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A History of Swedish Filk

My own and very subjective description of filk's history in Sweden. One thing to remember here: Swedish fandom is small. The "hard set" of fans, defined as those who publish or regularly contribute to fanzines, run cons, or regularly contribute to fanac in other ways, has probably never been more than 200 people; often considerably less. It is also geographically spread-out.

Another is that this research in its early stages. I still have not done any proper interviewing or research into old fanzines - I have been limited by my own (rather small and limited) fanzine collection and the material that have been digitised as part of earlier fan historical projects within Swedish fandom. Part of writing now is the old Usenet principle that the fastest way to get a correct answer is to send out the wrong answer.



The Early Years (up to 1979)

Swedish fandom started in the early 1950s, first with local science fiction clubs, then contacts between fans and clubs through the newly started science fiction magazine Häpna! (1954-1966), followed up with fanzine publishing and cons. The first con was held in 1956 (LunCon, 18-19 August in Lund).

Wolf von Witting wrote in CounterClock 6 that "filk was rarely even mentioned before 1979", but that really only concerns the label, not the concept. Music was part of the general fannish landscape. Several meeting and con reports mentions music (recorded or live) being played, though often it appears to be mundane music.

The first reference to fannish music I have found so far is from Stocon 3, a small one-day con held in Stockholm on 25 February 1961. The report from the con mentions that the fan Ingvar Svensson sung and played his own "Fandom Song" on the piano. It is described as "an excellent melody in 2/3 beat and g major", and it was repeated during the evening, including as a singalong.

Friends all over the Universe
should with each other discuss
we shall together have fun
under the rays of the sun
Come to us, join us today
fandom is happy and gay
fandom will live through the years
all of the future is hers.


(Text from Fandboken. I'm not sure the text there is complete or if there has been transcription errors somewhere. Amusingly enough it scans to "Greensleeves". If one wants a less tired melody, "Alla fåglar kommit re'n"/"Alle Vögel sind schon da" also works passably.)

Next interesting piece is in SF Forum 8 (autumn 1962). It has illos by Juanita Coulson, taken from Yandro. It also includes a short presentation of Coulson and the fanzine, including "[s]he loves to play the guitar and sing folk songs". Ie, Swedish fandom at this time not only had regular international contacts, it was likely aware of fannish song-writing in the USA.

SF Forum 12 includes a report from Uppsala SF Möte, held on 17 November 1963: "Four futuristic songs were played [probably using a tape player - KJN], written and composed by Sam Lundwall". Even if it was not performed live, it definitely sounds like filk!

Sam J Lundwall is a noted fan, author, translator, and publisher of science fiction. He was one of the first generation of Swedish fans, but since the early 60's his relation with fandom has been fragile and often very strained. He made a short attempt at a career as a troubadour and songwriter in the 60's, which also is mentioned in SF Forum 17 (March 1965), where fans are encouraged to go and listen to his steady gig. His LP Visor i vår tid was released in 1966, and included at least one original song that easily can be viewed as filk: "Möte i rymden" (Encounter in Space). It uses an original melody and text, but has many similarities (in melody, text, and structure) with Evert Taube's classic tall tale song "Möte i monsunen" (Encounter in the Monsoon). The LP also includes at least one more song with sf theme, "Monstret från planeten Mars" (The Monster from the Planet Mars).

ETA: I have now managed to acquire a copy of the lyrics and notes for the record.

Club Cosmos has made available a video recording from 2012 of Lars-Göran Johansson performing "Möte i rymden".

Lundwall wrote six songs for inclusion with his 1974 novel King Kong Blues (published in English translation as 2018 A.D. or The King Kong Blues), and the first Swedish hardcover edition included an EP with the songs. Vocals were by Lundwall, the melodies and instrumentals by Michael B. Tretow. Tretow is known internationally as ABBA's sound technician, but was also an able musician with many oddball musical projects.

Lundwall continued with various other music and film projects, on a hobby basis for distribution to friends only, or for mundane purposes. Fandboken mentions that he made his last public singing performance at Fabula 80 (24-26 October 1980, Copenhagen).

