Voldemort can't stop the rock, and neither can J.K. Rowling
A month after the release of the seventh and final "Harry Potter" book last July, Ithaca College freshman Lena Gabrielle Weinstein went to a conference in Toronto of fans of J.K. Rowling's record-breaking series. An aspiring songwriter, she composed a song based on her favorite novels and performed it on piano at the conference’s talent show. People started urging her to start her own “wizard rock” band
Like many people, Weinstein had never heard of wizard rock. But she caught on fast, calling herself The Butterbeer Experience, after a popular drink in the series. Now she’s planning a summer 2008 tour.
Wizard rock traces its roots to a shed in the Boston-area backyard of brothers Paul and Joe DeGeorge. The duo, now 28 and 20, are considered the granddaddies of wizard rock, performing under the name Harry and the Potters. They recorded their first album in 2003, based on the concept that they each represent Harry Potter at two different ages.
Since then they have inspired hundreds of other Rowling fans to start their own bands, writing songs from the perspective of characters in the series of seven books about young wizards and witches growing up, learning magic, and fighting evil. This outpouring of creativity has become a movement that, even with Rowling’s series complete, continues to not only thrive but grow.
Composing and listening to wizard rock has become a way for fans to express their personalities through characters in their favorite books, say people familiar with the phenomenon. The dedicated fan base provides a supportive atmosphere for young amateurs, and has even given some rockers the chance to quit their day jobs and become full-time musicians.
“I go to live shows all the time, and it’s pretty rare for me to just feel happy,” said Amy Phillips, senior news editor of Pitchfork Media, the influential music criticism Web site. She found Harry and the Potters' lyrics so clever and the all-ages crowd’s enthusiasm so infectious that she gave the brothers a spot on her “Top Ten Best Live Shows of 2005” list.
Wizard rock as a genre took off in 2005, when Harry and the Potters began to inspire imitators during the long wait between Rowling’s fourth and fifth books. Riddled with book-based in-jokes, wizard rock inspires enthusiastic dedication in its fans. The rise of MySpace helped build an online community with a central place to keep up with news of the bands and connect with other fans. Live shows provided a real-world place to develop friendships begun in cyberspace.
“Reading can be such a solitary experience,” Paul DeGeorge pointed out in an interview. “Our shows served as kind of that tie to the real world, instead of just being online or reading at home.”
The lead-up to July’s publication of the final book in the series drew wizard rock’s biggest audiences yet. And so far, the phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, more than 100 new bands have formed since July, according to Lizz Clements, who runs the Web site wizrocklopedia.com. About 450 bands are listed on the site.
“We have only seen a spike in activity since Book Seven came out,” said Andrew Slack, founder of the Harry Potter Alliance, a “wizard activism” organization with several wizard rockers on its board. “Now that the canon is complete, people are looking for ways to continue to express themselves through these books that have meant so much to them.”
Wizard rockers do not seem concerned that their supply of fresh material has run out. For the DeGeorges, for example, writing songs about Rowling’s books has always been about putting their own spin on her creation. Their version of Harry Potter, Paul said, is “slightly less jockish and slightly more rock and roll” than Rowling’s. They focus less on Harry's love of the wizard sport Quidditch and more on his anti-authority attitude.
Wizard rock provides a spark for creativity, especially for young musicians, according to rockers and observers alike. By taking on the persona of a favorite character, novice songwriters gain access to a new range of material to write about.
“It’s hard to make songs about love or tragedy, especially younger people who are just trying to come to grips with who they are,” said Josh Koury, director of the documentary “We Are Wizards,” which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin this month. The movie follows several wizard rock bands through the Book Seven release parties.
Young musicians themselves acknowledge that it helps to write about characters with a broad range of experiences.
“A lot of my other pop music is just based on experiences in my life, and my life tends to be really monotonous and boring,” Weinstein said. For her wizard rock, she likes to take small incidents or ideas from the books and expand on them.
Many fans and musicians alike have yet to get bored of the endlessly-elaborated-on exploits of Rowling’s young wizards.
“When you start in wizard rock, you already have an established group of people who you know will definitely listen to your stuff,” Weinstein said. “I don’t like the word ‘fan’ in terms of wizard rock, because that implies a sort of hierarchy. It’s not exclusive at all. If you want to get into the community, you can.”
Tapping into this community has even given some the chance to become full-time rockers. Matt Maggiacomo, 29, who performs as The Whomping Willows (named for an enchanted tree), just quit his day job as a technical writer for an environmental consulting firm in October.
“It's been my dream to be a full-time musician for about 15 years, and I'm currently living that dream,” he said in an email written while touring in California.
“A movement like this can continue to thrive underground for years,” he added. “There are millions of Harry Potter fans worldwide, and only a fraction of them have heard about wizard rock. So long as we can keep reaching new fans and turning them on to this amazing community, I don't think we'll have a problem keeping the music alive.”