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Concert Reviews

Smokefreerockquest National Finals 2020

Clare Martin

Smokefreerockquest is New Zealand’s only nationwide, live, original music, youth event. Now in its 32nd year, the series of over 40 events reaches audience numbers in excess of 10,000 every year.  It is the springboard for many bands and individual musicians to support them into the live music industry. Due to Covid restrictions, the 2020 Finals were live-streamed with support from NZ On Air. Here are the performances in order of their appearance on the night. Scroll to the end for the results.

DUO/SOLO CATEGORY

Ben and Brody (Rangitoto College)

How much these two have matured into coherent and persuasive songwriters with a much stronger performance than their SFRQ 2019 finals. Some neat pop/indie hooks with some R&B vocals from Ben.  Nice to hear his vocals in partnership with Brody and harmonies which have grown up around the same breakfast table.  Brody’s voice is still sweet and high but grown into a stronger more compelling pop/indie sound.  Two very nice songs, the second was a gentler song with a hint of Americana which worked well for this duo.

Helena (Hutt Valley High School)

Helena opened with competent keyboard accompanying her vocals.  Despite one little stumble in the first song, this is a singer-songwriter who has already grown into her style. This was super comfortable and assured writing. And oh, the vocals! that is one luxury voice, a plush quality. Helena’s second song utilised synth beats and a dream pop quality. A spacious song that had a really authentic vocal emotion.  Here are shades of London Grammar, a beautiful control over her pitch range.  This singer is complete and assured with a very nice second song.

Harry Mason (Havelock North High School)

Here is a welcome return from the frontperson of the SFRQ 2019 winning band Arlo Mac. Harry has an understanding of the complete sound for a song, he set up a whole sonic scape for his indie-pop vocals.  And a surprise bit of spoken word that worked well in between his ambient guitar solo. His second song was more R&B pop style with drum machine and reverb guitar.  Harry has a really complete sense of songwriting and musicianship to die for. Two really beautiful crafted songs.

BAND CATEGORY

Albert Street (Hamilton Boys' High School and Hamilton Christian School)

A slick intro and a ska beat for the first song of this Hamilton band. Rhythmic vocals from the multitasking fronting bass player. Some great vocals coming from the keyboardist, who maybe competed a bit with the main vocalist at times.  But who’s complaining, two strong rock vocalists, right? We heard a bit more of the keyboardist's vocals in the second song and she drove it along with a real rock vibe.  The second song was looser but had excitement and a band with real potential.

Stacked (Rangitoto College)

Heavy rock band Stacked appeared in the 2019 finals and are back for another bite of the cherry. Their sound has deepened and pulled together much more persuasively.  We could have used a bit more on the mic for the hardworking vocalist and perhaps more bass in the balance. Here was some really great percussion drive and some good metal sounds on lead guitar. Some real passion and energy in this band. 

Haven (Wakatipu High School Queenstown)

Also coming back for more after the 2019 SFRQ finals, the rock sound of Haven delivers pleasing songwriting with good clear vocals and real talent and personality from drums. Despite only two players on the stage, these two musicians had plenty of character and created two great songs.  It would be great to hear some production polish on this excellent band (and a bassist..).

Red Wav (Aorere College and Marcellin)

What a dynamic bunch bursts on the stage next with Red Wav. Topical face masks for all and wearing tactical vests, they gave us a stylish co-ordinated look.  Their songwriting was upbeat and funky with two vocalists and some great rapping on the side. Sound production was fabulous and some really tight retro keyboard and guitar sounds.  A bit of a gap between songs but we got there, and very pleased we did, great band. 

Girl Scout Cookie (Hutt Valley High School)

Dreamy synth start and a reappearance from Helena before swinging into a pop sound. Upbeat crisp sounds and bass guitar playing some really interesting lines. The second song gave Helena on lead vocals more scope.  Some nice hooks from guitar and great playing all round, this is a really enjoyable band.

Ragaire (Glendowie College and Avondale College)

Solid rock songwriting here, with secure ensemble and a strong frontperson. Ramping it up for the second song, this had even more interest.  Here is a band that are really tuned in to one another and play as a real team.  This is a tough competition!

Casper (Hillcrest High School)

Some great ska beats cracked out by the next band.  And loads of personality on the vocals. Here is a sound that would do great at festivals.  The second song also had tonnes of character along the lines of upbeat King Krule, this band will just build and build with more songwriting and performing experience.

Sandtrap (Rangitoto College)

Great to hear more of Sandtrap, renamed from Sly Youth in SFRQ 2019. This sound has matured and this bunch really know how to play as one sound. Some nice menace in the first song before  an excellent guitar break. Shades of Muse or Arctic MonkeysThe second song led us in with some beautiful mystery.  These guys know what they want to do with their sound, another super strong contender in this competition.  Then cracking out fantastic drive, and, wha'? organ? Why not! True depth here and the second offering was an absolute winner of a song. 

AND THE WINNERS OF SMOKEFREEROCKQUEST 2020 ..... 

BAND 

1st place band Red Wav
2nd place band Haven

3rd place band Sandtrap

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SOLO/DUO

1st place solo/duo Ben and Brody
2nd place solo/duo Harry Mason

3rd place solo/duo Helena

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Musicianship Award: Bella Bavin (lead vocalist and guitarist of Ragaire
Musicianship Award: Harrison Maguire (drummer from Haven
ZM Best Song Award: Ben and Brody (for their first song)
Rockshop Electronic-assisted Performance Award: Helena
National APRA lyric award: Ruby Aitkenhead and Ella Whibley (for ‘Round and Round’) 
Smokefree Best Vocals award: Kainoa Ogilvie (vocalist, guitarist, pianist from Sandtrap).

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Written By: Clare Martin Clare has performed as an opera, recital and oratorio artist in UK most notably the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London. In NZ she has performed with NZ Opera and with the NZ Symphony Orchestra but more recently she has moved into a wider range of contemporary genres including jazz and even Leonard Cohen. Since 2008 Clare has been teaching from her own music studio working with professional and beginner singers. In 2017 she was a mentor on TVNZ’s The Naked Choir working with a cappella choirs and she currently coaches barbershop and a woman’s ensemble.