Both a noun and a verb, filk refers to fan-written, fan-sung songs about science fiction or fannish themes and to the events, or filksings, where such music, known as filksongs, are performed by filkers. The term grew from a 1953 typo (see Filk History).
Once performed in casual sing-alongs at club meetings and in the stairwells and spare corners of cons, filksinging (also known as filking) has evolved into a highly organized system of concerts and circles. Traditional sing-alongs play only a minor part in modern filk.
Although filk began as fannish parodies to the tunes of mundane songs, the meaning of filksong has greatly broadened since Fancyclopedia 2 (see below) was published. Today, filk songs may be either parodies or completely original songs, and they encompass a variety of styles and themes. The criterion for a filk song is its place or the place of its creators in fannish culture rather than adherence to any musical approach. Put another way, if a song is sung in a filk circle, it is considered to be filk, much as a fanzine might not contain a word about science fiction but still be considered a fanzine.
Filksinging still takes place at sf conventions, where filk dealers may huckster songbooks and CDs. Filksongs appear in fanzines, and many conventions have Filk (or Music) GoHs. NESFA published two major filk songbooks and Boskone used to have a filksong contest. Lots of filksongs, like "Bouncing Potatoes," chronicle events in fanhistory.
However, the filk community now overlaps the fannish community rather than being strictly part of it, and some filkers don't participate in the sf microcosm at all, but only go to specialized filk cons. Filk has its own clubs; awards, including the Filk Hall of Fame presented at FilKONtario and the Pegasus Awards presented at the Ohio Valley Filk Festival; its own fan fund, Interfilk; and its own traditions.
Like other activities that began in fandom, and continue to be part of it to an extent, filkdom has in some respects become a fandom unto itself. However, most filkers considers themselves to be both fans and filkers, and within the filk community, filk is often defined as "the folk music of sf fandom."
Filkers have their own specialized fanspeak.
Group-singing done from a hymnal, also called East Coast Singalong. Early filk was primarily of this sort, but it has come more and more to be replaced by performance filk.
Filksings anyone may join, vs. concerts and events where specific performers are arranged in advance.
Performers who play more than their fair share in an open filk circle.
In performance filk, participants take turns presenting solo songs (which are nonetheless often harmonized or otherwise joined in by the audience, unless explicitly requested otherwise). Generally done either in filk circles or concerts (where performers do multiple songs in a row, usually from a stage), as opposed to hymnal filk.
In filk circles, the people typically sit in a rough circle facing each other and take turns performing. There are a number of kinds of circle:
- Bardic Circle: A circle in which everyone takes turns as the performer.
- Chaos Circle: Also an open filk. A filking circle which has no organization and participants jump in when they feel like it. This is prone to abuse by filkhogs.
- Poker Chip Circle: A filk circle invented by Lee Gold and Barry Gold in which each participant gets a poker chip. To take a turn singing, they toss their poker chip into the center and singing continues until everyone has had a turn. Then the chips are redistributed.
Filk songs which were not written as filk -- and are by mundane artists -- but which seem to be filk, anyway. For example, songs which contain stories such as many of the old ballads or songs which show a filkish love of incongruities. They are often not on stfnal themes. Examples include Tom Lehrer and Stan Rogers.
Sometimes the term adopted filk is used instead, focusing that it is a song which was made outside fandom but is used within it.
The rise of fan-like movements outside of sf fandom has also seen the rise of fannish music that is independent of filk, and with different social and creative focuses. Examples are Geek Rock, Nerdcore, and Wizard Rock.
Sf-related songs by mainstream figures who aren't closely involved with fannish culture (e.g., the music of Weird Al Yankovic, Jonathan Coulton, The Rocky Horror Show, etc.) aren't considered filk, even if they have SF themes; if widely adopted by filkers, though, they're sometimes called "found filk."
Almost any dance at an sf con will include Rocky Horror's "Time Warp," as surely as the "Hora" will be danced at a bar mitzvah. (At Sydnie Krause's bat mitzvah, they played both, and at the first strains of the "Time Warp," Bill Higgins quipped, "Ah, the folk song of my people.")
A filksong that appropriately follows a song which was just sung. This is most commonly used in an open filk.
From "morOSE," meaning a sad, maudling, moody and depressing song where everything ends badly. "The kind of ballad, usually sung in a minor key, where everyone dies except the dog.... Then he dies too."
While the singing of filksongs goes back at least as far as the second Worldcon, Chicon I in 1940, for which Jack Speer pubbed his Science Fiction Song Sheet, and while such venerable groups as the Futurians and FAPA had their own fannish songs, the term filk dates to 1953, and is attributed to a typo made by Washington, D.C., fan Lee Jacobs in an apa contribution.
LeeJ misspelled folk song in a piece he'd submitted to SAPS entitled "The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American Filk Music." The article was about supposed sf incidents in folk songs, but actually discussed a number of thoroughly smutty songs, taking various metaphors in them as if they were meant literally. Wrai Ballard, the OE of SAPS, decided the piece might run afoul of censorious postal authorities, so he didn't run it in the mailing, but he noted the typo of "filk" for "folk" and mentioned it to a lot of fans. (This may be why some people believe filksinging to be an abbreviation for "filthy folk singing.")
Not long after that, another SAPS member, Karen Anderson, took LeeJ's typo and defined it as musical parodies written by fans. Then, in Die Zeitschrift für Vollstandigen Unsinn #774 p22 by Karen Anderson is the first-known song published as a filk song, written (see "How to Write a Filk Song" in The Zed #780) by Poul Anderson.
British filk music goes back nearly as far as filk in the United States. Indeed, some argue that the first filk book was published in the UK. The book was Songs from Space, distributed at Loncon 1 in 1957.
The real start of British filk as organized activity, though, came in the 1980s, largely through the efforts of Gytha North. Her Filk Hall of Fame citation refers to her as "the matriarch of filk at British conventions." She edited the "first three UK filk books" (Songs from Space apparently having been forgotten). Filk singing was prominent at Follycon, the 1988 Eastercon, and at Intersection, the 1995 Worldcon.
The first British Filk Convention was held in 1989 and was called Contabile. Mike Whitaker chaired it and has been a prominent feature in British filk since then. In between conventions, there have been social gatherings of filkers at pubs, called WiGGLes and SWiGGLes (singing Wiggles) for reasons too obscure to explain.
A number of British filkers and groups have become internationally known in the filk community, and some have been Interfilk guests.
Fancyclopedia 2 Article
|From Fancyclopedia 2, ca. 1959|
|Filk Song (Share) A type of music which, if it weren't fannish, would be called a folk song; fan parodies or pastiches of this or other types of mundane chansons.|
|This is a fanspeak page. Please extend it by adding information about when and by whom it was coined, whether it’s still in use, etc.|