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The top nine Smokefreerockquest national finalists were announced today, the crème of the 700 bands and solo/duos who entered the nationwide youth music contest this year.

Contenders have played off in heats and finals held in 23 regions, vying for the chance to take the big prizes at the national final in Auckland on September 11.

Judges from the music industry today named the top six bands and three solo/duos, selected from DVDs submitted since the regional finals. The judges were Rockshop Promotions Manager Hamish Jackson, Jane de Dong (aka performer Ruby Frost), Chris Mack from Six60 and Edge TV Station Manager Damien Daniels.

Spokesman Damien Daniels said it was really quite intimidating to see such a high level of talent from such young people, and heart-breaking not to let all of them through to the final.

“The real standout was the high level of musicianship from people of this age,” he said. “That, and the diversity that there is now in New Zealand music. We may be small but we’re quite eclectic – the finalists range from metal band Alien Weaponry, the Brit-pop sound of Joe Says No, there’s the psychedalic rock band Joe’s Van and then Reciprocate with a soul upbeat funk sound.”

The top six bands are:

Alien Weaponry  Bream Bay College, Otamatea High School, Northland

Courtney Hate           Green Bay High School, Auckland

Joe Says No             Mt Albert Grammar School, Auckland Grammar

The Big Gus             Green Bay High School, Auckland

Reciprocate             Alfriston College, Auckland

Joe’s Van               Mt Maunganui College

And the top three solo/duos are:

Solomon the Crook       St Peter’s School, Cambridge

Ben Mollison            Bethlehem College, Tauranga

Joseph Balfe            Waitaki Boys’ High School

The judges also named some acts as highly commended, though they will not be going through to the final. These are (bands): Tetra, Nelson College for Girls; Future Class, Garin College, Nelson; Forlorn Bloom, Hagley Community College, Christchurch; Altero , Lincoln High School, Canterbury; and (solo/duo) Situation Vacant, Hamilton Boys’ High School and Hamilton Girls’ High School; and Talia Dalton, Otumoetai College, Tauranga.

There is still a chance for one of the top 30 acts to get through to the final as the People’s Choice winner, selected from the 21 acts who were in the top 30, but not in the top nine. Voting will open next Wednesday, with the text number to be announced on Facebook on Tuesday night.

The national final of Smokefreerockquest is at the Raye Freedman Centre at Epsom Girls Grammar on Friday September 11, start time 7pm. Tickets will be offered first to the fans and families of the finalists and will then be available from iticket.co.nz, $20 plus booking fee.

Smokefreerockquest, powered by Rockshop, has national winners’ prize packages for bands and the solo/duo winners that include $22,000 in Rockshop vouchers, a $20,000 NZ On Air  recording, video and promo package’ a ‘Decent Exposure’ campaign on FOUR, a photo shoot with Thievery Studio, a branding package from Imaginary Friends and the Unleashed Travel ambassador award – a seven day trip to Fiji.

There is also the MAINZ (Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand) Scholarship for Outstanding Musicianship, the APRA (Australasian Performing Right Association) Lyric Award, the Lowdown Best Song Award and the Smokefree Women’s Musicianship Award.  The People’s Choice award is voted by text with the opportunity to open the Smokefreerockquest national final.

The finalists for Smokefree Pacifica Beats will be announced on 10 August, with the national final for that event, also at the Raye Freedman Centre at Epsom Girls Grammar, on Saturday September 12.

More info at sfrq.co.nz or facebook.com/thesfrq

Smokefreerockquest – 27 years of musical success: Smokefreerockquest is New Zealand’s only nationwide, live, original music, youth event. The series of around 50 events provides young musicians with the opportunity to perform live in a professional setting, in venues from the Far North to Invercargill. Smokefreerockquest 2015, powered by Rockshop, aims to motivate young musicians to prove their abilities, to realise the opportunities available in music careers, and to encourage their peers to support 100 percent original New Zealand music. The original founders Glenn Common and Pete Rainey were honoured with the MNZM in 2013, and continue to lead the team that now runs this New Zealand institution. For more information visit www.sfrq.co.nz

Hall of Fame: Musical successes from Smokefreerockquest over its 26-year history include Broods, Kimbra, Aaradhna, Opshop, Evermore, Ladyhawke, Minuit, Kids of 88, Die!Die!Die!, Streets of Laredo, Joel Little, Tiny Ruins, Cairo Knife Fight, Cut Off Your Hands, the Datsuns, Brooke Fraser, Anika Moa, Kora, Thomston, Anna Coddington, Midnight Youth, Steriogram, Phoenix Foundation, Estere, Devilskin, The Black Seeds, Grayson Gilmore, Nesian Mystik, Bic Runga, Julia Deans, The Naked and Famous, and Delete Delete.

Smokefree’s – Smoking Not Our Future Campaign: Smokefreerockquest plays a large part in helping students make protective connections to their schools, other students and communities. It enables them to develop new skills and aspirations for their futures. Smokefree has been the naming rights sponsor of Smokefreerockquest for 25 of its 27 years and this longstanding partnership has been mutually beneficial. Smoking Not Our Future is a direct to youth strategy and Smokefreerockquest provides the opportunity for youth to connect and engage with its messages.  This year, young people will be asked to think about the benefits of being smokefree and get more involved in helping New Zealand become smokefree by 2025. For more information visit Facebook.com/notourfuture.

Smokefree Pacifica Beats: Smokefree Pacifica Beats recognises and reflects the unique cultural identity of Aotearoa New Zealand and the South Pacific. The event started in 1994 as the Urban Beats Award within Smokefreerockquest and has steadily built over the years into a competition in its own right. In Smokefree Pacifica Beats participants must incorporate Polynesian language, instruments, dance or movement in their performance and songs. The event motivates young musicians to prove their ability with cultural relevance, and to encourage their peers to support 100 percent original Aotearoa Kiwi music. The event’s Hall of fame includes Nesian Mystik, the only New Zealand band to ever have ten singles all certified gold or platinum.