The Davenport Sisters
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The Davenport Sisters

Carrboro, North Carolina, United States | SELF

Carrboro, North Carolina, United States | SELF
Band EDM Cabaret

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The best kept secret in music

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Every week, sisters Klaude and Emmett Davenport host The Clockwork Cabaret, a weekly two-hour radio show from their traveling airship, Calpurnia. Well, at least that's what they do through the magic of radio. They'd prefer that you not know their real names—one works at a local middle school, the other at a hair salon. And they're not sisters, either. The Davenports met about two years ago while spinning records at local goth nights.

"People weren't really joyous and happy," says Klaude. "There's only so long you can take yourself so seriously before you just want to go out and smile and have fun and be ridiculous and listen to varied kinds of music."

With their radio show, that's exactly what they've done. By curating and cultivating an inclusive musical aesthetic, they've given steampunk subculture—largely a visually expressive niche—a wide-ranging sound that continues to expand. Steampunk combines Victorianism, an adventuresome DIY attitude and advanced "steam-powered technology." Drawing inspiration from The Difference Engine, a 1990 science fiction novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, the form offers an alternative history world of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. It is the fantastic place seen in such horrible movies as Wild Wild West and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Emmett appreciates it all: "You're pretending that you live on airships, that you have ray guns, you wear goggles, you're wearing a top hat. It kind of is steeped in the ridiculous."

Klaude and Emmett play off-kilter Americana, rock, blues, electronica and even rap on The Clockwork Cabaret. (Ever hear of Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer?) The approach has earned them a massive following. While The Clockwork Cabaret is broadcast out of WCOM-FM, 103.5 in Carrboro—a station with a broadcast radius of about five miles—the show is a hit in the online steampunk community. Through iTunes, they have more than 16,000 subscribers.

Appropriately, Durham musician Jay Cartwright first stumbled upon steampunk on the Internet. Cartwright saw a picture of a laptop outfitted with wood, brass and leather—the look of steampunk. "The interesting thing about steampunk is the image that it presents is one that suggests that exploring life, especially exploring science, is an act which opens up new possibilities," he says. "It creates a sense of adventure."

With that in mind, he steampunked his new keytar—a keyboard held like a guitar—and renamed it the Marvelon. The Marvelon was the star of Lemming Malloy, his rock quartet that drew on Victorian themes of power relations. More recently, Cartwright has concentrated on the accordion. The former leader of Eyes to Space and a current member of Oyster Destroyer, The Scene of the Crime Rovers and Triangle Soundpainting Orchestra, he now performs solo, too, covering songs by The Supremes, Radiohead and The Magnetic Fields with an instrument that rose in popularity during Victorian times.

"It's fun to hear how those songs sound arranged on an instrument that's completely mechanical," he says. "So much music is dependent upon electronics and amplification." Even without an actual steampunk band, Cartwright is still juxtaposing distant eras. In his cover tunes, he's striving for an element of timelessness.

Not everyone is comfortable with the steampunk tag—or, more specifically, the prospect of becoming a novelty band. Brooklyn band The Lisps, for instance, recently completed a musical, Futurity, in which a Union soldier from the Civil War writes a science fiction novel featuring steam-powered artificial intelligence. His mentor? The English countess Ada Lovelace, credited with creating the first computer algorithm. Insert genre-specific joke here.

"But," explains Sammy Tunis, who plays Lovelace on the album and is the female vocalist of The Lisps, "before the musical, we'd never ever been considered a steampunk band at all. I mean, we're not."

To their credit, The Lisps are theatrical and folky, but no more steampunk than Neko Case, Charles Ives or Frank Sinatra. Perhaps because so few bands self-identify as steampunk, though, its fans hold the power in defining the boundaries of their own subculture. Tom Waits, for instance, likely doesn't know he's one of steampunk's biggest stars.

César Alvarez, who wrote and stars as the Union soldier in Futurity, fancies the musical in a sort of cultural purgatory. "We are existing in a sparsely populated in-between space between theater and indie rock. This in between-ness is part of the aesthetic of steampunk, to be in between genres and time periods," he says. The Lisps have never fit neatly into one realm, actually. Even though the band is now moving away from a more old-timey sound, there's nothing keeping the steampunk fans from following.

That fluid ideal allows people like the Davenport Sisters to co-opt songs they like. Having no strict rules or guidelines for what is or is not a steampunk song, they foster senses of wonder and fun. "It's just play, really. It's supposed to be jubilant and joyful, and I think that draws a lot of people in," Klaude says. People who wander into a steampunk party in their normal street clothes often seek out future parties bedecked in hats, goggles, and corsets. Steampunk, then, is an excuse to have fun.

