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Creator. Entertainer. Visionary. Doctor Phineas Waldorf Steel was once in the toymaking industry, designing new toys for an unnamed company. However, his radical designs (such as babies with buzzsaws for hands and/or acid squirtguns) were met with scorn and rejection.
Steel did not take this well: for his employers clearly didn’t appreciate his originality, and the scope of his imagination. Thus, he proceeded to show them the only way a reasonable inventor would: he stormed the toy factory, armed with explosives and various weapons of his own invention and burned the place to the ground. For a fan-rendition of this event, made by the Army of Toy Soldiers and approved by the Doctor himself, see the video below.
Having been deemed criminally insane, Dr. Steel escaped the sanitarium and retreated to a deserted island where he began his conquest for world domination. His goal was simple. In his own words, he had come to the conclusion that we were spending too much time doing things we did not enjoy, and that the point of life was to have fun. The only logical way to establish this, the Utopian Playland, was to conquer the world and make it so that anything un-fun would be done by robots. To achieve this, Dr. Steel chose open propaganda, calling on others to enlist in his Army of Toy Soldiers and help him achieve the title of World Emperor, all the while avoiding the traps set by the Alien Illuminati to keep us bored and unhappy.
The second tool Dr. Steel employed was, again, in his words, “breakdancing on the way to world domination.” An accomplished musician and an eclectic songwriter, Dr. Steel’s primary method of contact was through music. While taken to be an example of (in retrospect) “steampunk music” and once called “industrial hip hop opera,” it is a blend of hip-hop, rap, pop, show tunes, rock, industrial, a little bit of world music and at times noise (his cover of the theme from “Inspector Gadget” being a prime example,) it is a primordial soup from which Dr. Steel fed. Combining these styles into cohesive wholes of recognizable style, the music is met with a firm grasp on lyricism. Be it talking about his preparations for world domination, rapping about the planet’s downfall or singing about alien conspiracies (or child-loving trouts) he was diverse and instantly recognizable.
Doctor Steel was, thus, an all-encompassing, absolute performance art where the reality it inhabited crossed almost effortlessly with ours. You had the music, but you didn’t have to stop there – you could become part of the art itself. The Army of Toy Soldiers wasn’t just a name for the fans of Dr. Steel, they behaved much like the propaganda-spreading army they were meant to be. Famous for “invading” Disneylands to sing Dr. Steel carols and pass out propaganda fliers on their holiday, March 4 (as in, “March forth!”) spreading the message of the man who would be king.
Nowadays, multi-dimensional performance art can be found easily – neither are eclectic cross-genre bands or musicians new. However, this was around 2001 (where the release of albums were concerned.) The Dresden Dolls was a little ways away from their eponymous debut, dark cabaret wasn’t in full swing quite yet, nobody had heard of Abney Park and “steampunk music” was virtually non-existent. The overlap with the steampunk movement comes when Dr. Steel’s main message of creativity and individual expression, which now sits at the heart of the latter.
Of course, being the first, Dr. Steel was, despite its slow burning popularity, largely ignored. It’s “notability” was found questionable at best throughout most of his career, which led to his disappearance, leaving behind only an eventual letter to the leader of the Army of Toy Soldiers, which indicated that unfortunately, reality had overwhelmed the fiction. It is foreshadowing, then, that the last official music video released by Dr. Steel was “Childhood (Don’t) a Go-Go,” which marks the first and possibly only time his robot band (finally) worked.
Whoever he was, Dr. Steel represented a whole new level of fictionalizing reality. While he is gone, his Army of Toy Soldiers marches on, and who knows, he might return someday, more powerful than before.
(2001) Dr. Steel
(2001) Dr. Steel II: Eclectic Boogaloo
(2004) People of Earth
(the songs contained therein were later compiled to two separate CD’s: “The Dr. Steel Collection” in 2004 and “Dr. Steel’s Read-A-Long” in 2006.)