Wizard rock is the name given to a unique type of music dedicated entirely to the Harry Potter book series by British author J. K. Rowling. While the roots of this movement stretch to the turn of the millennium, the most date the beginning of wizard rock-proper to the summer of 2002, when the brothers Paul and Joe DeGeorge of Norwood, Massachusetts started the band Harry and the Potters. In the years that followed, hundreds of similar bands have formed and thousands of songs have been written, all dedicated to a fictional boy wizard and the magical world in which he lives.
Unfortunately, while wizard rock has occasionally caught the attention of sites like MTV and NPR over the years, and a handful of academics have found the movement worthy of scholarly attention, the genre remains firmly an underground and under-studied phenomenon. This book is an attempt to rectify this issue.
But why focus on wizard rock of all things? Is it not just another instance of fans being weird? (During the course of writing this book, I was asked this more than I care to admit.
) While such questions are understandable—after all, for many people in- and outside the Harry Potter fandom, wizard rock is seen as a fringe activity at most—they are ultimately shortsighted. The study of fan groups like the wrock community is important because these groups, whether consciously or not, are often reacting to or embracing the power structures, socio-cultural constructs, the aforementioned hegemonic norms, or hierarchies in a given society at large.
By studying the world of wizard rock, we will not only learn a great deal about the people directly involved in penning songs, but also about the social, political, and economic contexts in which the movement emerged and continues to operate. For another thing, groups like the wrock community often function as microcosms of the larger world. So, for instance, by studying how fans interact at wrock shows or share songs via social media platforms, we can come to better understand the ways people communicate with one another, create identity, or generate distinct communities in general. In other words, the study of fan communities like wizard rock is important because in the end we will learn more about those very processes that help shape human culture at large.
Perhaps the most obvious and uncontroversial element of wizard rock is its focus on the Harry Potter book series. In particular, workers hold the series’ “canon” (a term repurposed from the theological discourse that denotes what is considered “real” or “true” within a fictional universe), as defined by the author J. K. Rowling, to be of paramount importance. Workers embrace Rowling’s view of the world, first because she is recognized by the fandom as its creator and thus its sole arbiter, and second because it allows workers to start from the same place, enabling common understanding. Of course, after one accepts the perhaps straightforward point that wizard rock is about Harry Potter, the question soon arises: why exactly Harry Potter? What makes the book series so special that there exists a large group of fans dedicated to writing songs about it and it alone? For one thing, the Harry Potter universe is simply so sprawling. These sorts of big fictional universes are ripe for the creation of fan-made paratexts (such as songs), as they more easily allow individuals to hone in on undeveloped portions of the world (like minor characters, briefly mentioned locations, or alluded-to stories) and expand them to their heart’s content.
But there are a number of large fictional universes out there, and hardly any of them have inspired the same sort of musical interest as the world of Harry Potter has—for example, why has not Star Wars or Lord of the Rings inspired large-scale musical movements akin to wizard rock? For one thing, wizard rock emerged during a very specific historical and technological context. In 2002, Pottermania was the zeitgeist, with the books having ensnared an entire generation of children, as well as countless teenagers and adults. At the same time, technological breakthroughs had decreased the price of recording equipment, and more and more people were connecting online thanks to newfound high-speed Internet access. While fans had been writing songs for years about their favorite media franchises, these recent advances meant that fans could not only write their own songs but also easily record and distribute them to others via the Internet.
This feature of wizard rock is perhaps best exemplified by Harry and the Potters, comprising brothers Paul and Joe DeGeorge, both of whom contend that they each are Harry Potter when putting on a show. Often, this behavior is considered in relation to other fannish activities, such as role-play or cosplay. As we have discussed above, workers often don the role of certain characters and then perform as those characters during shows. By jumping into the role of a specific character, a worker is not only bringing them to life, but they are also establishing an intimate connection between that character and themselves. This intimate connection inevitably transfers onto the wrecker those traits associated with that character, and this transfer, in turn, influences how others perceive that rocker in real-life. In other words, wrock performance vis-à-vis role-play is a form of self-expression, and by connecting themselves to specific characters in some way, wreckers can shape their own identities.