SF Forum also contained filk songs at times. (It regularly included original poems, but they were seldom meant to be set to a melody.) Issues 16 and 19 (both 1965) includes adapted songs written by Bertil Mårtensson: "Balladen om Ture Nilsson" and "Svampplockarvisa". They have a mushroom theme, and are probably best described as examples of fannish humour. The former is about a mushroom picker who gets eaten by a giant mushroom, the latter is to the tune of Beethoven's Fifth, and the lyrics are basically "Vi plockar svamp" ("We pick mushrooms") sung over and over again, with an extra "svamp" at times. Issue 50, from 1971, includes "Forums egen Brevskrivarevisa", a song describing the letter column discussion in the fanzine. The creator is not named, but it is probably by the fanzine editors, Peder Carlsson and Kristina Hallind.

The marketing material for Fancon 70 included lots of hoaxes, jokes, and made-up organisations. A part of this was "Hyllning till Kronoberg" to the tune of "Gubben Noach" by Bellman. The organisers of the con were John-Henri Holmberg, Mats Linder, and Bertil Mårtensson, and it is probable that it was one of them who wrote the song.

It is unclear how much these or similar songs were sung by fans in the Swedish fandom of the 60's and 70's, but I consider it very likely that at least some were sung. There are photographic evidence of instruments being played from sf cons in 1969 (Con 69, Lund), 1972 (AlcoCon, Gothenburg), 1973 (LogCon, Lund), and 1975 (SF-Kongressen 1975, Stockholm) - as far back as the photos available to me extend. At the 25th anniversary of Club Cosmos of Gothenburg, held on 24 March 1979, a trio dressed as the Cantina Band from Star Wars were part of the entertainment; I guess Kjell Waltman is the piano player. See also the note on Lundwall's last public performance in 1980 above.

On the other hand, the traces of filk and fannish music-making are few and far between during this period in the material I have gathered so far. On the third hand, I have barely even scratched the fanzine production and con programs from this period, and SF Forum usually had a decidedly sercon slant, where filk often didn't fit into the editorial intent.



The New Wave of Swedish Filk

From Minicon 4 (30 March-1 April 1979, Stockholm) there are references to filk singing in Fandboken, as well as photographic evidence of music playing and filk songs in the programme book.

The duo of David Nessle and Erik Andersson started a series of very well-made and well-received cassette fanzines. Their cassettes, published 1980-82, included well-made adaptations of songs, bringing them into a context of fandom, science fiction, or science. Other fans joined in on making their own cassette fanzines. Noteworthy creators were Johan Frick, Bertil Mårtensson, and Jan Risheden, but many other Swedish fans made cassette fanzines as well.

This also led to other Swedish fans writing song adaptations or original music. Martin Andreasson and Ylva Spångberg proved excellent parodists. There were also skilled musicians like Kjell Waltman (an able ragtime pianist), Stefan Kayat, and Staffan Mossige-Norheim. Many other Swedish fans dabbled with adaptations and parodies as well, but the above were the main names that I know of. Fannish bands were also started: this was at the height of the Swedish punk wave. Most of them were extremely short-lived, from what I can gather. Fandboken mentions the names and members of several.

ETA: The perhaps most musically successful fan was Martin Q Larsson, but it seems he was only an active fan a short while. His band Matandarnas Transgalaktiska Hiphopkapell had an early concert at Höstcon 3 (13-14 October 1990, Uppsala). They released a self-titled record in 1995, but by this time Larsson had already gafiated. Their "Jag vill bo i rymden" is however pure filk in its theme. Larsson managed a career as musician and composer, and is currently (October 2015) the president of the Society of Swedish Composers. (7 October 2015)

Musically, the inspirations were the Swedish ballads and revue-songs, and popular music of the 60's, 70's and 80's. Thematically, the focus was on fandom itself (Swedish fandom of the 80's was extremely self-conscious and viewed fandom itself, not science fiction, as its main concern), but there were also songs on space, science, general science fiction, love (often with a twist of fandom or science), and of plain humourous content. A favourite was humorous translation of English lyrics into absurd Swedish.

At cons and other fan meets, it appears the most common way to perform still were small concerts or impromptu gatherings with one or a few performers, though I am sure that there were also singalongs with well-known songs. Ahrvid Engholm's fanzine Fanytt 96 from 1981 describes fans singing and improvising singalongs while watching for Roscoe's rocket to appear in the sky on 4 July, drunk and in the middle of the night.

