Photo by Craig McPherson
I have been able to witness firsthand the evolution of ELPunk from basically a one-man show with TRON-like gear to a rather large, organized costuming movement along the east coast. Which is why I was very excited to be able to score an interview with the somewhat elusive founder of ELPunk, Craig McPherson. That’s Craig in the photo above, modelling an ELPunk helmet of his own design.
KT Pinto: Please tell us in layman’s terms what Electroluminescent (EL, pronounced ee-ell) Punk is.
Craig McPherson: Electroluminescent Punk, ELPunk as it is more widely known, is a term coined by NYC costumer and event promoter Craig McPherson—me—to describe any costume, artwork, prop, or device which incorporates the use of electrically powered lighting. This lighting effect is often seen as a highlight or accent system to add color to these common items.
KTP: How did you get started in this hobby?
CM: During my stint in the nightclub scene of NYC (circa 1994–2014) I often received requests for presentations or commissions for science-fiction costumes and props. Be they movie replicas or unique devices, I took an interest in lighting systems for these items as it would always grab the attention and wonder of viewers. From the very first build I knew there was a great potential to show off one’s creativity with the careful application of light to mundane things.
KTP: Is it an expensive activity, or are there different levels of monetary participation?
CM: As with most things dealing with costumes, art, or props, cost can vary in the extreme. From simple ELWire outlines on a picture frame to add a glow effect to the picture (a few dollars in price) all the way up to ELLED and ELPlasma systems wired throughout 12-foot tall robotic suits (cost can range into the thousands)… Cost tends to increase with complexity.
KTP: How is this different from what cosplayers and ravers do in their costuming?
CM: With cosplayers you tend to find people building costumes with a focus on screen-accurate replication or personal builder creativity. EL effects can be added to those costumes in accordance with set style requirements or personal taste, but these effects will almost always be electrically powered in some way.
Ravers will normally incorporate glowing effects into their costuming using electrical, chemical (glow sticks), or phosphorescent (reflective or light-reactive paint) sources.
KTP: Do you think the geek/fan world is ready for another “punk”? Steampunk is still going strong; cyberpunk is hanging on by a thread; slashpunk is almost non-existent… Where would ELPunk fit in?
CM: A “punk” in the geek universe tends to refer to a genre or style which adheres to certain limitations and points of interest. Cyberpunk refers to the use or incorporation of cybernetic and computerized enhancements into the human body, clothing, or cyberspace as a reality. This also happens to touch on the idea of ELPunk as it refers to the use of real/fantasy lighting effects to enhance and highlight certain aspects of the subject. While ELPunk may reach into other genres and concepts, it is itself a powerful term used to easily describe a very commonly seen effect in science fiction and fantasy settings.
KTP: Are there certain sites/artists that you like working with to get EL parts? And why these over others?
CM: When purchasing large volumes of ELWire, ELLEDs and other lighting parts I will often do business with companies online, such as ELWirePros and CoolNeon. These companies will sell ELWire, ELLEDs and the systems for powering them at bulk pricing, with prices dropping drastically for large volume orders.
KTP: Are there any movies or TV shows that you recommend to get inspiration for ELPunk costuming?
CM: ELPunk examples can readily be found in many common science fiction and fantasy films or TV series. TRON, Star Wars, Star Trek are just a few very well-known examples which show costumes, weapons, and even individuals enhanced or covered with ELPunk devices.
KTP: What suggestion would you give for a basic, inexpensive ELPunk costume?
CM: Some creative people, who are easy to find online, in video or “how-to” formats, have created internet and world-wide sensations with builds such as Baby Stick Figure (a very cost-effective costume using a simple ELWire strand) or the dance troupe iLuminate currently slated for a run in NYC (off Broadway).
KTP: Does ELPunk have a following yet?
CM: ELPunk has thousands of fans, many from the east coast of the USA, who have seen EL costumes built by me. Some have been lucky enough to catch a New York Comic Con appearance, complete with Daft Punk musical soundtrack and sound-reactive EL lighting system incorporated into his costumes, or seen work-in-progress videos on his and other builder’s YouTube pages. There is also a growing FaceBook group, by the name Electroluminescent (EL) Punk, which boasts hundreds of members. There they post images, videos, suggestions, construction methods, and discuss the history and validity for various ELPunk costumes and devices.
KTP: Are there any upcoming events where people would be able to find you or your group?
CM: Currently, in the NYC area, ELPunk.com is slated to attend the Staten Island annual Art & Light Festival, LUMEN 2014 and the annual New York Comic Con 2014 shows.
KTP: E-mail/website/social media?
CM: To contact us at ELPunk, please feel free to email us at: avatar@ELPunk.com or find our group on FaceBook at: Electroluminescent (EL) Punk.
KTP: Anything else you’d like to add?
CM: ELPunk is a very wide-open term when it comes to your imagination. The options, styles, variations, and choices are nearly endless. From simple toy lightsabers, as seen in Star Wars, to the complex suits worn by characters in the TRON movie and TV series, ELPunk lighting is a great way to express individual creativity and catch the notice of fans, passers-by, the media, and other costumers. ELPunk is about personal style. Make it yours.
Watermelon-shaped picnic basket enhanced with LED wire for an ELPunk effect. Photo by Craig McPherson.