ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
What has 30 legs, five laptops, four kazoos and one Yoda? The answer: A filk singing circle; filk as in silk, only with an F. This little-known genre of folk music is composed and performed by science-fiction fans and it features sci-fi and fantasy themes. Filkers have a lively online culture and one in the real world, too. Here's DAY TO DAY's technology contributor Xeni Jardin.
XENI JARDIN reporting:
Strange sounds emanate from the Hollywood suite at a suburban Los Angeles hotel. Inside, a circle of geeks are singing songs about spaceships.
(Soundbite of song)
Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) But my booster's in the ocean, my payload's on the train and I'm a frequent flyer when the ...(unintelligible) expecting rain.
JARDIN: The sci-fi-themed folk music these fans of science, tech and fantasy are performing is called filk. Some songs riff on stories and characters from popular movies, TV shows or games--"Star Trek," "Star Wars," "Battlestar Galactica," Dungeons and Dragons. Other tunes come from who know's where.
Unidentified Man: The next verse is dedicated to the management of Morton-Thiokol. (Singing) So first, let's pray to Vulcan, ugly god of forge and flame. And also, wise Minerva, now we glorify your name. May...
JARDIN: While filk has been around for decades, the genre is gaining new popularity in part because of digital music downloads and free Internet radio. Several dozen filkers are up early this Saturday morning to attend the 19th annual ConChord, one of about eight yearly filk fests in the United States. Some read lyrics from PDAs or phones, others peer into laptops for chord charts while they strum and hum. Audience members sometimes cheer topically. A song featuring bioengineered chickens is met with clucking; another featuring pigs in space with oinks. Another about the physics of farting is met with--well, you get the idea.
(Soundbite of song)
Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) How I love to break wind. When I'm feeling a twinge of gas pain, I let out a little squirt of methane and it makes me feel glad.
JARDIN: Waiting offstage during this paean to pungence is Mary Creasey. She's an electronic technician for the Postal Service during what she calls her mundane life. She explains there's a filk song for just about everything.
Ms. MARY CREASEY (Filker): You want miners on the moon with a--need a labor union? Oh, we got a song about that. You've got asteroid truckers with broken-down shifts? We got songs about that. Computers, spaceships, space stations, time travel, this, that and the other.
JARDIN: Filk receives little broadcast exposure, but a vibrant Internet scene and file-sharing community has evolved. The filk.com Web site points to mailing lists, festivals and jam sessions in homes and offers the world's only all-filk Internet radio station. Here, you might here The Kinks' "Lola" redone as "Yoda," or "Chattanooga Choo Choo" as "Lair of Great Cthulhu." Other sites offer songs for free download with the artists' permission. Arizona's Joe Bethancourt is a contemporary cowboy musician who's big in the scene.
Mr. JOE BETHANCOURT (Musician): I write songs which are copyrighted and which I will get very, very angry if you rip them off. But if you have an MP3 of them, I don't care. Sing the song. That's what it's for. Abso-dang-lutely.
(Soundbite of laughter)
JARDIN: Halfway into a talent show at the filk fest, a special guest approaches the stage. Lisa Leveridge, guitarist for Courtney Love, is here with her boyfriend, Neil Strauss, author and Rolling Stone magazine writer. The duo dish out a remake of the Hole classic "Doll Parts," now "Jabba Parts," about the "Star Wars" character Jabba the Hut.
(Soundbite of "Jabba Parts")
Ms. LISA LEVERIDGE: (Singing) I am the Hut. Not my nose, a big gut. Yeah, I like money, I like slave girls, I really do.
JARDIN: Neil Strauss says that while the scene was pretty weird, he and Ms. Leveridge might just return. They find something in the filk world that's missing from the music industry.
Mr. NEIL STRAUSS (Rolling Stone): People have this idea of science-fiction geeks and nerds being totally introverted guys on their computer all the time. But, hey, the guy who plays Warcraft 18 hours a day, he can come up and sing about it in front of people, and that's a scary thing. Most people can't get up and sing. And everyone's going to support him, and he's going to go home and play more Warcraft.
JARDIN: But before they go home, the filkers will jam into the wee hours on kazoos, ukeleles and acoustic guitars, enjoying each other's company and a little homegrown music from the future. For NPR News, I'm Xeni Jardin.
CHADWICK: You can hear more filk music at our Web site. There is a filk song sampler with tunes about Romulan pirates, zombies and vampires, really. We can't make this stuff up.
DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Alex Chadwick.