Given the deficiency of the term “genre” then, perhaps it is best to describe wizard rock as a community. Wizard rock, as we shall soon see, satisfies all of the criteria in Hutchison’s definition. While it is a fact that wrock bands are to be found disproportionately in the United States, wizard rock is not by definition restricted to any specific region or area; indeed, there are wrock bands the world over, from Australia to Russia. But while there is no single geographic area in the “real world” that wrock bands share in common, there does exist a sort of “virtual geography” that almost all wrock bands share: closely-bound social media circles. The importance of social media in regards to wizard rock cannot be understated. When their movement was just beginning, wreckers made heavy use of sites like MySpace to discuss and propagate wizard rock. These sites allowed like-minded individuals to congregate closely in one simulated “place,” obviating the limits of real-world geography. Even today, those within the wrock scene still rely on sites like Twitter and Facebook to stay connected. Ultimately, it is these social media sites—these virtual “areas”—that allow many of wizard rock’s tight-knit relationships to form and flourish.
These virtual avenues facilitate interaction between people who might never otherwise meet (e.g. bands who have never performed live shows, or fans who are isolated from one another in the real world by thousands of miles). As the previous paragraph established, these online hubs of interaction ultimately allow wizard rock to flourish. Now, it must be noted that interaction between workers is by no means confined entirely to the digital world. With that said, it does seem that the webs of communication which emerge in “real life” are often engendered by their online counterparts (e.g. fans meet and come to know each other online before actually meeting in real life at a wrock concert). And whether workers share common ties with one another, this seems demonstrable to be true. For one thing, the members of this movement are unified by their enjoyment of a shared set of texts: the Harry Potter series. But perhaps more significantly, wreckers are united by their level of enthusiasm for these texts.
Those who enjoy or produce wizard rock are seen as good wizards fighting against the evil Dark Arts, “Voldemort” is used as a metonym for any source of evil or malady in the world, music is viewed as an extremely powerful form of magic, and books are a particularly effective weapon against the forces of darkness. These ideas are frequently heard during wrock shows and are often touched upon in songs themselves. They embrace it all the same because it provides them with a mutual grounding—a collective “understanding of the world” that creatively enables individuals to recognize the ties that unite them as one community. Finally, it should be noted that many within the wrock scene are open about the sense of alienation that they felt before they discovered the wide world of wizard rock; these same individuals are also open about the extreme happiness they felt once they became “part of” the scene. This oft-described movement from isolation to acceptance by a larger group suggests that, indeed, there is something into which would-be wreckers can join. It is this “thing” that I consider to be the wrock community.
It also comes with a number of useful tools, like the ability to remove background static from tracks, the option to change pitch and tempo, and the capability to add multiple tracks to one project. Yet Audacity does have its limitations: its plugins are useful but not particularly powerful, and its rudimentary controls are not the best at mixing or mastering tracks. A number of workers use Macintosh computers, and as a result, have selected GarageBand as their DAW of choice. This program, which comes pre-loaded as part of the Macintosh operating system, is fairly sophisticated and substantially more complicated than Audacity or other free audio editors. One of GarageBand’s biggest assets is that it features a “timeline,” or a space in which you can record instruments or add loops and samples. The benefit of GarageBand’s timeline is that it is directly connected to the program’s tempo setting, meaning that pre-recorded drum tracks or other loops will automatically respond to changes in the master tempo. This makes it much easier to craft songs that have stable beats per minute.
GarageBand also includes a number of software instruments, which allow workers to add unique sounds to their tracks. GarageBand also has rather sophisticated sound controls, meaning that mixing and mastering can be done much more easily than on a free audio editor. Finally, some bands purchase professional DAW software. Among the more popular, commercially available DAWs. These programs are professional-grade, meaning that users can easily create high-fidelity, radio-quality songs, provided one has the right equipment and sufficient training. However, the downsides to these programs are perhaps fairly obvious: professional DAWs are quite expensive and they can also be rather difficult to use if one does not have the necessary experience. Nevertheless, the potential that professional DAWs offer is quite alluring.
During wizard rock’s heyday, one of the most often used sites was Last.FM, which enabled bands to create accounts and upload a few tracks that their fans could then download at their leisure. Given that the site facilitated the listening and dissemination of wizard rock, it came to be a major avenue through which individuals discovered new bands. Unfortunately, within the last few years, Last.fm redesigned its interface and expunged older files, meaning that many of the wrock songs that had been hosted on the site are now lost. Another commonly-used but fortunately extant platform for online distribution is YouTube, a video-streaming site onto which workers and fans alike have uploaded wrock videos. Other wrock videos on YouTube are a little more creative (for instance, some pair wrock tracks with spliced footage from the Harry Potter films), and some bands even shoot extravagant music videos.
