Sign in / Join

Filk Combines Music and Fantasy with Geekery

Picture of Filk Master Spock

Filk Master Spock

Filk is where music and science-fiction-and-fantasy geekery collide. It's more than a musical genre—it's a bona fide subculture. Like some ragtag band of reluctant heroes from a sword-and-sorcery novel, filkers challenge the evil of corporate anonymity and suppression of the human creative impulse. Or, in other words, they dress up as steampunk characters, fairies, pirates, and such to sing about their favorite movies, books, and cartoons. This endeavor undoubtedly strikes many as absurd—and most filkers would happily agree. Breaking the restraints of the imagination and embracing one's true self, no matter how silly or socially-questionable that self may be, is the whole point.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the genre began as a mistake, a typo actually, in an essay from the 1950s, reportedly called "The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American Filk Music." From here, small clusters of science fiction enthusiasts began to gather with instruments to sing about the stories they admired. For some time, they were outcasts even among outcasts, too geeky even for the geeks. However, over the decades, the Filk community has grown alongside the rising mainstream popularity of science fiction and fantasy; so too has the talent of the performers.

Its core manifesto and philosophical current running through its embraced silliness is largely summed up by Kathleen Sloan's song "Take it Back," which is widely considered an anthem of Filk and, in fact, the official opening song of FilKONtario.

Welcome to our diverse little clan

Don’t worry you’re not good enough, come grow with us

We’ll help you with your melody, we’ll catch you if you trip and fall

We’ll celebrate the art you choose to share with the world! (we will)

Take it back! Take it back!

Take back the right to sing and play

It will fill your heart, it will feed your soul

When you take back the right to sing and play!

 

Each year, Filkers are paid official tribute at the Pegasus Awards, doled out at the Ohio Valley Filk Fest to the highest achievers in the genre. Awards categories have included Best Alien Song, Best Fairytale Song, and Best Gaming Song, along with more pedestrian ones like Best Writer/Composer and Best Adapted Song. 2016 saw Play It With Moxie win for Best Performer and Batya Wittenberg win Best Filk Song with "Creatures of Dream."

Happily, the awards don’t appear to have hurt the collective, non-competitive spirit of the community. Top acts—touring, recording musicians—play right alongside neophytes and hobbyists of varying proficiency.

Should you want to let your own Filk flag fly, start your journey with these 6 Filkers.

Heather Dale

Canada's Heather Dale mixes folk, blues, and jazz in musical interpretations of ancient legends and tales. Her song "Mordred's Lullaby," a monster YouTube hit, is not only a good introduction to Dale's music, but Filk in general. She also has a lot to say to artists about finding a successful niche for their work.

Some of Dale's songs, such as "The Green Knight," are pretty straightforward homages to the Middle Ages. Others, such as "Medusa," use more modern sounds to tell their story. Still others, such as "Changeling Child," are downright mystical.

Ookla the Mok

Rand Bellavia and Adam English make up the face-melting duo that is Ookla the Mok. Ookla’s style is somewhat different from what’s generally found in Filk. Rather than the American folk and Celtic styling common to the genre, Ookla's music ranges from hard rock to a loose sound I can only describe as "Phish-like," with plenty of humor, irreverence, and an affectionate mockery of the nerd culture to which they proudly belong.

With songs like "Stop Talking About Comics (Or I'll Kill You)," "Mwahaha," and "Stranger in the Mirror," they're a nerd's dream come true.

S.J. Tucker

Arkansas' S.J. Tucker can be fun and playful with songs like "The Great Velocipede Migration," or she can rip your guts out with something like "Girl in the Garden."

A key to her power is her ability to find the emotional core of imaginary stories and distill it into song, using realms of fancy to evoke real-life truths. She's a true filker's filker.

Mikey Mason

Mikey Mason wears many hats: comedian, musician, white trash geek. Not all his music is filk. He's got straightforward relationship ditties, such as "I Hate Your Kids."

Still, Mason's more than capable singing about Saturday morning cartoons or delving into even geekier territory with Scoobythulu—a song that finally answers the age-old question of what would happen if Scooby Doo fought Cthulhu.

Mason's music has been featured on the Nerdist, SyFy, Dr. Demento, Time magazine's “Techland.”

Vixy & Tony

Michelle "Vixy" Dockrey, Tony Fabris, Betsy Tinney, and Sunnie Larsen make up Seattle's Vixy and Tony, winners of three Pegasus Awards (including A Little Bit of Rock and Roll award for "Six String Love").

With the notable exception of "Six String Love," Vixy and Tony gravitate towards crisp, clean acoustic songs. Somehow, the tightness of their performances never detracts from the vital playfulness of their sound. Basically, they're still fun, as can be seen in Firefly-inspired "Mal's Song."

This is a good time to hop on the Vixy & Tony bandwagon. They just released a new album titled We Are Who We Are.

Playing Rapunzel

Filk is by no means a purely U.S.-based phenomenon. Europe has an active scene, as well, as does the UK, including London's Playing Rapunzel.

Composed of Marilisa Valtazanou and Mich Sampson, Playing Rapunzel is notable for a more formal, "classical" sound than that found among most filkers. This sound is no doubt informed by Sampson's background as a music teacher and Musical and Choral Director. In 2016, they were nominated for a Pegasus Award for Best Filk Song with "Someone on the Internet is Wrong."

Playing Rapunzel plans to release a new album in October, 2017 at Germany's FilkContinental. If Abseiling for Beginners is any indication, then the new release should be a treat for Filk fans.

3 comments

  1. Jane Garthson 9 February, 2017 at 17:23 Reply

    Lovely that you writing about this great genre, and you’ve picked some amazing examples of very talented filkers. All friends of mine except I haven’t met Mikey yet.

    However, none of them dress up as fannish characters to filk. At most filks, no one at all is dressed up. I remember one person coming as an elf once but she admitted that was a sociology experiment to see if she’d be accepted that way. Why did you start by stressing dressing up as the norm when it is the quite rare exception?

    Some filker are also into costuming, ComicCons and such and would dress up for those, but not as filkers.

  2. tiggy 11 February, 2017 at 12:50 Reply

    An interesting read about of part of the wide-spread filk community.
    Of course not all of us dress up, and we sing/play/listen to an eclectic range of music too.
    Other contenders for a filk anthem, if such a thing existed across the countries involved in running filk conventions, might be Sam’s Song by Zander or Music has a Strange Magic.
    https://zandernyrond.bandcamp.com/track/sams-song

    And one of my favourite professional musicians who is a filker is Chris Conway.

    Does anyone have a link for Music has a Strange Magic?

Leave a reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.