2018 will be the 30th year of Smokefree Rockquest, the most stressful time of the year for musically-inclined teenagers, and the four other people in their class the music teacher told to join their band. To celebrate the coming together of the top 12 bands from the Heats and the angriest MAINZ students they can find to be the sound techs, mums and dads from all over the Waikato will be trying to find a park by Zeal this weekend for the Regional Finals.
Once a year, emos from High Schools around the country enter the competition, with the winners going on to semis, then semi-regionals, then regional-semis, then national lower-zone semis. For many high school students, Rockquest will be the first opportunity they have to stand on a stage and perform. Some will become the next Broods, Bic Runga or Die! Die! Die! (all previous winners), and the rest will disband the minute they step off the stage.
The best band as voted by judges gets free recording at one of NZ’s best studios, gear, mentoring and a music video - but where to from there for the rest of them?
I think one of the hardest things for young musicians in Hamilton would just be having something to aim for. Getting your CDs in a store, radio airplay, funding - young people are still at the impressionable age where they think these things are actually attainable, instead of the reality of the music industry circle-jerk that it is.
Even if they just want to hit the road and play some shows, their options are fairly limited - apart from local youth centre Zeal (full disclosure: I work there) and The Meteor, there aren’t really any options for spaces that not only tolerate but celebrate, young, emerging musicians.
And we should be celebrating them. These kids are the future of New Zealand music. Some of the bands I’ve seen at Rockquest have been better than groups twice their age. They all seem to have this youthful passion and innocence around the harsh realities of a life playing music. They truly have nothing to lose - and you can hear it in the frantic, Lynx body-spray tinged songs they play.
Despite this, people still think that live music is a dying art form, and all kids want to do these days is sit in their room making electronic songs on their personal computers and downloading them on to the iCloud. I guess that’s the nature of belief - ideas, cultures, communities only die if we let them, and we need to make sure our rangatahi have a scene to inherit once we all sell out and get super into biking.
Musicians, promoters, event organisers: get behind the young people in our city. Take a risk on a high school band with a two-song set. You never know who’s journey you could be kickstarting. And for the rest of us: if you ever hear a band the garage next door trying to play American Idiot for two hours straight, just leave them be. Unless they’re over 40. Then they need to stop immediately.