While YouTube videos can be monetized, most are uploaded for free. This means that bands who are interested in earning money through digital distribution should consider other options, such as iTunes, the almost ubiquitous online music marketplace. When iTunes was in its relative infancy, independent musicians had to negotiate with Apple directly to get their music into the store. Given that Apple had very stringent requirements for who they accepted, bands who did manage to have their music hosted via iTunes were often seen by those in the wrock community as having “made it.” Thankfully, over the years, services like CD Baby, TuneCore, and DistroKid have enabled independent bands to more easily get their music onto the service (as well as other platforms, like Spotify).
An alternative to iTunes—and perhaps a more appropriate platform for the novice worker—is Bandcamp. This site functions much like iTunes, allowing bands to upload their songs and then sell them to their fans directly. However, unlike with iTunes, purchasers who use Bandcamp are able to listen to whole songs regardless of whether they purchase the music, as well as share links to songs/albums on other social media sites. For musicians, signing up for Bandcamp does not cost anything, and the company only keeps a small cut of the profits—if and when they are made. Bandcamp, therefore, functions in many ways like a useful cross between iTunes and a platform like YouTube, in that it allows bands to make money, but it also provides a medium through which fans can freely listen to, share, and—if they want—download their favorite tracks.
Besides library gigs, house parties are for many the de facto type of wrock show. These are generally small, intimate gatherings in which a select group of musicians and fans come together in someone’s house to perform songs for one another. Parties such as this function not only as social gatherings in which attendees can enjoy conversation and music but also as “wrock workshops,” in which bands can unveil new projects and receive constructive criticism from their peers. Brian Ross of Draco and the Malfoys, in particular, is known for his semi-annual house parties at his residence in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, which have been collectively dubbed the “House Show Series at Malfoy Manor.” These gatherings showcase both up-and-coming wizard rock bands as well as perennial favorites like the Whomping Willows and Lauren Fairweather, thus letting the “old guard” of wizard rock perform with some of the scene’s newest members.
This gathering of the “new and the old” in a small, intimate setting where everyone is assumed to be on equal footing facilitates the development of interpersonal relationships, which in turn engenders a tight-knit sense of community. It was perhaps the fandom writer and activist Claudia Morales who best described this sentiment in the forward to her zine Rocking the Room of Requirement, or Our House (In the Middle of Our Scene). (And I should add that it also seems fitting that this “re-anchoring” is occurring in New England—the very region where wizard rock was born.) During the movement’s early years, wrock concerts were generally small and intimate—rarely above a few dozen people. But as the movement grew in popularity, bands began to organize larger and larger shows to accommodate the increasing size of their audiences.
One of the earliest of these “large-scale” wizard rock concerts was “The Yule Ball.” The inaugural Yule Ball was organized in 2005 by the DeGeorge brothers and thrown at The Middle East Downstairs venue in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the December 21, 2008 Yule Ball, Paul and Joe had their performance professionally filmed and recorded, and the resulting product, a CD/DVD combo entitled Harry and the Potters at the Yule Ball 2008, was issued as the final release of the Wizard Rock EP of the month club in December 2009. Since its inception, the Yule Ball has hosted myriad wizard rock bands as well as another form of Potter-centric forms of entertainment (like Neil Cicierega’s popular puppet troupe Potter Puppet Pals), and because of this, it has remained one of the most beloved and well-attended wrock events. In fact, the Yule Ball has become so popular within the wrock community that Harry and the Potters now regularly play several smaller Yule Balls, all of which lead up to the main event held at.
The Middle East Downstairs. Tickets for these shows generally cost around $20, of which a large percentage is donated to charities, such as the Harry Potter Alliance, which over the last decade has earned almost $35,000 exclusively from Yule Ball ticket sales. While the inaugural Yule Ball helped to somewhat satisfy the ballooning wizard rock scene’s need for larger and more extravagant shows, wizard rock soon began to spill over into other domains. It was at this point in time that people began to recognize the need for new wrock-only conventions.
Hupp quickly got to work, and after months of planning, she announced to the community her project: the “Wrockstock Spooktacular,” which she scheduled for late 2007. This festival—which would eventually become an annual event known simply as “Wrockstock”—is considered by most within the wrock community to be the first largescale, all-wrock convention. During Wrockstock’s zenith, generally between twelve to fifteen bands “headlined” the event, all of whom were among the most popular within the community. In other words, the common consciousness is a system of shared beliefs that becomes imparted into a society. By this he did not mean that the common consciousness was an autonomous, supernatural “thing” floating “above” society, but rather that it has a community-level existence, thus explaining why humans obey social rules (or “facts”) that they or people they know did not formulate.