What is Filk?

Like folk music, filk music has a wide range to its definition. While many musical genres are defined mostly by sound and instrumentation, Filk is defined more by subject matter, audience, and methodology. It is the name most often applied to folk music originally born from science fiction and fantasy fandom.

here is a story that the word filk was first coined from a misspelling of the word folk in an article by Lee Jacobs in the 1950s. Whatever the origin, the name has been embraced by generations of people that have metamorphosized the original subject of that article beyond the scope of its original intent.

s a noun, filk describes music that appeals to science fiction and fantasy fans. Their fan(aticism) can be based on any media (television, movies, literature, etc.). What seems instrumental in the definition of filk is that it is appreciated for its subject matter where fans are likely to gather (conventions, parties, etc.). The subject matter of these songs is generally the key to their popularity, and while many of these tunes may use appropriated melodies, many more are entirely original creations.

s a verb, the word filk can mean many other things. Primarily it means to play a fannish song, but it also may denote the writing of such a song, or the appropriation of the melody of a previous song for the writing of another. It is through the use of appropriated melody and literary reference that the broadside tradition overlaps the filk genre.

Modern Broadside Ballad by Fugli
It is important to note that while neither the use of appropriated melody, nor direct literary reference is essentially necessary for either genre, it is the common use of both that most strongly links the two. Since the commonality of the two lies simply in their conventions, it may be beneficial to separate them by their necessities.

he term broadside specifically refers to the printing of songs, not their content. Historically, broadside ballads have followed folk traditions of telling anecdotal stories in a humanistic vein, but their subject matter was specifically meant to inspire interest that would, in turn, inspire sales. While the idea of fantasy was not entirely foreign to broadside ballads, there were few non literary sources from which to pull ideas.

The concept of spaceships and fan conventions would never have entered the mind of early broadside writers and thus are not the logical inspiration for those who might emulate such writers at a Renaissance Faire. Medieval and Renaissance Faires, however, are sort of like fan conventions for some. These fans often call themselves rennies, and there can be a great deal of overlap between the fantasy fan and rennie communities, further blurring the boundaries.

odern filk, as much as any modern music, is the logical extension of the renaissance broadside practice. Our modern recording technologies have often replaced the printed broadsides of old, and if you feel so inspired as to pay for a song, you have immediately linked the two traditions. That said, the term filk is originally a product of musical content and appeal, and the term broadside defines a marketing model that later was loosely used to define a genre made popular by design. In the end, their commonality is one of convention, easily traced to their common roots in traditional folk music. Notably, these traditions are shared by several musical genres, and it is the fantasy community link that most closely relates these two in our minds.