Music » Rhythm Section: by Alison Fensterstock

The Sorcerer's Rolling Stones

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I'm walking up Bourbon Street with only a few minutes before the Remus Lupins are due to go on when I realize I forgot to write down which block of the strip the Bourbon Vieux is on. I figure I'll just walk the whole street and keep an eye out for what's sure to be a very large, very neon sign, and worst-case scenario, I'll still catch the Whomping Willows, the Parselmouths or Draco and the Malfoys. Then a stroke of luck hits. Half a block ahead of me, moving purposefully, are three girls wearing Quidditch Classic T-shirts. Obviously they're going my way.

If there were a few references in that paragraph you didn't quite catch, you're not necessarily musically illiterate. You've just managed to somehow not join the ranks of the kajillion rabid fans worldwide of J.K. Rowling and her multimedia empire based on the exploits of boy wizard Harry Potter. The phenomenon of which, by the way, is nearing fever pitch with the seventh and final book in the series due to hit shelves in July. Even if you are a devotee of the series, you may still have missed this latest spinoff from the world of Potter, the centerpiece of the event that the Quidditch fans and I are hustling through the beer-drinking bead-throwers to experience: wizard rock.

The four-band, open-bar shindig at Bourbon Vieux, media manager Renee Antoine tells me, is the pinnacle of the Phoenix Rising, the Harry Potter fan conference that drew more than 1,000 wizard groupies, enthusiasts and scholars to New Orleans last week, and the 400-plus venue is sold out.

"Wizard rock is easily the biggest sub-fan group in all of Harry Potter fandom," she explains. "We say [the convention] is about the presentations and the panels, but it's these guys. It's the wizard rockers that brought them here."

In the fourth Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the students at Hogwarts -- the wizards' boarding school that's the backdrop for the story -- go to their first school dance, which features a band called the Weird Sisters. In the film version, the band was played by members of Pulp and Radiohead, who played several original songs written by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker. In 2002, an American band called the Switchblade Kittens wrote a song called "Ode to Harry Potter," and began performing it as the Weird Sisters at Potter-related events -- and a genre was born.

The Internet tells me that currently there are more than 100 wizard rock bands in the U.S. today, and that most of them are on Myspace. A tour around that site suggests that that number may be a gross underestimation. Each band's site links to eight or ten other bands, all with names that reference Potter characters: Harry and the Potters, the Moaning Myrtles, Severely Snaped, Tonks. The musical style is ragingly varied. There's wizard metal -- Severely Snaped, in fact, draws its music, album art and overall mythology from Black Sabbath -- wizard folk, wizard punk and gentle wizard queercore folk in the case of the Whomping Willows, a one-man band from Rhode Island whose song "Draco and Harry" includes the lyric "Draco and Harry, sitting in a tree/ F-A-L-L-I-N-G in love." There is currently a documentary film, Wizard Rockumentary, in production. From their tour schedules, it looks like the bands play mostly at Potter events and at libraries, although the hipster Brooklyn venue Pete's Candy Store is hosting a wizard rock showcase in June.

On Bourbon Street, the Remus Lupins -- a one-man band wearing the red-and-gold tie of Harry's school group, Gryffindor -- is furiously spanking an acoustic guitar with a feel-good number about getting the coveted pass to Hogsmeade, a village that is to Hogwarts what New Haven is to Yale. Hooded Death Eaters congregate by the buffet line. The crowd at the stage, clad in school ties, wizard robes or T-shirts emblazoned with Potter in-jokes, hoots, hollers and rocks out.

Brian Ross has been playing in the wizard rock band Draco and the Malfoys, named for Harry's schoolyard nemesis, for two years, writing goofy lo-fi, Casio-rock tunes that recall the Vanishing or Atom and His Package from Draco's point of view. Titles include "My Dad Is Rich" and "Your Family Is Poor."

"We went back and reread all the books from Draco's perspective," Ross explains. "And I just totally fell in love with the character. He has a lot to teach us by being one of the most human characters. He doesn't make the brave decisions -- he's mean and spiteful, and he shows us why that's wrong."

Draco and the Malfoys is one of many wizard rock bands - inspired by the Harry Potter series.
  • Draco and the Malfoys is one of many wizard rock bands inspired by the Harry Potter series.

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