Anything which inspires the young to write and perform their own music has to be a good thing. Smokefreerockquest does just that for those of intermediate or secondary school age across New Zealand.
I have been part of the Smokefreerockquest for about three decades and therefore feel qualified enough to make some observations about the evolution of the event.
The first version of the competition was set up by a Christchurch radio station C93FM in 1988 but it was a local contest only.
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When teachers Glenn Common and Pete Rainey set up the first national final in 1990, they probably had no idea how big it would grow and how important it would become to the nation's young.
In fact it became an important stepping stone for, among others, Opshop, Ladyhawke, Brooke Fraser, Anika Moa, Bic Runga, The Feelers, and Elemeno P.
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In the early days, young musicians played covers. If they managed to sound like the original they were good. If they could turn their amplifiers up to the top end of the Richter Scale they were even better.
Then came an important shift; they had to play one original song and one cover. Invariably there was a quality imbalance between the two songs but that, I suppose, was an essential part of the event's growth and evolution.
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These days all their songs must be original.
I remember in those earlier years, the focus seemed to be on face paint (think Kiss), outrageous costumes (think circus performers) and lots of head banging (think neck injuries). It almost seemed that the music was a secondary consideration.
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Today the music is certainly not secondary. Contestants take great care in creating and crafting songs and they present themselves…well… remarkably normally. Yes, there is head banging but that happens more in the mosh pit, that seething mass of unbridled youth that forms in front of the stage.
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Further back in the venue, you will see parents and supporting teachers. Most of them will not be head banging (they've got to mind their back).
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Which brings us right up to the present day and the 2019 national final which will be held at the Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, on Saturday. I will be there with Havelock North High School band Arlo Mac, one of 10 national finalists.
I won't be in the mosh pit (arthritis) but I'll be wallowing in the comfort of a posh sit.
I have already taken band members, Harry Mason, Ben Bush, Joe Ledword and Tom Grant to Auckland for the recording reward they earned as finalists. A day in Parachute Studios with Six60 bassist Chris Mac as mentor was surely a day they won't forget. They rocked their happy little socks off.
Yes, it takes a day to record a song properly. Recording studio minutes are much longer than those in the outside world. If the producer says, "One more take and we'll have it," you should send out for more strong coffee and substantial food supplies.
But it's all part of the rich tapestry of making music and is worth every minute.
Breaking news: And the national winner of the 2019 Smokefreerockquest is…