Americans know New York for its hot dogs, expensive real estate, and corrupt politicians, but it's also home to the world's largest Harry Potter fan meet-up, the Group That Shall Not Be Named.
Stacy Pisani is one member of the group. Although she grew up outside the city in the suburb of Yonkers, she started going into Manhattan to meet with Harry Potter fans in 2009. She saw community members creating bands that dressed in robes and sang about magic. She fell in love with wizard rock, and in 2008, decided to start her own band called Swish and Flick.
"In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Professor Flitwick teaches the students how to move their wands properly for the spell, wingardium leviosa," Pisani explains of the name. "The correct action for the spell is to swish and flick your wand."
The band performs in a style that Pisani describes as "nerdy hip-hop and dance music meets dirty Harry Potter fan fiction." Although JK Rowling hasn't released a new Harry Potter book since 2007, Swish and Flick has continued to play. Thanks to the opening of a play called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and next week's opening of the spin-off film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, interest about wizard rock has, again, grown.
This week, we talked to Pisani about the new film, her time in the wizard community, and the muggle bands that have inspired Swish and Flick. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Broadly: What was wizard rock like when your band formed?
Stacy Pisani: Wizard rock was blowing up exponentially. There were several bands touring, many bands self-releasing music on Myspace, new wizard rockers starting up all the time, lots of shows all over the country, and people organizing big wizard rock concerts with lots of bands that drew people from across the country.
What was the Harry Potter fan community like in Westchester at the time?
In 2007, when I became active in the HP fan community, the community in my town (then, Yonkers) was non-existent. I tried to start the first Harry Potter Meetup group in Westchester County, New York. Only one other person showed up to the first meet-up. But Westchester is a suburb right outside of NYC, so I joined the NYC Harry Potter Meetup group in 2007. The HP fan community in NYC is still going on strong with events monthly and a huge conference every other year called MISTI-Con.
How did you learn about wizard rock?
When I first started making wizard rock, I did not personally know any other bands, but I'd heard them and connected with them through Myspace and later Facebook. Once I began going to shows as a fan, and performing at shows as Swish and Flick, and attending Harry Potter conferences, I reinforced those friendships in person that had begun online. And because it was a community comprised of friends, I was easily able to organize many shows in NYC such as the NYC Wizard Rock Festival and the Witch Rock series. I'm still very good friends with everyone I'd met years ago and continue to network with other wizard rock bands.
What are your non-wizard inspirations?
I've been creating and performing electronic music since the late 1990s, well before I started Swish and Flick, so I drew from my lifelong musical inspirations to write for Swish and Flick: I'm inspired by 80s new wave and britpop, old-school rap, 90s hip-hop and R&B, MIA, Peaches, [and] Lily Allen. More currently, I'm inspired by groups like Disclosure, Years & Years, DJ Snake, [and] AlunaGeorge.
What are your shows like?
Our shows are intense, and outsiders are often surprised by my stage antics. Usually Swish and Flick performs at shows where the entire lineup is wizard rock, so everybody in the audience is part of the community and is super into the music. There are almost always people dancing and singing along. I like to engage the audience to be active participants, and the crowd is usually eager to oblige. We've performed at shows as small as a couple dozen people at a party, to a concert hall of 500, and we try to put as much energy into those small shows as the big shows.
Did you make a living through the shows?
No, we did not/do not, but it is not because it can not be done. My partner and I have careers that require us to work a lot, plus we have kids, so it is difficult for us to find the time/energy required to make a living from wizard rock. Making a living doing wizard rock would mean we ditch our day jobs, ditch our kids, and go on tour. As much as we'd love to do that, our priorities are our careers and our kids.
What are the differences between your various albums?
When I first started out rapping, I did it as a joke. When I recorded my first Swish and Flick songs on the first album, my rapping is a bit bland and really dorky sounding. By the time I started performing those songs and learned how to properly rap, my later recordings sound more serious, in terms of my rap style, but the actual music production has been pretty consistent throughout, since I've been producing electronic music for years, even before Swish and Flick. And as far as the lyrical content, it's been consistent throughout: irreverent and bawdy songs about Draco Malfoy and about being Slytherin.
Has Harry Potter fandom died down since the last book came out?
The HP fandom hasn't died at all since the release of the last book. In fact, Swish and Flick began soon after the last book was released. Even after the last movie came out (years after the book), the HP fandom kept going, and is still going strong today. After the seventh book was released, there were still active wizard rock bands (and new ones forming all the time), active online communities, active meet-up groups, podcasts, several conventions being held every year. The fandom never died after the books were completed. It had just lost the attention of popular media for a few years when there had been no tie-ins, like books and movies.
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Will Fantastic Beasts give you more to write about and also increase your output?
I did write a song about Fantastic Beasts, but other than that one song, I can't say that the movie has inspired me to write a lot more wizard rock. That has nothing to do with the film itself or the general public interest in wizard rock, or any perceived lack of source material to draw from, and has everything to do with the fact that my main creative focus within the HP fandom has always been elsewhere. I've always been more inclined to write fan fiction and make music outside of wizard rock. That's just a function of what I like to do and has nothing to do with what's going on in the HP fan community.
Has it been hard to come up with new songs, while new Harry Potter books haven't come out?
It has not been difficult at all. There are seven books with endless ideas to draw from. Also, wizard rock can be like musical fan fiction, in that we can make up stuff that never even happened in the books, or we can extrapolate from and expand upon the ideas in the books. Songs can be character studies that don't even require a direct story line connection. New songs don't need to be about new content; they can be about content that JK Rowling wrote 19 years ago.