On a Thursday night in Brooklyn, a giant basilisk was crowd-surfing at the Knitting Factory. The crowd roared and cheered, lifting the stuffed animal overhead as it sang along with a ridiculous chorus about saving Ginny Weasley from the serpentine monster. Couples in matching Gryffindor ties and girls wearing “Platform 9 ¾” T-shirts shared in the glee. And though the audience spanned several generations—young children, scattered 40-somethings, millennials in costumes—everyone seemed to know the words.
The show was Harry and the Potters, the long-beloved band that sings exclusively about—and in character as—Harry Potter, an absurd conceit that inadvertently spawned the genre known as “wizard rock” (or “Wrock”) in the mid-2000s. The song was “Save Ginny Weasley,” which dramatizes the climax of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. (It is perhaps the closest thing to a hit in the wizard rock songbook.) And the audience, which greeted the band’s two frontmen, Joe and Paul DeGeorge, with a fervor usually reserved for Beyoncé-level pop stars, comprised a gathering of some of the biggest Harry Potter nerds in the New York area. Many were seasoned veterans.
“I've been going to wizard rock concerts for over a decade now,” said Leah Cornish, a 32-year-old fan decked out in a “MISCHIEF MANAGED” t-shirt. (When I asked if she was wearing any other Potter-related apparel, she revealed a Deathly Hallows tattoo on her ankle.) “We call it church. This is our church.”
Cornish began posting on Potter-themed message boards when she was about 17. Fifteen years later, she was at the show with people she’d met through those communities. “We made friends on the internet talking about Harry Potter!” she said, gesturing to her comrades. “I have gone to a couple weddings of people I met through Harry Potter. We literally all meet up during the summer to go to conventions.”
In 2007, Cornish attended Phoenix Rising, a major Harry Potter convention in New Orleans. “That was the first time I heard wizard rock live,” she recalled. “I saw Harry and the Potters. I saw The Whomping Willows, now retired. I saw Draco and the Malfoys. A lot of good stuff.” (Yes, these are real bands—Draco and the Malfoys began as a jokey counterpart to the Potters, singing in character as antagonist Draco Malfoy.) She’s been a fan ever since, and though she did not have to travel far for the show, she noted that she planned to head to Boston two days later for another Harry and the Potters gig.
For others, the show marked a nostalgic family outing. “My sister and I really bonded over Harry Potter when we were little,” said Caitlin Lawlor, 26, who was at the event with 21-year-old sister Megan. “We listened to Wrock music—like, W-R-O-C-K music—when we were very tiny children. We had a trampoline dance routine to one of the songs by Harry and the Potters.” (Which one, I ask? “‘The Foil’! It’s a song about Draco Malfoy.”)
For both sisters, the band brought up warm childhood memories. When the seventh film came out in 2010, “I had a big Harry Potter party for the premiere,” Caitlin said. “I put on a bunch of Wrock music, including Harry and the Potters, because it was the only day I could get a bunch of my normal friends to listen to something so aggressively Harry Potter.” At the Knitting Factory, the sisters’ outfits summoned some of that aggressively Harry Potter energy. Megan wore a Slytherin-inspired outfit, with sinister makeup and snakes on her lapels. Caitlin had a shirt proclaiming “PLATFORM 9 AND ¾” and radish earrings that her sister had made in sixth grade, when she dressed as Luna Lovegood for Halloween.
Those costumes were one-upped by Julie Grisham, a 30-year-old fan dressed in matching Gryffindor-themed formalwear with her partner. “I'm a really big Harry and the Potters fan. I’ve been to three of their shows in the past,” Grisham told me. Her favorite memory is when the band played Rock Comic Con five years ago right after New York Comic Con.
“I actually changed out of my Princess Leia costume into a Harry Potter dress at the show, like in the bathroom,” Grisham said. “I just remember it being a really electric crowd.
Many bands have good origin stories, but Harry and the Potters have a particularly great one. The legend involves a summer day in 2002, when suburban teenager Joe Degeorge was hosting a barbecue in his parents’ backyard. Three bands were scheduled to perform. When two of them dropped out at the last minute, Joe and his older brother Paul, who ran an indie label, latched onto a goofy idea they’d previously discussed—what if Harry Potter fronted a rock group?—and created their own band. “In one day, the brothers wrote, rehearsed and performed six songs about life at Hogwarts,” a TIME profile reported. “The set list included ‘Platform 9 and ¾’ and ‘Wizard Chess.’” The audience was six people.