And again, it's not just music: Listeners of The Clockwork Cabaret hear funny poetry, fake advertisements and stories about the adventures of the Davenports. The two actually pitched the show as a sort of Prairie Home Companion—just, you know, different. They discuss poultices and liniments and transform a cockroach roaming around the station into the character Edward Carapace. Listeners respond with check-in calls, their own poetry and fan art.

"Seeing how people relate to what we're doing, or how they respond to it, is so positive and friendly," says Emmett. "Sometimes I get a little verklempt."

The Davenport Sisters DJ a 9:30 p.m. show Friday, March 5, at Nightlight in Chapel Hill. Jay Cartwright and The Lisps perform. The evening will also include a puppet cabaret, sideshow acts, games and burlesque performer Meka La Creme. The 9 p.m. show costs $5. The following evening, the sisters DJ The Clockwork Ball at Mansion 462. Tickets are $5-$7 for the 9 p.m. show.

Editor's Note (March 5, 2010): Mansion 462 has postponed all shows this week, including the Saturday one noted above. - The Independent Weekly


You might not imagine the Victorian era -- think gaslights, steam engines, elaborately layered clothing and refined social manners -- would have much in common with the goth and punk subcultures, with their tendency toward dark music, body piercings and a vampire-influenced wardrobe.

But then you probably haven't discovered Steampunk.

Steampunk -- sometimes called "neo-Victorianism" -- is an emerging subculture that marries the culture and petticoated trappings of the late 19th century with the mohawked, metal-studded ethos of more modern sensibilities. It's a growing movement in places like New York, London -- and Carrboro.

"I can't say there's anything else like it anywhere in North Carolina," said Klaude Davenport, half of the Davenport Sisters, who air a weekly Steampunk radio show on WCOM and this weekend will host something called the Clockwork Ball at the Station at Southern Rail. "Steampunk rose out of the literary arts, the science fiction and romance of the Victorian era. It's an easy step to take that off the page and start dressing up and waltzing and generally acting like a fool."

Klaude & Emmett Davenport - will host the Clockwork Ball on Saturday, with music starting at 10 p.m. A dance instructor will be on hand to teach people how to do steps such as the waltz and the mazurka.

What kind of music is Steampunk? The Davenports call it "Music O' Gears," and it includes, they say, anything that has a vintage feel -- "jazz, blues, swing, dark cabaret, gypsy punk, and dance music from times gone by or times that never were." A typical playlist on their radio show, "The Clockwork Cabaret" (Tuesday, midnight, WCOM, 103.5 FM) might include artists such as Tom Waits, The Decemberists, Dr. Steel, The Puppini Sisters, Beirut, Rasputina, The Hellblinki Sextet, Rickie Lee Jones, Flogging Molly and the Two-Man Gentleman Band.

The Davenport Sisters grew out of the sisters' work as DJs for goth and punk shows. They each had a love of Victorian-era literature and society -- especially the fringes, like the science fiction of Jules Verne and the experiments of Nikola Tesla, a brilliant but eccentric pioneer in the fields of electricity and magnetism. All those interests found an outlet in Steampunk.

"It's something fresh, and I think a lot of people were a little disenchanted with some of the other subcultures," Klaude said. "We sort of fell into this. It's unique and fun, and we decided to jump on it and see how far it goes."

Recently it went to Tarboro, where the pair was invited to participate in a monthly downtown celebration. Dressed to the nines in their own quirky take on Victorian-era finery, they performed in the town square and led a Fake History Walking Tour of the town.

"We would lead the group to a street corner, for example, and say, 'On this spot, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison dueled with lightning,'" Emmett said. "People have been very friendly and open to it all. They seem to enjoy what we're doing. It's so silly that it's hard not to have a good time. We don't take ourselves too seriously, and that's what keeps it light and fun."

Where does one pick up a good Victorian petticoat these days? Most steampunkers, the Davenports say, make their own.

"You can't go down to Ye Olde Bustle Shoppe anymore," Klaude said. "Do it yourself is a big part of the Steampunk thing. You need a good eye and imagination and a little bit of ability to take various scraps of things and piece them together into a tatterdemalion sort of outfit. You see a curtain and go, 'I can turn that into a petticoat and bloomers.' You wind up with these wonderfully strange Victorian looks."

Oddly enough -- or perhaps not -- passersby tend to respond warmly, she said.

"The Victorian era was very big on good manners and appropriate behavior," she said. "We try to carry ourselves with a certain amount of decorum. If you walk down the street all pierced and dressed in black, people will cross the street to avoid you. But if you put on a Victorian gown, they smile and greet you. Who know those things could go together?" - Chapel Hill News


The dear Davenport sisters have been entertaining our airwaves since we started here at Dieselpunks. But now that we finally have a working spotlight made out of old hand mirrors, a little bit of chewing gum, and some Radium 218 we found in the junk room, those girls are nowhere to be found.

