Underage Festival - Victoria Park, London - 8/8/08

02 Sep 2008

rockfeedback's 15 year old boy genius, fred, steps in where the rest of us are too old to legally tread - in to the terrifying world of a festival solely for those aged 14 to 19, with sets from foals, dizzee rascal, gallows, the maccabees, glasvegas and the care bears (who are only 13 themselves) amongst those on offer.

(As you are probably aware, those over 18 are not allowed in to review the Underage Festival. Kindly, here, Fred Mikardo Greaves - a 15 year old boy genius - does the honours for us. Against normal Rockfeedback policy, we also include his comments on a few bands housed on our sister label Transgressive Records, because it struck us as rude to silence the fella. Here's his recanting of the events of this overcast yet brilliant August afternoon in full...)

Underage Festival 2008. Horrendous spelling mistakes, shifting stage times, the British summer - and yet, at the end, none of it mattered.

On the London Overground service from Richmond to Hackney Wick, I began to truly wonder if this day would be worth the £25 I had already given to it. The omens for the coming hours were not good - we had narrowly missed the 10:42 train, and the 10:57 had been cancelled (probably all part of Boris Johnson's master plan). As we crawled into Willesden Junction, the sky, which had been looking like a grim patchwork of grey hues all morning, decided to unload its watery excess on us. At the same time, a group of pre-pubescent tweens filed, the embodiment of fluorescent annoyance, into our carriage and promptly took up the loud and overbearing conversation of how "hardcore" it would be to go and see Gallows, the day's headliners, interspersed with bursts of how they were also "so-f*cking indie". Oh, how we laughed.

White  Williams

(pic: White Williams)

On arrival at Victoria Park, you would have been forgiven for thinking that today was not a day when thousands of adolescents were descending on E9 to drink Coca-Cola and nod appreciatively to the latest big-in-the-scene band. Couples wandered, soggy but happy, among the trees; the children's play area resounded with the tingling of rainwater on monkey bars; high-rises stood stark against the unchanging sky. However, walk on for about 5 minutes and you begin to hear noise - a distant throb at first, growing louder and higher-pitched with each step.

The Count and Sinden

(pic: The Count and Sinden)

Round a corner and you see queues. Lots of queues. Clearly as a nation our youth have been well schooled in this most noble of British traditions. Even arriving 45 minutes after gates opened, the 3 box office lines snaked their way for hundreds of yards, and the lines for entry itself were no better. Thankfully, as a boy, I was able to save myself much time - with the entrance lines split by sex, and seemingly only girls thinking of bringing bags, I managed to slip through in no time at all (bar a quick search of, yes, my bag), and in the ten or so minutes I had to wait for my friend to navigate the maze of the girl's queue, I bought a programme.

Ox Eagle Lion Man

(pic: Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man)

Here is where the problems began. I glanced down to see when some of the acts that I was most wanted to catch would be performing. The first thing that caught my eye was Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man., whose EP The Lay Of The Land, The Turn Of The Tide is possibly the best record this year and who were apparently performing at 2 o'clock at the Red Bull Bedroom Jam stage. However, as I had entered the site, I had heard the monolithic crash of drums that introduced 'The Drowned And The Saved'. It was 12:20. Either someone had started up a very convincing cover band for a group who had only released 7 songs, or the book was lying. I did manage to see the final tracks of their set (in the NME tent), and the stunning 'Motherhood' brought me some way to forgiving the wasting of a whole three of my English pounds, but it was not the same.

Ipso Facto

(pic: Ipso Facto)

After acclimatising, we wandered over to the Converse stage to see our new best friends Care Bears On Fire (we had the previous night caught them at Rough Trade East). Whilst waiting for them to appear, I once again brought out the programme; CARE BEARS ON FIRE, CONVERSE STAGE, 2:30, it proclaimed. The screen at the side of the stage informed us that they would be on at 2:05. The screen was right.

Bombay Bicycle Club

(pic: Bombay Bicycle Club)

However, it was way off the mark when it came to who was actually performing. A performance from "Bombay Motorcycle Club" (sic) would, I feel, have been more intriguing than the by-numbers indie of a similarly named group, and rabbis the world over would have been stroking their beards on seeing that "The Macabes" (sic) would be performing in the late afternoon (the programme was once again not entirely innocent here - apparently at 5:30 the crowd would be treated to a set from "Dizzy Rascal") (sic, sick, SICK.)

