Last Saturday night at the Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland was the biggest event of the year in New Zealand youth music with the National Finals of Smokefreerockquest 2019. A moderate throng of youthful supporters filed into the auditorium to await the performers. The vibe seemed more casual than you might expect from the final of the biggest rock competition in the country.
Smokefreerockquest is New Zealand’s biggest competition for upcoming youth musicians in a nationwide live event. Now in its 31st year, the series of over 40 events reaches audience numbers in excess of 10,000 every year. Founded in 1989 by music teachers Glenn Common and Pete Rainey, Smokefreerockquest has now become a New Zealand institution encouraging young musicians writing originals to extend their potential and gain a platform into the New Zealand music scene.
The Rockshop had set up the stage impressively with multiple mighty amps showing off their shiny brand names. A full-width digital screen flowed neon images and short films introducing the finalists and racks of lights added rock arena colour to the night.
Beginning the night with the Solo/Duo category was the Christchurch female duo There’s a Tuesday thankfully shortened from the 42-character-long previous full incarnation of their name. A neo-folk duo influenced by sounds of Daughter and Tiny Ruins their two songs reflected dreamy folk sounds integrated with shoe-gazey guitars.
Papatoetoe’s Silika and Russell up next started with Her Story a song that fights back at bullying. With wide-ranging soulful vocals and jazz-influenced keys, this was a creative and expressive improvisation-based duo.
And the final finalist for the duo/solo category was Brody & Ben a sister and brother partnership from the North Shore of Auckland. This was a pop style with easy-on-the-ear vocals backed by rhythmic guitar and ukulele.
And you can read until the end to discover the winning duo!
Next up the bands. Definitely a buzz of excitement now as the national band finalists began with West Coast punk rock band Sit Down In Front. With a don’t-give-a-damn confidence, the vocals had an authentic punk quality backed by a band of robust energy.
Lifting the energy up another notch, the psychedelic-titled Sneaky Caribbean Monk Seals leapt onto the stage with a 1960’s rock sound akin to Led Zeppelin and The Who. The vocalist with blonde hair, buckskin tassels flying and almost bare chest, he could have been a young Iggy Pop. The band gave big energy and commitment.
Bringing the best pink mohawk of the night on the stage was North Shore’s Stacked receiving a big roar of support from the crowd. There was a lot of hair swinging and a lot of energy on stage. Also a whole lot of volume. The heavy rock sound created a wall of noise and got the dance area jumping.
After this soundscape came Arlo Mac from the Hawke’s Bay region with a retro dress style but fresh indie rock songwriting. With edgy vocals and expressive guitar breaks, this band showed original sounds and synchronicity with both changing time signatures and keys.
A big contrast to most other bands was Manukau’s Seperateky with a neo-soul/R&B groove. A smooth sound with mature ease on their instruments despite a few sound issues. With the best vocal harmonies of the night, this set seemed over too quick.
Clearly a lot of fans in the house for Park Road from Auckland Central. Like You first up featured the only bass break so far with their indie-rock sound. Impressive drive from the drums and guitar and a second song that edged the singer into overdrive.
Last up in this category, Haven from Queenstown seemed relaxed and clear on their goals. They chatted to the crowd and delivered a spacious yet tight alternative rock sound. The sound set up here allowed each of the three instrumentalists some definition.
Musical interludes were provided by previous Smokefreerockquest finalists, the pop/bop style of Alae and the indie-pop artists Balu Brigada.
And as the MC Cam from Radio ZM talked us through the paces, the judges deliberated and came back and delivered this verdict:
1st place band: Arlo Mac, Havelock North High School (Hawkes Bay)
2nd place band: Haven, Wakatipu High School (Central Otago)
3rd place band: Sit Down In Front, Campion College, Gisborne Boys’ High School (East Coast)
1st placed solo-duo: There’s A Tuesday, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch Girls’ High School (Canterbury)
2nd placed solo-duo: Silika and Russell, Papatoetoe High School (Manukau)
MAINZ Musicianship Award, $500 towards further musical development: Seperateky, Manurewa High School (Manukau)
Smokefree Best Vocals Award, $500: Silika Isaia, Silika and Russell, Papatoetoe High School (Manukau)
Best Song Award: Sit Down In Front, Campion College, Gisborne Boys’ High School (East Coast)
APRA Lyric Award, $500: Jaiyushka Pratap, Kaikorai Valley College (Otago)
Rockshop Electronic Performance Award: Louie Campbell, Katikati College (Bay of Plenty).