How odd. Who doesn't like chewing gum?

Wait a minute! What's that noise? It sounds like a grandfather clock trying to mate with an accordion. It must be the infamous airship of The Clockwork Cabaret!

Hopefully, they'll be able to hear me up there. Maybe I'll lure them in with some pie and we can start this interview.

To bring everyone up to speed, can you give us an overview of the show?

The Clockwork Cabaret is one part old timey radio show, two parts eclectic and eccentric music and half a part surrealist art.

How can people tune in?

We air live from 11:00pm to 1:00am EST Monday nights on 103.5 WCOM FM, available in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, but we also stream the show live at www.wcomfm.org and produce the show as a podcast available for listening and download through clockworkcabaret.podhoster.com and iTunes.

What can people expect?

A wide variety of music is the base for our program, sister and I will play anything from Nina Hagen to Arcade Fire, Klaus Nomi, The Two Man Gentleman Band, Vernian Process, anything that strikes us as anachronistic and interesting. There are very few genres off limits on the Clockwork Cabaret.

In addition to music we also indulge in some regular spoken bits, such as Klaude's Modest Collection of Botched Inventions, where I read aloud stories of inventions gone wrong. Dear Prudence is our Agony Aunt column created to deal with the unique problems encountered by steampunks. Emmett has a Poetry Corner, wherein she reads brief and humorous classic poems. At the top of the hour our Rogue Financier, Phineas P. Moneyload, bombastically reads aloud our sponsors for the show.

You can also expect a good deal of chatter that we hope is humorous in nature. We like talking about bees, whales, squid, pies, and our dignity.

Other than being the hostesses, who are Emmett and Klaude Davenport?

Emmett and Klaude Davenport are twenty foot tall robot monsters who wish someone would invent waterproofing for giant robots so they could finally use their slip-and-slide.

We're also sisters who were orphaned in a terrible accident just a few short years ago. We roam the world playing music through our sky pirate radio in a tribute to our dear parents. Emmett is the elder, an archivist and know-it-all while Klaude is the younger, a beekeeper and freelance pyrotechnician. One of us is made almost entirely of rusted gears. We're not telling which!

How long have you been sky-pirating the airwaves and what keeps you coming back each week?

We've been on the air for a little over 2 years now and have 115 podcasts under our corset. If we weren't broadcasting ourselves we'd probably be doing the same things on a Monday night: sitting about with friends telling ridiculous stories, listening to weird music and cracking wise. Also, Emmett puts Klaude in a small cage in our production studio, so that keeps her coming back to the show each week.


What made you choose WCOM to take over as opposed to a purely internet based show?

There were several reasons WCOM was the only choice for us. The first being that we were acquainted with the Reverend Jynxx Midnite of the Phantom Frequency (Mondays from 1:00am - 3:00am on WCOM FM) and he offered to let us dangle our feet in the waters of radio and was very encouraging of us to join the WCOM family. We're lucky that we now hold down the two hour block prior to his show.

The second reason is the sheer volume of music we wanted to play. Internet based shows run into a lot of difficulties with the legality of playing music online. A podcast alone was out of the question, because we would need permission from every artist in order to play their music on our show, so the show's format would have been shorted and more talky.

It was important to us to show the wide range of music we find appropriate in our steampunk soundtrack, from tiny little indie bands, to friends projects and large, signed, popular artists. Plus, Klaude has prior experience in radio and loves the entire experience of working behind a large hulking mixing board. There's nothing like it.

You seem to have a lot of trouble with CLANNG. Where did they come from, and why are they such a nuisance?

CLANNG are a bunch of jerkity jerks who've decided to make our lives as frustrating as possible. They chase us around, throwing spanners into the works of everything we do, from destroying our production equipment to attempted kidnappings. Recently they had me committed. Committed! How rude! We're honestly not sure who they are or where they come from, though. Emmett and I have some theories about their origins, and we know they were somehow involved with our parents and their work, but we're not entirely sure how. It's like having a fist full of ropes, but never being able to fully unravel them. And also those ropes want to kill you.

Who else has crashed into the show?

In addition to our lovely and extremely hilarious Rogue Financier, Phineas P. Moneyload, we've had appearances from V. Victrola Albion, a friend who's currently off adventuring in London; Maxwell Manchester, a fellow radio-ite from Salem State College's WMWM; Ursula, who brings us lovely music; Mr Edwin Bovril; and Miss Victoria Everglott, our Chinese culture and language correspondent. Of course there is also the Ducole Company, our favorite listeners turned characters on the show.

