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Rock/Pop

Under a spell

Harry Potter and the wacky world of wizard rock

Rocking and Rowling: Our New Celebrity plays it Potter-style.
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Published 7/11/2007

"We're more popular than Jesus," John Lennon said about the Beatles in 1966. Too bad Lennon died before the creation of Harry Potter — that new world personal Jesus. See, unless you've been living in a hut outside of, say, Banjul, you're aware that J.K Rowling's series about a quirky boy-wizard has taken pop culture by the throat, and ears.

Pottermania trumps Trekdom, Star Wars fandom and Beatlemania, and has sparked heaps of collectibles, fan sites and, yes, Quidditch is now an intramural sport played at universities. Hell, Warner Brothers is opening a Potter-based theme park in 2009 in Orlando. Maybe the most eye-popping aspect is that Potter fans now have their own musical genre called "Wizard Rock." Yeah ... Wizard Rock. And, no, it has nothing to do with Uriah Heep. The idea here sees bands performing "original" songs based solely on the Harry Potter series, often from the viewpoint of a particular character.

Wizard Rock, as it's called, was started in 2002 by two brothers — Paul and Joe DeGeorge — in Norwood, Mass. On impulse, the brothers DeGeorge started Harry and the Potters and began to write music based on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. At its first gig the band played seven songs to a crowd of six. That show was the dawn of Wizard Rock.

The DeGeorges soon began performing at libraries — both dressed as the books' inquisitive main character (Joe, 20, as Harry, year four; Paul, 28, as Harry, year seven).

Two Harrys?

"We wanted to be in the band together and didn't want to fight about who got to be Harry," Paul DeGeorge says. "It also shows a difference in age, as I am older than Joe."

Harry and the Potters released its first indie full-length in 2003 and continued to record and tour the New England library circuit as Wizard Rock's pioneering, and only, act. That is, until Rhode Island Potter fan Matt Maggiacomo invited Harry and the Potters to play a series of house parties called "Cheap Rent." The Cheap Rent shows gave rise to Wizard Rock's second "official" band, Draco and the Malfoys.

"We started the band as a joke," Draco guitarist-singer Brian Ross says. "We did it just because he [Draco] was the antithesis to Harry."

Draco and the Malfoys are Ross and his brother Bradley Mehlenbacher. (But don't think that Wiz Rock is strictly amateur hour; Mehlenbacher worked as the studio and touring drummer for Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano's side projects.) The band soon hit the road with Harry and the Potters. The tours weren't just for shits 'n' giggles, the bands had a mission: Sure, they dress up in Potter garb, but they're pimping the idea of literacy, of kids reading books.

"The idea was to have a cool and positive impact on kids to read," DeGeorge says. "Maybe we could use this to get kids into rock 'n' roll too."

"We watch the movies, but we're more about the books," Ross adds. "It's more about celebrating literature."

Performing at libraries is a Wizard Rock shtick — but the bands perform at other venues. It's the library performances that thrust the bands' love of lit to the forefront. It also provides a rock 'n' roll experience to generations of Potter fans who'd otherwise miss it.

"We're able to reach out to an audience that you can't get at clubs," DeGeorge says. "All of our shows are all-ages, sometimes we get parents or grandparents taking their kids to their first rock show ever, and that's pretty cool."

Harry and the Potters and Draco and the Malfoys adhere to early punk DIY approach of self-promotion. The bands book their own shows and tours and stalk MySpace. (Harry and the Potters, you'll note, have about 95,000 "friends.")

By late 2005, Wizard Rock's popularity among tech-gifted, Hogwarts-obsessed teens spread like VD through a college dormitory. Such fan sites as wizrocklopedia.com and a Wizard Rock MySpace page united Wizard Rock bands and fans alike — creating a genre that boasts 200 bands worldwide.

"MySpace is so huge and important to Wizard Rock," says metro Detroit native Sue Upton. She's the senior editor for the-leaky-cauldron.org, which is the leading Web site for all things Potter. "You have to remember, these are all independent groups — mostly fans just being fans — so this isn't some high industry thing. Independent music flourishes on MySpace, and Wizard Rock is no different."

The DIY aesthetic is universal among the tight-knit group. Maggiacomo — the Cheap Rent party host and sole member of Wizard Rock group the Whomping Willows —started an indie label in February 2006 called Cheap Rent. Cheap Rent Records and Maggiacomo aim to assist the Wizard Rock movement with indie-style promotion.

"I've always been concerned that a corporate record label might try to step in and take advantage of Wizard Rock bands who haven't learned from experience how corporate labels can screw people," Maggiacomo says. "So Cheap Rent works to provide advice to bands for free, helping them to become self-sufficient so they won't feel like they need assistance from any corporate entity."

Motor City Wizards

MySpace's accessibility and Wizard Rock's indie 'tude sparked hundreds of new Potter fans to create their own bands — even in greater Detroit — each year. Southfield-based Our New Celebrity is one of six known local Wizard Rock bands in the area. The band is 15-year-old twins Kristen and Katie Bergh, Rudi Goddard, Hailey Willington and Jackie Valdez.

"I've been a Harry Potter fan since I was seven," Katie Bergh says. "When someone sent me a link to Harry and the Potters MySpace page, I was immediately hooked and started scouring MySpace for more Wizard Rock. I think the Wizard Rock movement appealed to me because it not only opened up a new way to enjoy the Harry Potter series, but it's also incredibly fun."

The all-girl quintet recorded its first track in March and continues to post new songs on its MySpace page (www.myspace.com/ournewcelebrity). For these upstarts, that's good enough for now.

"Right now, we're content to record songs on the weekends and put them on MySpace, but I think we would like to eventually put out a CD and play a few live shows," Katie Bergh says. "At the moment, we're just not ready for those things, yet."

The rock doc

Sisters Mallory and Megan Schulyer noticed that even the most steadfast Harry Potter fans were unaware of the mounting Wizard Rock phenomenon. To inform Potter-crazed masses, the two Washington State University grads shot a documentary, Wizard Rockumentary — that's in its final editing stages.

"We realized tons of HP fans were unaware of the movement," Mallory Schulyer said. "It's a story about kids and young adults getting together and being creative, and zany. Whether, you like HP or not, it's truly an inspiring story."

With a new Harry Potter movie (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) that opens this week and a new book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows) next week, Pottermania is kicking ass. Amazon reported 1.6 million pre-sale orders for Deathly Hollows. Libraries across the country are booking Wizard Rock bands to time with the book release. So, with this the final Potter book in the series, does Wizard Rock have staying power, or is it just another here-today-gone-today piece of MySpace cultural ephemera?

"It's whole families enjoying these books," Mallory Schuyler says. "When our generation gets to having kids, we'll read them the books, so there will always be new generations picking up the books, and the music."

"We don't plan on stopping until people stop coming," Ross says. "And I don't foresee that happening anytime soon."

 

Draco and The Malfoys and Harry and The Potters Perform Tuesday, July 31, at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. 5th Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-327-4200.

The Whomping Willows perform on Saturday, July 28, at 6 p.m. at the Troy Public Library, 510 W. Big Beaver Road, Troy; 248-524-3538.

Dustin Walsh is a freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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