From what I can tell, fannish music was a valued and well-regarded form of fanac at this time, though secondary to the main concerns of fanzine publishing and con running. Many cons included concerts in some form in their programming as part of evening shows. The main difference from the time before 1979 in how filk was integrated into fandom was simply that many more cons and events included music shows, and the use of cassette fanzines.

There are two known recordings of filk from this period, apart from the various cassette fanzines:

  • Kringcon 1988 in Oslo, Norway, with Erik Andersson, Jan Risheden, and Johan Frick. Witting has called this performance "perhaps the best collection of Swedish filksongs presented at one and the same occasion". A recording was made live on cassette by English fan Wilf James, and later digitised by him. I have access to this, though the sound quality is poor.

  • The Filksöngs, a cassette and fanzine by David Nessle, Erik Andersson, and Ahrvid Engholm, mainly including songs by Nessle. I only have access to bibliographic data on the fanzine. It appears to have been published in the early 90's.


Some songs of particular interest from this period include:

  • "Pappersframmatningen är trasig" (the paper feed is broken) by David Nessle, to the tune of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head", about a fan's anguish over his mimeo being broken, delaying the fanzine.

  • "Love in the Spirit of Philip K Dick", an original love song (sort of) by Johan Frick. It is included in CounterClock 6.

  • "Måns" by Staffan Mossige-Norheim, an original song about a man murdering his entire family, including the cat. It proved quite popular in some parts of Swedish fandom.

  • "The Power of Space", based on Jennifer Rush's "The Power of Love", performed by Staffan at Nasacon 8 (1987).

  • "Termodynamikens andra lag", juxtaposing the end of a relationship with the second law of thermodynamics. Probably written by Jan Risheden.

Swedish fandom of the 80s has been described as hyperfandom, and it showed in the filk output as well. It managed to produce a remarkable quantity of quality filk in only a few years, just as part of its general fanac.



The Decline and Fall of Swedish Filk

In the late 80's and early 90's Swedish fandom collapsed due to feuds, loss of interest, and more feuds. The rebuilding of fandom turned it both introvert (it was almost afraid of growing) and extremely focused on what it viewed as the new core of fandom: serious and constructive discussion of written science fiction together with fanzine production. Most of the active filker-fans turned their musical interests elsewhere, eg Johan Frick's attempt at making a mundane jazz band, "Johan Fricks kapell", or gafiated.

(Filk was not the only casualty of this re-orientation of Swedish fandom. Costuming and media interest were also marginalised. Contacts with other fan groups, like the Tolkien societies, declined or were cut altogether; relations had already been badly hurt due to the constant feuds within fandom.)

The only active Swedish filker in the late 90's was Wolf von Witting, who had been an active fan during the 80's but didn't turn into a "proper" filker until later in life. He was mainly filking in Germany, and since he primarily wrote in English, using British and Irish folk songs as the base, and the general suspicion in Swedish fandom towards non-sercon activity, he failed to get any followers. Filk-related activity was otherwise mostly relegated to the few brandonised song texts published in fanzines, often of poor singability.

(I became involved in fandom in 1999, and became good friends with Wolf. The reason I did not turn into a filker here was partly my own lack of musical interest at the time, partly that he used base material that did not fit me musically, and that I did not find most of his thematic content that interesting at the time. I have a much higher appreciation of his work now.)

The most successful attempt to bring filk back to Swedish fandom in this period was when Johan Fricks kapell was reformed to hold a concert at Swecon 1999 in Uppsala. The band was made up of Jan Risheden, Johan Frick, and Karin Kruse. A video recording was made, but it was sadly destroyed by mistake. Wolf von Witting tried to follow up, inviting Chris Malme (and band, as Minstrel and Patchwork) to the Swecon next year, Nasacon 2000. However, Swedish fandom proved hard to woo. The many Trekkers in the audience (the con was an experimental collaboration between classic sf fandom and Stockholm Trekkers) were more appreciative. It did not help that the concert was at the end of a too long, rambling, and disjoint show.