Care Bears On Fire

(pic: Care Bears on Fire)

With regards to Care Bears on Fire, the girls didn't let the stage overwhelm them, despite the topless moron behind me who kept on whooping things like "School of Rock, yeah?" at the pre-teen combo. Punching out tight pop-punk riffs, and rocking with the traditional if-you-don't-know-how-to-end-the-song-just-make-lots-of-noise thing that seems unbelievably cool at that age, they won over quite a few fans, even if you couldn't hear anything Sophie sang due to the awful mic-ing.

Polly Scattergood

(pic: Polly Scattergood)

After seeing a few minutes of Polly Scattergood on the compact "Music Space Stage" (terrific, and not in the NME tent as the programme would have us believe) and the last two songs of the fantastic FrYars, my friend and I took a good spot for Those Dancing Days back at the NME tent, who, if we were to believe the serial-fraudster who had written the programme, were on at 3:20. At just before 3, the roadies came out. They were wearing t-shirts proclaiming themselves to be affiliated with S.C.U.M., a band on at another time in another part of the festival, or so we thought. They set up a keyboard. "Fine," I thought, "Those Dancing Days have a keyboard, maybe they're just swapping roadies and the like". They then set up another keyboard. Those Dancing Days don't have two keyboard players. We left.

Those Dancing Days

(pic: Those Dancing Days)

And who should we find, at 3:05 on the Converse Stage but... Those Dancing Days. Fortunately for us, they launched into latest release 'Run Run' just as we tottered into place behind the modestly-sized crowd, and although the sky stayed resolutely sour, the girls washed over the whole site with their sparkling bubblegum pop. Closing with their self-titled debut single and would-be-anthem of last summer, the faces of all present were plastered with beaming smiles. There was even a hint of sunshine. Things were looking up.

XX Teens

(pic: XX Teens)

We did, in fact, check out S.C.U.M. in the end. Very much from the same no-wave scene as Ulterior and Electricity In Our Homes, four young men stared dejectedly into the ether whilst singer Thomas flailed and contorted to their uncompromising, gothic techno. Needless to say, they were absolutely fantastic, one of the brightest (or darkest) lights on the new bands scene. Thomas is an utterly invigorating and oddly beguiling front man, a cross between Patrick Wolf, Faris Rotter and Robert Smith, and debut single and set closer 'Visions Arise' - their only song that anyone could really describe as having a genuine hook - should be hunted down at any cost.

Eugene McGuinness

(pic: Eugene McGuinness performing for Rockfeedback TV)

An hour break or so for food, drink and playing giant Connect 4 in the "Bollocks To Poverty" hutch, and back to the bands we went. As I was finishing off a slice of chocolate cake from a nearby stall (quite good, but a little dry), I found myself standing outside the Topman tent during the Florence And The Machine gig. Two songs from the end, she dropped 'Kiss With A Fist', her latest single and "that one from the 4Music advert". Geographically, there was probably not a worse place to be on site than there all day, bar up against the barrier during Foals (more on that later). Within seconds of the first of her dulcet tones wafting through the park, hundreds upon hundreds of screaming teenagers were flocking under the already crowded tarpaulin to whoop and holler and sing about how getting punched in the face is better than not getting punched in the face, leaving me flailing and getting icing on my nose.

When I last saw The Maccabees in May last year (on my birthday, if I recall correctly), they were a thrilling live prospect, with guitars and bass picking out angular yet beautiful melodies as singer Orlando yelped about wave machines and lego and many more of life's simple pleasures. This year, the band tried to repeat the formula, but seemingly a long time away has left the fans and the group a tad uninterested. Or maybe they're just rusty. The crowd took a while to get into songs, trying to again place a band who had once occupied such a dear place in their hearts, and Orlando seemed entirely bored, hunched over his microphone in a beanie hat, recalling the manner of the buffoonish Does It Offend You, Yeah?. We all stood and wondered; had they lost the spark that made them so invigorating 18 months ago?


