In 2008, "Wrock Chicago" brought 30 bands, three stages and thousands of fans from across the world together for an epic celebration, ending with sweaty teens and twenty-somethings dancing around in full-wizard gear, squid heads and English school-boy ties. Among this melee, onstage, a multi-band jam cranked out an impromptu version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," with the iconic refrain of "a denial" supplanted, lyrically, by two different words: "Harry Potter."
This is wizard rock, a musical genre mixing an obsessive love of J. K. Rowling's series and an obsessive need to set that love to music. Wizard rock bands unabashedly worship at the altar of Harry Potter, singing songs about characters and happenings from the series with nerdy, gleeful creativity. Fan lore names Harry and the Potters, a punkish group of striped-tie-and-glasses-wearing lads out of Massachusetts, as progenitors, which led to Draco and the Malfoys, which then led to . . . 500 wizard rock bands and counting.
Wizard rock bands tour the country, make records and play shows in libraries and malls, all while glorifying a love for "reading and rocking." The 2007 documentary We Are Wizards tells the story of this emo-nerd-book hybrid, where bands have names like the Basilisk in Your Pasta, Ginny and the Heartbreakers, Shrieking Shack Disco Gang, Big Whompy, MC Kreacher, the Giant Squidstravaganza, Gryffindor Common Room Rejects and the Hermione Crookshanks Experience.
Not to be left out, we decided to enlist the help of Xenia, our resident 15-year-old Harry Potter superfan (girl's read the series six times, for God's sake!). Xenia was more than able to deliver a quick assessment of some of the more well-known wizard rock videos.
Since the Hogwarts crew is separated into houses depending on their varying levels of abilities, strengths, wizard blood or muggledom, we rated the wizard rock bands on a scale from 1 to 5.
1. Dumbledore Ultimate wizard status! Considered the most powerful wizard of his time, Dumbeldore was headmaster at Hogwarts until his death in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
2. Gryffindor Founded by Godric Gryffindor, this house values courage, bravery, loyalty and nerve. "They're people that won't take things sitting down," says Xenia. "They're brawny rather than brainy."
3. Hufflepuff These are the kids who don't really fit into other houses. They're loyal and hard-working, and their spirit animal is a badger, if that tells you anything.
4. Ravenclaw The super-smarties of the school. Creative and intelligent, they rule when it comes to wit, talent and brains.
5. Slytherin The house for people who have pure wizard blood. They're of "noble descent" says Xenia, but also the source of most of the "dark wizards," hence a negative reputation.
So without further ado, on with the wizard rock . . .
1. Harry and the Potters, 'The Godfather'
Rating: 2 (Gryffindor)
Xenia explains that this song is about Sirius Black, who in the third book reveals himself to be a good guy instead of a bad guy. The music is super-catchy, a cross between early Green Day and Bright Eyes. The band writhe and screech before a crowd of screaming Potter fans, mainly girls, a scene that repeats itself throughout many of the live videos.
"I like that he wrapped the cord around his head," says Xenia. "A lot of the songs I've seen or heard them do, they're pretty accurate. They don't mess things up. They've obviously read the books and seen the movies, and they put that into their songs." Sample lyric: "We've got to save Sirius Black - from something worse than death - But how can we do it - when our teacher is a werewolf on the loose?"
2. Draco and the Malfoys, 'My Dad Is Rich'
Rating: 4 (Ravenclaw)
This is one of the bigger bands in the wizard rock movement, but that doesn't impress our teen expert. "Their lyrics are really good, but their songs are kind of slow. They're just not quite as good as Harry and the Potters." She thinks they take the sarcasm a bit too far, but that the lyrics are pretty accurate for how Draco Malfoy might think.
"He's singing, 'My dad is rich and your dad is dead,' and he's making fun of Harry for that because it makes Draco feel superior," she notes. Sample lyric: "You may have freed our house elf - and brought doubt to our family name - but your parents still got toasted by a big green glowing flame"
3. The Whomping Willows, 'Cedric Had It Coming'
Rating: 1 (Dumbledore)
Xenia likes this one so much that she reposts the link onto Facebook immediately. "I'm creating a new category, because this is really good. It's pretty clever," says Xenia. "The lyrics are spot-on and ironic." The song has a pensive, sad feel to it, which makes sense given the subject matter of Cedric being killed even after he was nice to Harry. Sample lyric: "Oh, Cedric why'd you go into that maze? - Haven't you ever seen a Hollywood movie before - in which a minor character gets slain - to benefit the survival of the big star?"
4. The Hungarian Horntails, 'I Am a Dragon'
Rating: 3 (Hufflepuff)
This song is the most punk rock out of the bunch—think Daniel Johnston on speed, sung by a little boy who attacks his guitar with an energy not seen since Pete Townsend broke his Gibson at the Cow Palace in 1967. "I am a dragon and I don't care!" the young wizard rocker screeches.
"They are by far the cutest, most adorable band," says Xenia. "I can't rate them, because that wouldn't be fair since they're only nine." Eventually, she breaks down and, with a laugh, gives the boys a Hufflepuff. "I wouldn't listen to them on my own time. They have a cool band, but they're just kids." Sample lyric: "I am a dragon and I don't care - I just like burning Voldemort's butt"
5. The Parselmouths, 'What Kind of Name Is Hermione?'
Rating: 2 (Gryffindor)
Two girls take the bratty, sneering ethic of '90s era riot grrrl band Bratmobile and mix it with some serious ministry-of-magic wizard action. One of the more popular bands on the wizard rock scene, the Parselmouths represent just one of many girl-fronted wrock bands out there. "It sort of seems like something Slytherin girls might say, because none of the Slytherins like her, and the band name is sort of associated with Slytherin, so it makes sense," says Xenia. "The lyrics are pretty clever, because Hermione is a know-it-all a lot of the time, and she does have crazy hair." Sample lyric: "What kind of name is Hermione? - It makes me think of something whiny - like cats!"