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A Brief History of Wizard Rock

This Halloween, check out a genre devoted to Harry Potter’s Wizarding World

Harry and the Potters live in concert in 2007. (Bill via Flickr)
smithsonian.com

Halloween has its traditional playlist classics. Think Michael Jackson's "Thriller" or Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" or, for a certain crowd, the 30 Rock hit "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah." But there's a whole genre of songs that might be worth adding to the cannon: “wizard rock.” 

Nearly 20 years ago, author J.K. Rowling first introduced readers around the world to a bespectacled boy with a scar shaped like a lightning bolt etched on his forehead. In the years since Harry Potter first discovered he was a wizard, the series has become a worldwide phenomenon, with books, movies, video games, and now prequels diving into and expanding the fabric of the Wizarding World. But for many fans, Rowling’s beloved books provided a material for them to write their own stories—and songs.

People have been writing their own stories about their favorite fictional franchises since the "Star Trek" fan magazines of the 1960s, kicking off a subculture of creative fans that has exploded in the internet age. But while most fanfiction tends to be written on internet forums and in blog posts, Harry Potter is curious for inspiring an entire genre of music.

Bands have been writing songs about the boy wizard since at least 2000, but the wizard rock scene exploded two years later when a pair of Boston-born brothers and dedicated Potterheads threw on matching costumes (grey sweaters and red-and-yellow neckties) and took the stage at a party. Calling themselves Harry and the Potters, the duo kicked off their set with garage rock-flavored tunes like “Voldemort Can’t Stop the Rock” and "Dumbledore's Army," Victoria McNally writes for MTV News.

"You go and you see the movies and they cannot portray the books as well as they do in their music," Chaya Coppersmith, a devoted Harry and the Potters fan, told NPR’s Melody Joy Kramer in 2007. "Their music just captures the essence of the books so much better than any sort of other media has been able to do. That's why I love it. It's great."

For some fans, crafting a music scene populated by bands with names like Draco and the Malfoys and The Whomping Willows became an outlet for creativity unlike any other fandom. Band members often took on the roles of the series’ major characters, like a time-traveling Harry Potter (so that Harry and the Potters didn’t have to choose who would play the boy wizard), to the evil wizard Voldemort in his youth with RiddleTM, Rachel Humphries writes for ABC News.

"We're used to thinking about reading as an individual kind of cultural practice," University of Pennsylvania sociologist David Grazian told Kramer at the time. "This is a way for people to enjoy these books and these themes in the company of fellow fans."

In this context, a song about the Whomping Willow could transform the magical tree into a metaphor for misfits at the wizard school Hogwarts. Meanwhile, bands like Draco and the Malfoys that took on the role of Harry Potter’s rival could explore that character’s nastiness through punk rock’s braggadocio, Joelle Paré writes in “Magical Musical Manifestations: A Literary Look at Wizard Rock.”

“The difference for me is it’s not an online community that stays shelled in a room,” director Josh Koury, who made a documentary about wizard rock called We Are Wizardstold the BBC. “It’s an online community that then expands onto the stage, expands out on the road, and into the world, and I think it’s a great learning experience for kids and adults.”

With a new movie series set in the Wizarding World about to hit the big screen, wizard rock is sure to be around for more than a spell.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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