How good is your general music knowledge? How well do you know your lyrics? And how many notes does it take you to recognise a classic banger?
Don’t worry, I’m not about to test you on anything.
But if you want to keep up with RocKwiz, you should probably brush up on those pub trivia skills.
The year was 2002. The venue was Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne’s Prahran suburb. Three guys came up with the idea for a TV show combining two elements: music and trivia. So they shot a pilot episode.
A rad idea, right? What could be more entertaining than watching a “rock quiz” featuring different musicians performing live in each episode? Strangely enough, no Australian network saw it that way at the time.
Let’s fast-forward a couple of years spent trying to convince TV bosses that RocKwiz is an attractive format. It wasn’t until 2005 that the show was finally picked up by SBS. A new host was found, and the first season was aired, yielding pretty good ratings. Optimistic enough to produce 13 more seasons and numerous specials.
But there is another plot twist in this story.
The show’s successful TV run came to a halt in 2016. After that, RocKwiz became a touring venture, with performances at festivals and other music events. Then, the pandemic hit. And the rest is history.
But, as the saying goes, “old flames never die”. So the music trivia resurfaced in 2022, announcing its “back on the road” live tour. Rumour has it that RocKwiz is making its comeback to the silver screen as well, albeit in the paid version this time.
So what’s the recipe for this TV “resurrection”?
The show’s idea is not revolutionary, after all. It’s not the only format of its kind, either. ABC’s Spicks and Specks and, more recently, The Set are similar and equally successful TV programs blending songs and jokes.
My guess is it’s the Aussies’ pub trivia fondness, plus the “entertaining mix of celebrities, chat, music, and comedy” that have made RocKwiz such a successful brand Down Under.
Much of its splendour is surely owed to the host, Julia Zemiro – an actress, singer, writer, comedian and radio and TV personality. She is aided by the scorer and “adjudicator” Brian Nankervis, the show’s original co-creator. The two make a pretty entertaining pair.
As you’d expect from any music program, there’s a house band, aka The RocKwiz Orkestra, too. It includes some popular musicians, like Vika & Linda Bull, who frequently take on the backing vocals duties. And it looks like in 2023, art-pop artist Olympia is joining the club on guitars and lead vocals.
Now, let’s talk about the guests.
It’s impossible to list every musician who has graced RocKwiz‘s stage with their presence over the years. But you might be familiar with these names, for example, Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Julia Stone, Courtney Barnett or Vance Joy. International artists, such as Kimbra, Passenger and Kurt Vile, have also appeared on the show.
The usual recording place at the stunning Gershwin Room, which belongs to The Espy in St Kilda and is one of my all-time fav Aussie venues, surely helped create the fun atmosphere. That’s when the quiz was still stationary in Melbourne. Some special episodes have also been recorded at Bluesfest in Byron Bay.
And if you’re keen to find out what the whole hype is all about, there are occasional reruns on SBS Viceland.
In 2019, the show was rebranded as RocKwiz LIVE!
In my humble view, it was a smart and necessary move for the trivia’s longevity. It gives audiences in other cities Down Under the chance to participate in live tapings and get a glimpse of the action behind the scenes.
But enough of the history. You’re probably wondering about the trivia part.
When it comes to testing the contestants’ music knowledge, the show’s creators have come up with various rounds over the years. Some of them had only short stints on RocKwiz, while others are permanent segments.
Here, it’s worth mentioning that mere mortals like you and me could potentially participate in the show if we luckily found ourselves amongst the live audience on the recording day. One of the first rounds of the show, known as Ready Steady RocKwiz, is meant to find the finalists for the two teams in each episode. In the beginning, it was a part of the live recording, but now it’s done off-air.
The rest of the segments are generally structured around guessing song titles, introducing guest appearances, reminiscing about famous bands or guitar riffs or discussing a music-related subject. It’s no surprise then that the rounds’ names are taken from notable lyrics or little-known music facts.
Thirty-Three and a Third, a round that was introduced in season 11, is a cool example of that. Its title alludes to the number of revolutions per minute of a vinyl album. The point of the segment is to answer as many questions as possible in the span of 33 and 1/3 seconds.
On the other hand, Who Can it Be Now? is a round in which the contestants try to figure out who the musical guests for their episode are, based on the clues read out by the host. If you’re a fan of Men At Work, you’ll know that the segment’s title comes from the Aussie band’s song, released in 1981.
And on that note (pun intended) – the live bit, obviously, plays a huge role in the whole concept. There are heaps of archived clips with awesome duets or beautiful solo performances available on RocKwizTV. I particularly like this one by Kira Puru.
And if not on YouTube, then check out the rest of the streaming platforms for more RocKwiz music. A few albums with memorable renditions or celebrating special occasions, like Christmas, have been released over the years.
Last but not least, here comes the best part. RocKwiz has been back on the road since 2022. And they’ve already visited a bunch of places in Oz.
But there are still three more live shows to go between the end of March and the beginning of April 2023: in Swan Hill (VIC), Perth (WA) and Newcastle (NSW).
Miraculously, tickets are also still available. You can grab them here.
Plus, as far as I understand, all those live tapings from the recent tour will be aired as 30-minute episodes on Foxtel’s Fox 8 platform starting on Friday, February 24.
So who knows, maybe you can become a RocKwiz star for an evening.
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