Thus was born Harry and the Potters. The band’s self-titled debut, featuring most of those songs, arrived in June 2003, a particularly charged time for Potter fandom: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—the most intensely anticipated Potter entry yet—was published that month. Soon the band embarked on its first tour, beginning a longstanding tradition of playing to kid-friendly audiences in libraries and bookstores. (Most of the shows this summer have been in libraries, too.)
The Potters’ early recordings have a distinctly amateurish charm—the first two albums, Harry and the Potters and Voldemort Can’t Stop the Rock! (2004), were recorded at home, in the DeGeorge parents’ living room and backyard shed, and it shows. Joe DeGeorge, the younger of the two brothers, was around 16. The recordings are rough, the vocals goofy and untrained: singalong choruses paired with primitive guitar-and-Casio concoctions. It sounds a little like They Might Be Giants, or maybe Guided by Voices if Robert Pollard got super into fantasy novels and also had the vocal range of a Bar Mitzvah boy reading his Haftarah.
While some songs focused on Harry’s battles with Voldemort, others celebrated the minutia of daily life in the wizarding world, including games (“Wizard Chess”) and dating woes (“The Human Hosepipe”). Regardless, every song was sung in the persona of Harry Potter, and both brothers shared vocal duties. The shows were unpolished but full of joy. The whole shtick appealed to people who weren’t typical rock fans. “I’m not a concert person,” said Cornish. “I don’t like crowds. But between Harry Potter and the positive community that exists around wizard rock, it’s like, you find your tribe.”
Word spread via MySpace and performances at Potter conventions, and before long Harry and the Potters had spawned a movement. Countless other bands joined in, from The Moaning Myrtles, which consisted of two young women performing as the weepy emo ghost Moaning Myrtle, to Draco and the Malfoys, whose classics included “My Dad Is Rich” and “Your Family Is Poor.” “The bands created their own self-sustaining scene,” VICE later recounted. “There were wizard rock record labels, there were wizard rock music festivals, there was even a wizard rock ‘EP of the month’ club, which issued songs by over 30 bands in [2007 and 2008] alone.”
Those years marked the genre’s popularity peak. By the decade’s end, the wrock phenomenon began to fade. Harry and the Potters toured intermittently in recent years, but seemed to stop making new albums after 2006’s Harry and the Potters and the Power of Love. The DeGeorges were living in separate states. Then Trump got elected. “We started having these shows where people were really responding to our political songs from past records,” Paul told The Pitch recently. The brothers felt compelled to revisit the series anew, with a focus on heavier themes like prejudice and good vs. evil.
In April, the Potters announced their first album in 13 years. They launched a Kickstarter campaign to release it. Fans exploded. “I immediately dropped $100 on Kickstarter,” Cornish said. “And then, like, freaked out and we were all screaming.” As one fan tweeted: “The corner of my mind that has permanent archives of all possible wrock (wizard rock) information is lit up like a fucking Christmas tree.”
The new album, Lumos, is the band’s first recorded in an actual studio. The production values are markedly higher, though the ambition sometimes exceeds the band’s limited compositional abilities, as on a proggy nine-minute song called “The Stone.” Most songs address the darker terrain of the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (After all, when they last made an album, there were only six books.)
Could wizard rock still be relevant in 2019? The Kickstarter seemed to answer that. It exceeded its goal by more than $40,000.
When Harry and the Potters finally emerged at the Knitting Factory, they had some questions for the pumped-up muggles.
“Is there anybody here who likes magic!?” Joe asked. The crowd roared, raised imaginary wands in the air, and joined the Potter lookalikes in reciting an extended pledge of allegiance to the magical world. Joe (on keys) and Paul (guitar) were joined onstage by a drummer, inexplicably dressed as Bill Weasley (by all accounts a minor character). The DeGeorges are in their 30s and 40s now, yet they still perform in Gryffindor garb—and still resemble the bespectacled Boy Who Lived. “My name is Harry Potter,” one announced. “My name is Harry Potter,” the other answered, “and we… are Harry and the Potters!” With that, the show began.
