“When people ask us what our favorite type of music is
We’re not embarrassed, but really proud to say
So let’s sing along to all the songs and find a place where we belong…”
The Butterbeer Experience, “Wrock Rocks”
The Butterbeer Experience, otherwise known as Lena Gabrielle, is a wrock or wizard rock musician, a genre I introduced here. She’s achieved some success in the wizard rock scene by using the Internet (she keeps a Myspace blog and even comments on the above Youtube video of her performance) to create a sense of connection between her and her fans. This idea of diminished boundaries between fans and performers is what fundamentally unites wrock as a scene.
For my ethnography, I primarily focused on the online components of the wrock scene, visiting message boards, fansites, and Myspace pages. I posted a survey to two of the message boards I studied, I LISTEN TO WIZARD ROCK! and the wrock Fan Discussion forum at the HP
The logo of the popular Wrock Myspace group
Even though wrock is a fairly small translocal scene, it is clearly experienced as a community by its members as reflected by my survey responses. One representative response to my survey question “Do you think that there is a Wizard Rock community?” was an incredulous “Of course there is a community, are you kidding me.” Dustin Kidd has discussed how Harry Potter fans in general are an interpretive community, and I’ve witnessed how wrock fans have formed a smaller culture within that community (Kidd 2007). Wrock is defined as a culture through the idea of shared values, especially DIY, which I’ll discuss more later in this post. It’s also a very self-referential scene—most of the wrock artists I’ve heard either make explicit references to the wrock scene in at least one song or have written songs entirely about wrock. By constantly mentioning wrock as a defined scene, it is reinforced in fans’ minds as one. Finally, the sense of community created online is frequently solidified through fans’ attendance and discussion of concerts, meetups, and conventions—one respondent even mentioned a wrock-themed cruise to
Apart from building the idea of a fan community, online communication helps fans feel more connected to artists. (Kibby 2000). Most bands have blogs and tour diaries on Myspace, prominent wrockers Matt Maggiacomo of the Whomping Willows and Paul DeGeorge of Harry and the Potters have posted on the HP Alliance forums, and Lena Gabrielle entered into a dialogue with fans through a Youtube comment. This adds to the sense of a cohesive community scene in which fans and artists interact with and benefit from each other.
Part II: Punk Wrock
“We’re going to play some songs about sticking it to the man!... Are you ready to stick it to him?”
Harry and the Potters, intro to “Voldemort Can’t Stop the Rock”
The desire to break down fan/performer boundaries stems from punk, a scene that has greatly influenced wrock. Both punk and wrock musicians have endeavored to make their music accessible in as many ways as possible. In the above Harry and the Potters video, Paul DeGeorge joins and dances with the audience, a move reminiscent of punk stage dives. By removing the physical divide between himself and the audience, Paul has made the audience closer to both himself and his music.
Skinhead punks? Nope, just Draco and the Malfoys. (Courtesy of their Myspace)
Punk bands also typically released their music on DIY labels, a prominent feature of the wrock scene (Spencer 2005). Even the most successful wrock band, Harry and the Potters, still produces their albums on their own label. One prominent wrock organization, Matt Maggiacomo and Kate Aubin’s Cheap Rent, describes themselves on their Myspace as “not quite a record label, but also not quite not a record label. We form friendships with bands and we do our best to help them release and promote their music. We also encourage our bands to maintain DIY ethics so they never feel the need to sign with a corporate record label.” Matt sums it up in his “Why DIY?” treatise on the HP
Part III: Wrock, Fandom, and the Future
“I’m starting a new house, and it’s called Awesome.”
The Whomping Willows, “House of Awesome Theme Song”
Wrock is unique among music scenes in that it’s an aspect of a larger fandom, which this case includes Harry Potter fanfiction, fanart, and roleplaying. Its unprecedented status as both fandom and music culture is what truly makes wrock worthy of further study and ethnography. Almost all of my survey respondents said that they were also fans or producers of one or more Harry Potter fandom components besides wrock. Henry Jenkins describes fandom as a way of fitting mass culture to fans’ desires through producing and consuming fan creations that better serve their interests (Jenkins 2006). Wrock gives fans the opportunity to align themselves with two appealing youth scenes simultaneously—Harry Potter fandom and a musical subculture. As one survey respondent wrote as to why he’s a wrock fan, “The first [reason] is the music itself…the second is the fandom.”
In the case of wrock, however, it appears to me that “the music itself” as McClary defines it (everything but the words and context) is not primarily what draws fans to the scene (McClary 1994). Typically, wrock relies on simple, catchy melodies and minimal instrumentation. While Harry and the Potters and Draco and the Malfoys have some overtly punk-influenced music with loud guitars and snotty yelping (here’s the punkest wrock track I’ve heard so far, “Keeping Secrets From Me” by Harry and the Potters), in the rest of the scene there’s everything from the pop ballads of the Butterbeer Experience to the goth-industrial of the Sectumsempras. If wrock fans were primarily interested in hearing a certain variety of music such as goth or punk, they could find a wider variety and a generally higher quality of that music by directly exploring those scenes. While many wrock artists are very musically proficient, the same can’t be said for all of them—even Harry and the Potters sing out of tune on their albums more often than not. Wrock fans are Harry Potter fans first and foremost, and they’re willing to sacrifice some quality for music that reflects that.
A free compilation wrocking against media consolidation (courtesy of stopbigmedia.com)
The music itself isn’t entirely incidental to the wrock scene, however, as it provides a perfect forum for what
While I wasn’t able to discuss it in this already unreasonably long post, I’m still interested in the prevalence of female fans in the wrock scene, the difference between fans and fangirls, and possible similarities between wrock and Riot Grrrl. I’m also fascinated to see what will happen to wrock now that the Harry Potter series is over. The power of wrock as both a music scene and an aspect of fandom will face a difficult test, but based on what I’ve seen I think that while wrock’s mainstream popularity may wane, its core community can hold its own for a while longer. As someone who participated in the fanfiction sector of Harry Potter fandom when I was younger, I maybe have a biased perspective, but I feel that the power and fun of the fandom on the whole and the strong impact wrock has had on its fans (see my third paragraph here) will inspire them to keep their scene alive for longer than might be expected, albeit with some changes. Now that fans and musicians have found the “place where we belong” that Lena describes, it should be difficult to give that up without a fight.
Cheap Rent (anonymous staff member). n.d. “About Cheap Rent.” http://www.myspace.com/cheaprent
Hills, Matt. 2002. Fan Cultures.
Hodkinson 2004 (in Music Scenes)
Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture.
Kibby, Marjorie D. 2000. “Home on the page: a virtual place of music community” Popular Music 19(1)91-100.
Kidd, Dustin. 2007. "Harry Potter and the Functions of Popular Culture." The Journal of Popular Culture 40(1):69-89.
Maggiacomo, Matt. 2007. “Why DIY?” http://thehpalliance.org/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=319
Spencer, Amy. 2005. DIY: The Rise of Lo-fi Culture.