The Smokefree Rockquest, now in its 27th year, has helped launch many great Kiwi bands and musicians including Bic Runga, Nesian Mystik, Anika Moa and The Black Seeds. Friday’s final at Auckland’s Raye Freedman Centre will showcase some of New Zealand’s hottest upcoming talent. Vaimoana Tapaleao introduces the 10 finalists

Ben Mollison

Soloist/ guitarist from Bethlehem College, Tauranga

When it comes to his music, creating something special for listeners is what teenager Ben Mollison is singing for.

"I try to get them thinking about what I'm saying in my music - creating mental images for them about what they're listening to."

The 16-year-old is in Year 12 at Bethlehem College and is one of three soloists to make it into the Rockquest final. He has been singing since as far back as he can remember, and picked up the guitar along the way.

"I like playing folk - that's my genre. The stuff I write can be the cliched stuff like teenage angst and relationships to a story or art or poetry."


The teen hopes to pursue music as a career, but has a back-up plan just in case.

"An English-type degree or maybe media. But music is the dream career."

Solomon Crook

Soloist/ guitarist from St Peter's School, Cambridge

Most people don't expect the voice that comes from Solomon Crook when he starts singing.

Low, deep and husky, it's reminiscent of musicians from another era.

"Yeah, it's definitely not pop," he laughs.

The year 13 student from St Peter's School in Cambridge has been performing solo on

his guitar for the past three years.

He has 10 original songs he says he would happily play live at the moment and is already gigging at various places - performing his own stuff as well as some covers.

The music he loves - and is inspired by - is a mix of blues and soul.

"My music is a reflection of myself. It's kind of soulful and emotive. People can feel something when they listen to it."

Joseph Balfe

(Solo) Fingerstyle guitarist from Waitaki Boys' High School, Oamaru

He hasn't had a single professional music lesson in his life, yet Joseph Balfe has learned how to play guitar from some of the world's best musicians.

The 16-year-old, Year 12 student is a fingerstyle guitarist.

"I play acoustic fingerstyle guitar with no vocals. Basically, fingerstyle guitar involves playing the bass, rhythm and melody at the same time and putting the whole song/band on one guitar," he says.

"I've never had guitar lessons but have learned by using videos online from some of the great guitarists."

He plays a range of styles - jazz, country and pop, anything with a good melody, Joseph says.

He says it was a privilege to be named in the top three solo acts of the Rockquest this year.

"It feels awesome."

The teen says a career in music is on the cards; as a touring solo performer or doing session work for other artists.

Alien Weaponry

Three-piece band from Bream Bay College & Otamatea High School, Northland

Metallica is one of their biggest influences and they've been invited to play many a gig, but the boys from Alien Weaponry wouldn't be old enough to attend most shows.

The band, made up of 13-year-olds Lewis de Jong (guitar and vocals) and Ethan Trembath (bass) and 15-year-old drummer Henry de Jong, have been together for about six years after brothers Henry and Lewis began writing songs when they were about 8 and 10-years-old respectively.

Their father, Niel, got them into heavy metal, they said. "We were brought up on it 'cause our dad loved it - our mum, not so much."

The boys like to write songs that reflect what's happening in their community.

One of their songs, Ruana Te Whenua, is sung completely in te reo.

Joe Says No

Five-piece band from Mt Albert Grammar and Auckland Grammar schools

They're crazy about music - and crazy on stage too. For the boys from Joe Says No, that's how they work the crowd.

"We have a lot of energy and are really loud. We love it when the crowd goes insane during our shows ... the best way to get them to do this is for us to go completely off the rails," guitarist Joe Curtis says.

"This generally coincides in bloody fingers, bruises and a tonne of stage dives."

The band - including Jin Yun on bass, Ollie Curtis on drums, Ethan Broughton on guitar and Denzel Kelemete on the mic - have been hugely popular since they formed last year.

This year they gave a huge performance at the Zeal Festival of Noise; they had the crowd jumping and head banging to their original songs.


10-piece band from Alfriston College, South Auckland

Representing the southside of Auckland is what the kids from Reciprocate are all about.

The 10-piece band are made up of senior students at Alfriston College, Manukau.

Fiercely proud of their neighbourhood, their music - described as funky, groovy and soulful - draws on personal experiences and struggles they have been through while growing up in South Auckland.

Keyboardist Sheldon Rua says: "We write our own songs and our favourite song is called Spread Your Wings. It talks about the struggles and pain people go through and about pushing on and moving on when you do.

"It's about uplifting and encouraging people. That's what our songs are about."

The Big Gus

Three-piece band from Green Bay High School, West Auckland

Anything can inspire a great song - even a random fishing trip with an old friend named Pat.

For band members of The Big Gus, drawing on personal experiences is the easiest way to come up with lyrics.

"They tend to be one of the last things we chuck in a song," says drummer Luke Walsh, 17.

"We'll just draw them from life events. Our song Fishing With Pat - Mitchell has an old friend who he goes fishing with ... Then we were like: 'Why don't we write a song about it'?

"We're doing that song for a music video ... and at the start we have a little voice recording of Pat going: 'G'day, let's go fishing.' It's so funny."

The band - including bass player Fergus White, 18, and lead guitarist/vocalist Mitchell Baber, 17, - describe their music as alternative Kiwi rock.

Luke says: "What we really want is just for people to have fun."

Joe's Van

Three-piece from Mt Maunganui College

They could be described as the godfathers of the Smokefree Rockquest; having been part of the competition for six years.

Cormac Seymour (lead guitar), Jacob Nicholas (bass, lead vocals) and Rory Priest (drums), all 17, are hoping to finish their Rockquest career on a high.

They first entered the competition when they were Year 7 students as a four-piece band who played psychedelic rock. Last year they became a three-piece band and now, in their final year at Mt Maunganui College, the boys have coined their own take on their kind of music - alternative surf.

"It's aspects of funk, psychedelic rock and a bit of funk," says Cormac. The band plays regularly at local hotspots around the Mount and the Bay of Plenty. Cormac said no matter what their plans next year, they hoped to stick together and continue to play good music.

El Jay Hall

Four-piece band from Cambridge High School

Playing on the big stage this weekend is a big deal when you've been chosen by fans.

El Jay Hall is this year's Rockquest People's Choice Award winner. For the first time they have the same chance as other finalists to take out the competition. Drummer Liam Hall, 17, says the band, including guitarist Josh Mayo, 18, singer Stephen Watson, 17, and bass player Oli Fairbrother, 18, are thrilled to play at the finals.

"This year we started working on our own sound. It's a happy, indie alternative sound and we're just happy people have got us here.

"We're really thankful to everyone who voted."

Courtney Hate

Four-piece band from Green Bay High School, West Auckland

Girlfriends Jami, Ruby, Xanthe and Marieke love to jam, having decided last year to pool their musical talents.

Lead vocalist Jami Kerrigan has a powerful voice which some may compare to Lorde. With her are Xanthe Brookes on the drums, Marieke van Orsoy de Flines on bass and Ruby Colwell on lead guitar.

Xanthe says: "Courtney Hate is a space princess rock band. We started in 2014, a few weeks before the Rockquest heats, where we wrote our first song - which was terrible. But we stuck together as people began to take us more seriously."

The teens, aged 16 and 17, are in year 12 at Green Bay High School, West Auckland.

Asked about their music, Xanthe says: "It's a platform for us to express our opinions and views about particular topics."

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