(pic: Frayrs)

No, they hadn't. Mid-set, the band seemed to realise that they needed to turn it up a notch, and they duly obliged. 'X-Ray' prompted mass bopping from all concerned, 'Toothpaste Kisses' charmed everyone into a mass sing along, and 'First Love' was the catalyst for both weeping and whooping once again. "We figured we should play you some songs you were already familiar with," remarked Orlando after 'Tissue Shoulders' - it was the best decision that they could have made.

Dizzee Rascal

(pic: Dizzee Rascal)

Now, a dilemma for my friend and I; we are both huge fans of Dizzee Rascal, and we wanted to see him. On the other hand, we are also huge fans of Foals, and wanted to see them. On the basis that we both liked Foals a teeny bit more, and that Dizzee hasn't released a good single since 'Sirens', we opted for the latter, especially as we had a good hour until they were on and could find ourselves a great spot during Glasvegas' set.


(pic: Glasvegas)

A quick note on Glasvegas - they are an awful band. They play dull, by-numbers indie-rock based on music that was boring 50 years ago, and is now both boring and dated. Every single song in their canon sound the same due to the fact each one of them plods along for 4 minutes on the same most basic of chord progressions, their drummer cannot do anything except churn out primitive and predictable beats, and yet they are somehow being lauded as the best new group in the country. Something is wrong.


(pic: Foals)

At 5:30, everyone in the half-full tent became feverish and hushed, squinting intently and scouring the stage for the merest hint of Foals. By 6:00, people were doing the same thing, except now the noise was cacophonous and the tent was packed tighter than Terry Wogan. They teased us - Yannis trotted out for a few seconds to sort out something or other, Jack treated us to a brief drum masterclass - but by 6:20 nothing had happened, and the tent was reaching fever pitch.

Then they emerged, as elegantly ramshackle as ever, and the crowd... crazy is nowhere near a strong enough word. The next 45 minutes are, for me, one utterly joyous blur, which I will attempt to summarise in setlist order.

'XXXXXXX'; People going crazy. Unbearable tension.

'The French Open': The barrier buckling and the stewardess complaining ("d'air sur la terre!").

'Cassius'; People going crazier. People scaling the rafter in the centre of the tent.

'Olympic Airways'; CrowdsurfersCrowdsurfersCrowdsurfers.

'Balloons'; More, more madness. Edwin's atrocious facial hair.

'Heavy Water'; The idiotic nu-rave revivalist breaking a glowstick and the innards spilling all over my face, making it burn horrifically through two of my favourite songs.

'Two Steps, Twice'; Agony. Seeing my friend Callum jumping towards me. The pain receding.

'Hummer'; HUMMER. HUMMER. HUMMER. HUMMER. Absolute madness, chaos. The greatest 3 minutes of my young life.

'Red Socks Pugie'; Sweat pouring off me, the faces, the walls, everywhere. Yet more craziness in the chorus.

'Electric Bloom'; The crowd singing every word, both uplifting and terrifying ("it's just another hospital...").

'Mathletics'; Seemed like an afterthought on the part of Yannis & Co. No-one's complaining. In fact, everyone dancing and jumping and still crazier.

If you were at Gallows instead, or at least not part of the stampede over to Foals prompted by the first notes of 'XXXXX', shame on you. A special mention to everyone there, especially those who, if you were in the audience, were on the left.


(pic: Gallows)

Still recovering, my shirt torn, my hair mattered, my smile from ear to ear, I saw a little of Gallows in between trips into the merchandise tents (where I also managed to pick up a copy of the Spank Rock debut, which I have not been able to find anywhere, for just £6 - much props Rough Trade). They did, indeed, inspire some spirited troops, and got a huge circle pit going at one point, but I had just seen one of the greatest gigs of my life, and it all appeared clichéd and feeble to me.

The lines outside Mile End tube mimicked those of 9 hours before of Victoria Park. Still in its teething stages (fitting, really), the festival will hopefully mature into a national institution over the next few years, as it is a truly unique and wonderful event. The communal spirit is fantastic, the setting is lovely, and, all things considered, many aspects can be considered a triumph.

All photography copyright Sol Archer 2008

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