As Witting quit his filking efforts around 2002-03 and left Sweden for England and Italy, filk pretty much disappeared from Swedish fandom, except for intermittent parody lyrics posted in fanzines or on mailing lists. Ahrvid Engholm continued to regularly wrote filk songs as part of his fannish poetry parodies, and a small set of songs were published for Swecon 2004 in Uppsala, but hardly anything of it was performed. It still happened that fans sang at cons, but it was mostly mundane songs or one-offs.

There were a very few holdouts, like Lars-Göran Johansson at Club Cosmos in Gothenburg, who still filked at their meetings, but Club Cosmos had more or less totally retreated from Swedish fandom in general due to the feuds of the 80's, and did not start to rejoin until the early-mid 2000's. This activity had no impact on Swedish fandom in general. Its most common form, as I understand it, was as short after-dinner entertainment, but it does give a link back to the Swedish fannish music of the 60's and 70's.



Music in the Fannish Fringe

While Swedish fandom lost filk and music-making, it remained in other parts of the greater fannish ecosystem. The Swedish Tolkien societies have a rich musical tradition, and Mellonath Gléowine, the music guild of Forodrim (the Stockholm Tolkien society) has been active continuously almost since the founding of the society in 1972. Their main focus is on their choir, which sings in Swedish, English, and the Middle-Earth languages. They released a CD with 16 songs when Forodrim celebrated their 36th jubilee in 2008.

I have also found a reference in The Tolkien Music Discography to a cassette containing 18 songs, released in 1984 by Forodrim. The contents of the CD and the cassette appear to have no overlap, giving a sense of the amount of music the Swedish Tolkien societies have available.

SCA and various other reenactment groups also have active musicians. Here there is some overlap with parts of the Swedish folk music movement (in Sweden, the term folk music is understood as closer to the English term traditional music), making a large and very healthy scene, but there is hardly any contact with Swedish fandom.

Ralph Lundsten, composer, musician, and pioneer of electronic music, was active in club Sigma TC and GoH at at least one sf con during the 80s. He often includes themes of cosmos, space, and mysticism in his works, but can hardly be described as a filker.

In Uppsala, three then new fans formed the group Elektrubadur in the late 90's or early 2000's, and set out to make electronic music with some science fiction themes and lyrics in Swedish. They released a demo in 2003, Svarta fotspår, that still is available now and then as a torrent download. The music was experimental and as far as I can tell was never really targeted at fandom. Björn Lindström made most of the music, Anna Davour sang, and Zrajm wrote most lyrics, as far as I know.

Miskatonicon 2005 was a one-off horror con that came out from Swedish Lovecraft and horror fans teaming up with veterans of the Stockholm "spex" performances (a "spex" is a humouristic, often bawdy, play or musical set up by students of Swedish universities. Many successful Swedish comedians have cut their teeth in this environment) to set up the mythos musical A Shoggoth on the Roof. Many fans visited the event, but it was planned and executed mainly by people with no or little connection with Swedish fandom. From all I have heard the entire event was a great success, though the effort involved was huge. It included translating the entire musical into Swedish, elaborate custom scenography, and much more.



Now

The rebirth of Swedish filking can be traced to when I myself, more or less on a whim, sent a brandonisation of the opening monologue to one of Carl Michael Bellman's songs to the main Swedish fandom mailing list. It got a fantastically positive response. I completed the adaptation and followed it up with another brandonisation of a Bellman song. Both were performed at Confetti in Gothenburg on 4-6 April 2014, one in the bar and one during the shared dinner.

Other Swedish fans started to contribute new song parodies, like Rolf Strömgren, Sofia Karlsson, and a returning Wolf von Witting.

During 2015 filking was done at ConAn (a small Gothenburg fan day), at Archipelacon (where we also gained contact with Finnish filkers), and ConFuse, this year's Swecon. At ConFuse we also found another talented filker with a background from SCA in Anna Troy.

Swedish filking is looking up, though I have no idea which form and role it will take this time within fandom.



Themes of Swedish Filk

As can be understood from the above, Swedish fandom does not have a current filk tradition. What Swedish filk does have is some common themes, which partly comes from how Swedish fandom has developed and partly from the mundane Swedish musical traditions.