Have you press-ganged any "recruits" to help you over the years?

We like to shake creativity out of everyone we meet. If they're remotely humorous we'll slap a microphone in front of them and squeeze out some funny. Phineas P. Moneyload is our first and best recruit to the show. Without him we would be staggeringly less funny.

Another fantastic recruit is the composer of our stunning theme music, Richard Kyle O'Dore. He was recruited very early on and managed to make a piece of music I'm happy to hear every single week.

What other shenanigans have you gotten yourselves into recently?

Recently Klaude got her head stuck in a fishbowl. She was pretending to be a spaceman traveling to the moon. Then, last weekend Klaude got herself stuck in a tree. She got her bodice strings tangled around some branches and was hanging there like a giant steampunk piñata. Mostly the shenanigans involve Klaude. She's... well, she's Klaude.

The well you tap to find "Music o' Gears" seems endless. How do you keep finding great music to play?

The used record stores around Chapel Hill/Carrboro and Durham NC are stellar and provide Klaude with much of her music. Emmett is great about working off our listener recommendations. We're both deliciously guilty of judging albums by their covers. We did an entire show, 2 hours of music, devoted to bands we'd discovered by judging their album art. More often than not if the cover looks anachronistic and neo-Victorian, we'll find at least one track on the album we can use for the show.

The most important part of finding music for the show is keeping an open mind and listening to a ridiculous amount of music in the first place. You've got to sift through an awful lot of dirt to find a gold nugget.

How do people get in touch to request new audio ammunition for the show?

Send us an email at clockworkcabaret@gmail.com

Do you take music submissions?

We excitedly accept musical submissions! Digital albums and digital press packages can be sent to us via our email address listed above.

Physical albums and press packs can be mailed to us at the following address:

The Clockwork Cabaret
PO Box 730
Carrboro, NC 27510-5514

If possible, send two albums, one will be put into the Clockwork Cabaret's collection which tours with us when we travel to perform, the other will be given to the radio station for use by other DJ's.

Also, please do not be disappointed if we do not play your music on the show. Sometimes what works to one steampunk ear doesn't work for another. We try to play a diverse range of music, but occasionally we're handed a submission that simply doesn't strike us as fitting with the show.


When you're not flying through the airwaves, where else can we see the famous Davenport Sisters?

If you're handy climbing rigging, through our porthole windows when we're sleeping.

First there's our website www.clockworkcabaret.com, for visuals and what not. Klaude mans most of our Twitter posts @clockwrkcabaret where Phineas P Moneyload can also be found @phinnyp.

We're on Facebook, MySpace, and on Sunday night's we go round your mum's for a roast dinner. We'll be attending various conventions and events over the summer which Emmett does a very good job of cataloging through our Facebook page.

We also host a semi-regular dance shin-dig called The Clockwork Ball which is grand fun

How can Dieselpunks help The Clockwork Cabaret?

We love blueberry pies, you could bake us a blueberry pie OR, simply keep cataloging this beautiful anachronistic chunk of alternative culture! You do a stellar job and we're honored to have been interviewed by Dieselpunks!

Thank you, ladies! Godspeed! - Dieselpunks


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Bio

Emmett:
With the resilience of a shark and swinging fists that would send Mike Tyson crying for his momma, Emmett Davenport is a high-spirited cross between a glitzy Jazz Age flapper girl and an in-your-face punk rocker. She's equally comfortable spending a weekend in a quiet place reading 19th century literature or guzzling down multiple pints of Guinness in the parking lot outside a club, smashing stuff. She also owns an art gallery, Davenport & Winkleperry in Pittsboro, NC, so you know she's classy.

Klaude:
With the ability to alter her appearance on a whim, Klaude Davenport would be the perfect agent for a secret bureau of time travelers that the government may or may not have its hand in operating. Klaude could enter a gig at CBGB’s in 1978, change in a washroom stall that doubles as a clandestine device for navigating the time-space continuum with a quick tap of the flush handle, and then go on to co-star with Louise Brooks in a silent film when she arrives in 1926 Hollywood a few hours later. Nary an eyebrow would arch at blatant anachronisms, because she would wow them with her style & humor.

Mingan:
With dreams of becoming an entertainer, Mingan Davenport knew that, like anything else, hard work would be her key to happiness. Feeling out-of-place with the Kickaha tribe that raised her from a small child, she found sanctuary in a traveling circus. She felt more at home on stage with the echoes of applause ringing in her ears than being mired in normal day-to-day life, further proving that a life in entertainment was her true calling.