Filk music is what you get when your musical style is based on a spelling error.
It began in the late 1940s / early 1950s as a subset of traditional folk music. Specifically, a science fiction and fantasy subset. Filk music was the result of science fiction and fantasy fans taking existing songs and rewriting the lyrics to them, introducing sf/f elements.
Love Song Productions explains the origin of the name:
The precise origin of the word “filk” has been a subject of friendly dispute for many years. It definitely arose as a typographic error that was then adopted as a name for a previously-unnamed genre, but exactly where that typo occurred has been unclear. The most common story has had it appearing as part of a science fiction convention’s program, but Lee Gold’s research suggests that it first arose in the title of an article that Lee Jacobs submitted to the Spectator Amateur Press Society some time in the 1950’s.
It would be reasonable to assume that such a specialized field wouldn’t last long. That assumption would be wrong. Not only has it survived, it has thrived… due to audience participation.
Filk music, after all, was by and for fans… and fans become obsessive. Especially in the early days of sf conventions, many of the attendees were young and would habitually try to go to many of them. People would hear filk songs sung at a convention; some would learn the lyrics and be ready to sing along at the next convention.
The phenomenon grew. Some sf fans were musicians; finding an appreciative audience, they started to bring their instruments with them to conventions. There was a preponderance of classical instrument pieces, as people who’d studied the flute or violin in their youth discovered others who wanted to hear them play. Beyond that, there were many electronic keyboards because they were easily transported. Musicians began to compose original filk songs as opposed to simply replacing the lyrics to existing ones. Now there are the Pegasus awards, devoted purely to filk.
As with any musical genre, there are some brilliant compositions to be found. There are also many failures.
These days there are entire conventions dedicated to the music, and most larger sf/f conventions will have a room set aside for filking. Those who enter it are expected to sing along with every song they know.
The failures get sung, too. As one might expect, there’s usually alcohol involved.
If this has made you curious to hear some of the songs, I’ve included a few examples below. If you click on them, knowing what you do now, it’s your own fault.
Okay, enough of that.
Question of the night: What alcohol (if any is needed at all) is most likely to convince you to sing in public?