The probably most important one is that a large proportion of Swedish filk songs tell stories about fandom: on fan history, on fanzines, on cons, on becoming, being, or quitting being a fan. There is a great amount of songs focusing on the fannish experience or mythologising fandom. There is also a large amount of songs that can be termed Real Person Filks, that mention specific and identifiable fans or fannish events, sometimes as fan history and sometimes as fan mythology.

Some examples of Swedish filk using this approach are "The Telefangathering" by von Witting, "Seppo Laines tid" (unknown author), "En sån flicka" (unknown author, probably Jan Risheden), and my own "Our Con on the Way to the Con" and "The Finns Are Banned".

The peculiar nature of Swedish fandom of the 80's is part of this, but the same theme is also strong in later filk, and present in earlier filk. In part, I believe we have picked it up from the Swedish ballad tradition (which has little similarity with neither the mediaeval ballads nor the modern pop ballads). From their start with Carl Michael Bellman, over Dan Andersson, Evert Taube, Karl Gerhard, Cornelis Vreeswijk, and many other songwriters, a common approach in Swedish songwriting is to write songs about the people and events directly connected with the songwriter, and also to re-use characters, creating a gallery of characters specific for each songwriter.

This is especially apparent in the songs by Bellman, which are populated by a great, varied, and in parts reality-based set of people, which easily can be turned into songs about fandom of today. The reason I have filked more songs by Bellman than any other songwriter is not that Bellman's songs are classics, it is because they are extraordinarily easy to filk into something that resonates with Swedish fandom of today.

Another strong theme is comedy. Even if the songs are not funny songs, they often include dramatic juxtapositions or absurd situations. Ose songs almost all concern gafiating, ie leaving fandom.

On the other hand, the themes of space and space exploration, which are very important to American filking, are much smaller here. The American theme of heroic exploration (like in "Hope Eyrie" and "Fire in the Sky") is entirely absent. We also write much fewer songs about popular shows, though this is mostly because Swedish fandom never really has focused on media, as evidenced by that Witting (who is a big media fan) has written several songs about Star Trek, Doctor Who, and other shows.



Further reading and listening

Wolf von Witting has plenty of filk-related material published in conjunction with his English-language fanzine CounterClock: http://efanzines.com/CounterClock/. Of particular interest are:

  • CounterClock #6 contains in introduction to filking, as seen from the 1999 horizon of Sweden.

  • CounterClock #17 is concerned with the history of the Sigma TC club, including some of the people involved in filking there.

  • The CounterClock #17 soundtrack, with several pieces by Staffan Mossige-Norheim (some with lyrics by Wolf).

  • ClockWise 2014, which contains a lot of his filks written up to 2014.

Staffan Mossige-Norheim is on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/staffancozmige. He has instrumental pieces, as well as songs with lyrics in Swedish, English, and German.

Erik Andersson has placed various recordings from the 80's on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/schleiermacher. They feature Swedish fans Johan Frick, David Nessle, Erik Andersson, and possibly others. Of particular interest is a very early recording (1980) of Pappersframmatningen är trasig.

Martin Q Larsson is quite active on the net:

Filk singing as dinner entertainment at Club Cosmos (Konfink 2012), performed by Lars-Göran Johansson:


Sofia Karlsson's filks, most in English, are published on https://dillchips.wordpress.com

My own filks can be found via https://kjn.dreamwidth.org/tag/filk. Some sound files have been published on the FilkArchive server (currently closed after a data breach in autumn 2016).

Mellonath Gléowine:





Sources

Davour, Anna: Svenska kongresser 1956-2006. Stockholm 2006. Contains statistics over earlier Swedish sf cons, and selected reports.

Engholm, Ahrvid: Fandboken 0.92 http://www.lysator.liu.se/~unicorn/fandom/fanzines/fandboken/. Comprehensive but very biased source.

Strandberg, Lars-Olov: photos from Swedish sf cons, digitised by Anders Reuterswärd. Referenced material document cons from 1969 to 2005.

von Witting, Wolf: CounterClock, referenced above.

SF Forum issues 1-125; from 1960 to 2015, digitised by Tomas Cronholm. SF Forum is the club magazine for Skandinavisk Förening för Science Fiction, the main science fiction club in Stockholm.

The Tolkien Music Discography: http://www.tolkien-music.com/discography.htm

Private correspondence and fanzine collection.
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