If you’re more accustomed to indie-rock shows in Williamsburg—where fans are more likely to stand in muted appreciation than cheerily recite a fantastical pledge of allegiance—the unadulterated enthusiasm of a wizard rock crowd can be a bit jarring. Fans sang along with every word of the first tune, “When I Was a Baby,” recounting Harry’s dramatic infanthood. They performed synchronized hand motions to go along with a song called “Phoenix Tears,” during which water was squirted into the crowd. And there was mandatory audience participation in “S.P.E.W.,” when one of the brothers weaved a microphone through crowd members, who were called upon randomly to shout the titular phrase.
The audience’s joy felt massive. It was easy to join in, even if you didn’t know the material. Most Harry and the Potters choruses are simplistic enough for a toddler to learn, which is not a diss, considering children are usually quite welcome at the band’s shows.
Props were plentiful. A mystery man, dressed in professor robes, repeatedly emerged with visual accoutrements. He draped a makeshift Invisibility Cloak over one of the Potters during “The Cloak” and wrangled the aforementioned basilisk during “Save Ginny Weasley.” For “Gone Campin’,” an acoustic singalong about foraging for food during the Deathly Hallows camping passages, there were fish balloons flying around the venue. What the Potters lacked in virtuosity they made up for with raw enthusiasm, kicking their legs about, squawking on a blood-splattered saxophone, and remaining firmly in character. Only at a Potters show do you get stage banter like “We wrote this song after an evil wizard returned to his original form, murdering one of our classmates.”
I had assumed a wizard rock show in the age of Trump would function as escapist entertainment. I was wrong. Midway through the show, it became clear that the Potters weren’t kidding about infusing their show with a righteous, if occasionally heavy-handed, political message. If you’re the kind of person who winces at the mere suggestion of using Harry Potter as a lens for political commentary, stop reading here.
The band dedicated “S.P.E.W.” (which refers to Hermione’s organization in support of house elf rights) to local activists and abolitionists. They offered up a feminist message on “Hermione’s Army,” a new-wavey jam celebrating the brainy heroine. And they made a point of playing “No Pureblood Supremacy,” which draws a pretty unsubtle parallel between Voldemort’s evil fixation on blood purity in the wizarding world and the resurgence of white supremacy under Trump. (“We feel pretty strongly that we need to start calling out this behavior,” one of the DeGeorges stated onstage.)
Another new song, “The Banality of Evil (Song for Albert Runcorn),” was prefaced with a surreal sermon denouncing real-life GOP policy in one breath and evildoing wizards in the next. (In the final Potter book, Runcorn is a high-ranking Ministry of Magic official who discriminates against the muggle-born.) “There’s a whole bunch of people who make bad decisions possible,” Joe declared. “One might call it The Banality of Evil—the people who build the concentration camps; the people who separate parents from children. I refuse to believe that we should divorce the morality from the job. You can’t just do your job.” Then, slipping right back into character, he continued: “One afternoon we snuck into the Ministry of Magic using a Polyjuice Potion. And we spent an afternoon with a man named Albert Runcorn. Albert Runcorn was not a Death Eater. But if you’re doing all their chores for them, what’s the difference?”
OK, we get it—Trump and Voldemort, peas in a pod, etc. Like any popular fantasy novel, the message eventually zeroed in on hope, perseverance, and the triumph of good. “Right now it feels like the world is darker than it should be,” Joe said before launching into a rousing all-hands singalong of an early Potters classic, “These Days Are Dark.” It’s a song about keeping the faith when Voldemort rises again in Goblet of Fire, but it’s also just a song about keeping the faith period.
There was an encore—a “Louie Louie” parody about Luna Lovegood that sounded like a rejected Weird Al demo from 2002 and resulted in an audience conga line—and then we all returned to the muggle world. A few days later, I caught myself absentmindedly humming “These Days Are Dark” while doing laundry.
“When I Was a Baby”
“"Two Harry Potters are Better Than One”
“The Economics of the Wizarding World Don't Make Sense”
“Save Ginny Weasley”
“My Teacher Is a Werewolf”
“The Banality of Evil (Song for Albert Runcorn)”
“On the Importance of Media Literacy Under Authoritarian Rule”
“Touch the Brains”
“Correct the Architect”
“The Sword, The Cup, and the Dragon”
“No Pureblood Supremacy”
“These Days Are Dark”
“Luna Lovegood” (parody of “Louie Louie”) (with extended conga line)