Smoke-Free Rockquest Final Review

O Boy, Photo by Andra Jenkin

O Boy, Photo by Andra Jenkin

By Andra Jenkin

Artist: Smoke-Free Rockquest compeditors

Date / Venue: Saturday September 2nd, 2017 - Dorothy Winstone Centre , Auckland

There’s at least 100 people waiting for the doors to open for the Smoke-Free Rockquest final competition. They're gathering to watch the competition that launched such names as KimbraLadyhawke, The Datsuns, Bic Runga, King Kapisi and Anika Moa. This is the culmination of 750 bands competing all around New Zealand, the top 12 bands performing live for the judges with the winner coming away with $10,000 worth of gear from the Rockshop and $8000 from New Zealand on Air to make a music video. 

 Easing into the event with solo/duo singer songwriter’s, the event kicks off with Ellie and Laura from Waimea College in Nelson. Together since they were 4 years old, the duo harmonise on melodic songs, with a sweet slow style that held the audience’s rapt attention.

Sam Egli was next up, in the same solo/duo category with another slow, sweet sound this time with mournful vocals, in a song about aliens that owes something to a David Bowie influence.

The last performer in the solo/duo category is Sonatane Kaufusi, who has the crowd up and moving at once with his syncopated rhythmic sound. Coming from Manurewa in Auckland, he has a lot of audience support, they all clap in time to the beat. It’s well deserved, Kaufusi creates great music to dance to and is my pick to take out the category.

Then it’s time for the first of the guest musicians. Iris G who won the category the previous year. She has a high-pitched Bjork style voice and using foot pedals, a guitar and a harmonica, does the work of three band members solo. She uses layers to create a full sound and dedicates a song about mental illness to Molly who “brought hope to my life again.”

The People’s Choice award went to Haze from St Kentigern’s College, the one award no one has had to wait to be announced, as it allows one band already eliminated to perform at the finals. They have the audience jumping immediately, with a song that starts with a hard-alternative rock introduction, and backs off to an almost reggae feel. The 5 piece has Christina Middlebeek-Harrison on vocals and she is incredible with an amazing range, beautiful tone and perfect pitch her vocals would be my bet for best of the show and it’s only the fourth competing act.

Rural Delivery have a good sound the crowd can boogie to. Hailing from Hauraki Plains College they bring a bit of jazz funk with great vocals and a seriously funky bass, Thomas Mills the bass player told me “We played what we usually played today” and added about the mentoring experience that it was ‘good to get a second opinion.”

Hip hop was covered by Fuzhun, who got the memo about stagecraft. They wore matching white bucket hats, white t-shirts and blue overalls. They have a dance routine and with seven band members, have a formidable stage presence. It’s Bob Marley on speed with a rock-reggae feel. They hype up the crowd. All of the vocals are great and work in harmony, with a stand out performance by Gideon Valavala. Innovative use of vocals with all chiming in for the chorus had the audience give their most excited response so far.

The seventh competing act was Run77, talented and good at building up the crowd they had a funky heavy bass with ethereal electronic keyboard that overlaid heavy guitar and bass on a foundation of monster drums.

Between acts freebies were thrown into the audience, t-shirts and light sticks, The Daffodils took the stage. They also knew that marketing was half the battle, as they’d provided daffodil flowers for the audience. It was a nice touch and added a lovely aroma to the performance. Again, being from Auckland gave the band a lead in audience support, they were from Western Springs and Kirstin College. The band had a mainstream sound that likely owed a lot to their parents 80’s record collections, as if Robert Smith sang in Tears for Fears. They had been competing in the Smoke-Free Rockquest for the last 5 years and this was their last chance to claim a prize. They’re tight, polished and the crowd laps it up, most too young to remember the 80s the first time around.

Number nine was Minimal Silence, a full-noise punk/metal outfit for whom the crowd went absolutely insane. A clear favourite from Howick College they were tight, loud, and made seamless transitions from punk and alternative rock to pure metal and back again. Influenced by the Foo Fighters, and Dave Grohl’s other incarnation Nirvana they had great catchy hooks and Logan Anderson nailed the obligatory screaming metal vocals. Sebastian Munro was fast, accurate and shredded on the guitar with tight thrashing drums to head bang to played by Mark Tohovaka. Points for seeing his face because Mark has his head right in the snare, living inside the drums.

Anderson tells the crowd to split up the middle, explaining the game. They obey, loving it as they pose as rival gangs facing off against one another, and on the frontman’s signal they clash together starting an energetic hardcore pinball moshpit. This is advanced level crowd control. Minimal Silence lives up to its name.

Half-eaten Pie is at number 10, with heavy bass and a reggae feel reminiscent of The Police but faster which has the crowd dancing and clapping along. Like all of the bands that have beaten out 750 of their competitors, they are tight, polished and excellent performers.

O Boy from Kaipara College was the most alternative sound of the night. They had sophisticated tempo changes and an echoing sound heavy on the reverb. Like a minimalist Pixies, the full sound they created with only two performers was hard to believe. With Bianca Bailey on drums and vocals and Bryony Roberts on vocals and bass, nobody missed a guitar.

Minutes to Monday was the last of the competing acts to play. Starting with a full melodic introduction they dropped down to pare away to all but vocals and a slow drum back beat. They too were reawakening the 80s and Robert Smith. The guitarist clad in full Indian headdress wailed on his axe and played a virtuoso performance with his teeth.

The last act of the night were last year’s winners Alien Weaponry. Their year of gigging, recording and being mentored had paid off and there was nothing of the school band left in them besides perhaps their youthful appearance. Absolutely dominating with extreme noise metal they owned the audience with their incredible energy, stellar performance and professional stage presence. Celebrating their Māori heritage and te reo they loosed their single Urutaa upon an appreciative audience ready to head bang to the thrashing metal.

The night was wrapped up by awarding the winners of each category, the part that many family members and supporters of the bands had come to see. I won’t give it away, the article on the winners is in the news section.