent was a near constant line up of incredible musicians, bands and DJs including Voltaire, Eli August, and many others ranging from Steampunk duets to a Steampunk Heavy Metal band.

The dealers’ room simply must be mentioned: it was a reasonable size to not take an entire afternoon to explore, was never so crowded that one could not walk comfortably and was filled with such high quality fare end to end that I boggled. The offerings were varied and diverse and of exquisite craftsmanship. Incredibly desirable. I believe I spent my entire month’s pay-cheque seven times over, fortunately only in my thoughts but next year I shall attend with a large amount of coin of the realm.

There was a kaleidoscope of clothing from the simple day-wear to intricate evening fare. There were uniforms [it was VERY pleasing to find three others sporting the Queen’s Scarlet besides myself and my companion], work clothing and sporting-wear, brass and steel bits, and a very wide range of appearances.

If you desire then you can find the pictures here:
[And do note that though ’tis my Facebook all pictures are set to public access so everyone can enjoy them! I would also like to state that I am not a photographer but I do try]

The DJing was extremely fun particularly when all four guest DJs faced off on the Sunday night at Midnight to provide hours of dancefloor energy. It was an honour, a privilege and a definite pleasure to work with gorgeous and talented DJ Psycubus, the genial and skilled Doctor Q and the intense, brilliant, and accomplished Vorteque. I have played with, for and beside many great DJs in North America but these folk, these incredible, artistic people, in a modern vernacular, bring it!

If you are interested in knowing what songs I, personally, played throughout the weekend then you can find them here:

Those who spent time in the Music Tent enjoyed the offerings muchly, particularly Voltaire on Saturday night and the “Steampunk Rave” on Sunday night. The dancefloor was wonderfully delicious.

The staff: the organizers, the wranglers, the helpers, the committee; were to a single person the most incredible group I have ever had the joy of working both for and with. Nothing was impossible. We were treated like royalty, truly. The Guest Wrangling Matron, an exquisite lady I knew only as “V”, had a team who were beyond awesome in being informative and helpful. Any issue, anything requested, any question or need was met by V’s motto: “I Have This.” She owned her department and every situation that came her way. Her staff would stop, in passing in the hallway, even as they were arms-loaded with items to ask if there was anything we needed or any way they could assist. I am oft treated very well but V and her people offered a level of service that was beyond stunning. And throughout the convention I saw this style and level of service provided to guests and attendees at every level and in every capacity.

We left tired and sore from watching the sun rise each and every morning, from dancing like fools and maniacs to many bands and DJs, from learning at panels and watching incredible low budget/high production independent movies and from the high energy socializing. We left leaving behind friends and new family. We left knowing that in a year’s time we will return and nothing can stop us from doing so.

I do not know that I have enough positive and glowing adjectives to properly convey how amazing this convention was.

Next year, good reader, when you are planning your convention schedule and wondering where you should visit and what you should commit to pen in your daytimer I must insist that you give Up in the Aether your strongest and most serious consideration. Do come find us and I shall happily hoist a glass with you at the most amazing event of the year.

H.A. Higgins-Keith


7 thoughts on “The Redcoats Were Coming – A Review of Up in the Aether Steampunk Convention

  1. You are too kind in your praise! We genuinely enjoyed hosting you, and my staff and I look forward to your return for UitA 2014. We are already stocking the bar!

    • I call them as I see them, mademoiselle. It was an exhausting, intense and incredible experience full of wonderful happenings and truly awesome people. We are both looking forward to next year and all ready making plans!
      Thank you again, a million times thank you.

      • You guys were a joy. Keep us posted on your plans for next year, we’ll make sure everyone feels welcome!

  2. While an enthusiastic review, I have to wonder how it compared to other weekends of similar calibre, such as the Steampunk World’s Fair, and the now defunct World Steampunk Expo.

    • In all honesty, Up in the Aether fared well by comparison if you look at the first year of those events. This was the first year, there were first year hiccups, but the convention benefitted from having a large number of con (including World Steam) veterans at the helm. We are taking into consideratin all of our feedback, good and bad, to try to make this an amazing show in 2014.

      It is my hope that everyone had a good enough time that they can get past our growing pains and return for the second year. If for no other reason than because the rave (as described with far too much humility above) was one heck of a fantastic party!

      • The Steampunk Rave was a format that I shall keep in mind for use in the future and an energy that I have never before experienced: to have ALL the DJs bouncing and dancing about like madmen having fits, singing, challenging each the other to do better with smiles and winks and musically whipping the crowd into an absolute frenzy… it is something that I shall not soon forget.

    • An excellent question, good sir. I must admit to having attended no other Steampunk conventions as of yet and thus am comparing UitA to the more generic Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions but I have heard from many who have attended other conventions and have done more than a little research.

      UitA was a first year event, though it does follow on the heels of the previous Detroit area Steampunk convention. The Steampunk World’s Fair is three years old this year and Teslacon turns four, while the World Steampunk Expo is, unfortunately, no more.

      I have noticed that there is also a very obvious difference between American conventions and Canadian conventions. It is my experience that our Southron cousins place more emphasis on the social and entertainment, on the energetic fun and enjoyment while not losing any focus on panels, guests, vendors and the usually expected fare. Taking over from the WSE, UitA utilized the same hotel and thus was in the same space with, likely, a smaller membership but just as much energy and beauty as it has been related to me. The programming content was different and there was an absolutely enormous entertainment facet though I have heard that the WSE also had quite a few bands and DJs. The SWF offered nearly twice the musical performances of UitA and perhaps half again more programming while being roughly five times the size in attendance. Teslacon is, as I understand it, more of an immersive “DisneyLand” experience with canon, plot and characters, though I am sure that an attendee may take from it what they wish at any level.

      The thing I liked very much about UitA is that each band or DJ played more than once, save Voltaire. This meant that if you missed a performance because of a scheduling conflict you could likely arrange to see the musical act again later in the weekend.

      UitA is also positioning itself all ready, in its youth, for growing into a very heavy Makers’ gathering, from what I was able to see and hear at the convention.

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