It’s always a considerable priviledge to attend the national final of the annual Smokefreerockquest – the culmination of more than 40 heats and distillation of 700-plus hopeful entrants down the year’s best high school bands and soloists/duos. With such a wide range of music, musical skill and performance standards it’s surely not an easy thing to judge.
Nor is it always easy to report on in a balanced fashion – everyone has their favourites, right? One thing that was (unusually) noticeable this year was that the lads heavily dominated. All three solo finalists were young men and four of the six finalist groups were male-only bands. All-girl ‘space princess rock’ (self-proclaimed) band Courtney Hate inevitably stood out – four year 12 students from west Auckland’s Green Bay High School who are already making waves in the city’s indie scene. So NZM asked them to help us out – specifically to write about three important recent gigs, including the Smokefreerockquest finals.
Courtney Hate is drummer Xanthe Brookes, bassist Marieke Van Orsoy De Flines, guitarist Ruby Colwell and lead singer Jami Kerrrigan. Here’s the band’s ‘gig diary’.
The ‘A Strange Day’s Night’ fundraiser concert for Play It Strange took place over two nights in the Auckland Town Hall. Originally Fiona McDonald was looking for a female guitarist to play with her on the night, so our music teacher (Jeni Little) suggested Ruby. Fiona then unfortunately pulled out of the concert but luckily Mike Chunn asked Courtney Hate to play two Rolling Stones’ covers! We were all very excited but felt the pressure to do the songs justice.
Originally we chose Angie and Moonlight Mile but ended up playing Sympathy For The Devil instead of Angie. We worked on them for a couple Saturdays, getting up early and heading to school to practice. We weren’t overly satisfied with the final product of our individual parts, but together it seemed to sound pretty good. We made a few changes to the songs to make them our own, changing ‘man’ to ‘woman’ in Sympathy For The Devil and the climactic structure.
The actual nights were kind of odd, all very surreal, however super rad! The biggest crowds we had played in front of –– and on that stage where so many of our heroes had played. Waiting back stage, watching the band before us play, we were all jittery –– quite nervous. Ruby was anxious for her solo and Jami still cramming to memorise the lyrics.
The Town Hall acoustics are incredible, we’ve never had such good sound quality. We didn’t make any mistakes (woop!) and both nights when we finished we got a huge standing ovation. This was a huge surprise to us, so fricken cool. 11/10, would recommend to a friend. We felt like we had accomplished something huge. Along with a huge confidence boost, we got quite a lot of support and attention from people, liking and commenting on the video of us playing. Someone’s mum even asked Jami to be her daughter-in-law while introducing her son.
In the two weeks leading up to the Smokefreerockquest final we had gigs, exams, two full days of filming, a whole day of recording at Roundhead Studios, mentoring with Priya Sami, a day of meeting the other contestants and talking to some previous competitors who now form Strangely Arousing.
We had been wanting to record for ages and really enjoyed that day at Roundhead. We were stoked about having Priya as our mentor. As well as being hilarious she understood our sound and where we wanted to go with our music. She gave us really helpful advice and still respected what we had created (while teasing us for studying between takes).
On the day of the final we soundchecked and heard the other bands for the first time. We were so impressed by the high quality of music being produced – everyone was amazingly talented. We wondered if we fitted in, we were all very different.
Before going on, we freaked. Nothing was sinking in, the moments to follow were what we had dreamed about since first voting for Heroes For Sale to be SFRQ 2012 People’s Choice. We tried to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, Ruby even danced a lil’ (shock horror!) and we started to get more comfortable. Apparently after the first swear word in Nein Senpai Poisson some older lady in the crowd gasped, “Oooh, I don’t like that.”
We over-analysed a few mistakes but Marieke, being our camp mother, reassured us that we did rad and that we should be proud –– which we really are. We did us. We danced carelessly the rest of the night, especially for The Big Gus who are also from Green Bay High.
We didn’t end up placing, (Jami was on the floor crying after our performance because her last note of Scrublet sounded like an old man dying), however realised we had done well and that we didn’t mind one lil’ bit!
Our first R18 gig! At a bar! We awkwardly crammed ourselves on the tiny platform, hoping Xanthe wouldn’t fall off stage behind the drums. Priya, Jeni, judges from SFRQ and our families were all there. We completely butchered the first song, but luckily the rest of the set was sweet, despite not being able to hear each other all that well.
We played Lovers Lane by Hunx and his Punx, Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill, White’s Not My Colour This Evening by Cherry Glazerr, and four Courtney Hate originals; Sleezoid, Nein Senpai Poisson, Creepazoid and Scrublet.
People came in from outside, bobbed their heads, we even had a mini mosh. Two cool French dudes with piercings got us to write down ‘Courtney Hate’ on a napkin because we “…must be famous!” We got sent to the back of the mosh by a very worried security man but still screamed along to all the words and watched Miss June in awe. Annabel is so supportive and is like a big sister figure to us. It was such a fun night and we were all carefree, lots of smiles and compliments all round.
We have a long way to go but we’ve done pretty fricken well upon reflection. We feel extremely privileged to have been given these amazing experiences (not to say we didn’t work our butts off in the process) and are so thankful to everyone who has supported us and we hope to continue kicking metaphorical butt.