Pin It

Teenage Takeover: Underage Festival Xmas Special

A Christmas special with no tinsel but a strange, nostalgic sparkle as reported by Hannah J Davies and photographed by Lewis Chaplin.

Not being the best timekeeper, I arrived to a queue which stretched hundreds of metres; a parade of males updating the Teddy boy look and girls ‘subconsciously’ battling to be the best-dressed. Needless to say, I was hardly an outlier amongst the rest of the 14-18 year olds gathered outside the Scala in Kings Cross, in a mix of vintage, borrowed and high street fashion. Rachel Cosford from Connected Generation was armed with her SLR, collecting our looks for her style blog as though we were £50 notes falling down a drain; such is our supposed ability to dress.

I digress: musically, Underage offered the cream of the current crop this time around: well-known names such as Metronomy, Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip, Golden Silvers and Rolo Tomassi featured alongside smaller acts like An Experiment On A Bird in The Air Pump, who were showcased in the smaller Artrocker-sponsored New Blood room. It was a bit less packed than the main one, however it still featured an energetic crowd, moshing, pushing, shoving and maybe possibly even dancing, along. They offered stripped down, moody goth-punk along with a masterclass in lash-skimming fringes and mystery. They kept audience participation to a low as relative unknowns, unlike the bigger bands who enjoyed whole crowds singing along with them.

One such collective was Dan le sac vs. Scroobius Pip, whom I enjoyed in the main room. If New Blood is too outré for some, then the main room offered up a comforting taste of mainstream British indie and dance. Dan and Scroob themselves have seen their careers skyrocket in 2007 and 2008 with Glastonbury and Reading appearances, so as their disciples we all faithfully nod along, even as they recycle a band ritual from last summer by covering “Push The Button” by Sugababes.

An Underage event at the Scala feels incredibly different from the Victoria Park affair which has been de rigueur to attend since 2007. It is winter, meaning a long cloakroom queue for heavier coats and an altogether more intimate atmosphere. It’s more organic and less commercial sans the adult crèche, endless TV crews and gimmicky Routemaster bus – a shameless plant from MySpace to sneak their way onto ‘the scene’. The strict ‘once you’re out, you’re out’ policy, as with most venues, and no food on the premises, however, meant that many were starved for the day.

I preferred it this way, even if it was a suitably well behaved affair aspiring to more hedonistic ideals. There was the occasional stop and start of a fight in the mosh, but things were quickly broken up and order resumed. We were not robotic, yet I still laughed when I saw the words “rebellion is the only thing that keeps us alive” projected onto the wall; a quote borrowed from a Marianne Faithfull film which has been dusted off, cut and pasted to fit the mood here. But any sort of rebellion would still warrant a telling-off from strict in-house security. It is as though Underage has been stripped back to its days as a club night run by fellow teen Sam Killcoyne, but is unable to regain its previously low profile.     

Finally wriggling away from the mixed smells of the crowd after a few solid hours, the hideously marked-up £2.50 bottle of Coke was lovely, as was the free water I later discovered. Lazarus-like, I had died down during White Lies’ stellar Smiths-style set, only to rise up again, rejuvenated, during Metronomy. A highlight was the dubstep-infused snake-charmer anthem “Lets Have a Party”, which seemed to sample an inherently cool beat – leaving us feeling as though we’d been knocked out by the Pied Piper’s magic keyboard. Confident, they bantered about kitsch topic matter (Strictly Come Dancing?) whilst we caught the occasional breath.

But the beauty of dancing en masse with a smaller crowd is that, like me, you can sing the “Planet Telex” chorus sampled in “Letter from God to Man” and have people smile, knowing that your Last.FM compatibility has just skyrocketed. You can dance as one or with many and you can mumble beautifully when you just can’t remember the words anymore.

Text by Hannah J Davies | Photography by Lewis Chaplin