Underage and proud of it

Armed only with most of her cash and all of her critical faculties, Helen Owen travelled from the Peak District to the big city to report from the summer’s most innovative festival experience

Patrick Wolf
The blessed Patrick Wolf

Pull Tiger Tail
Pull Tiger Tail give it some stick

Quieter times
Early days: all quiet on the festival front


On Friday 10 August, in Victoria Park, London, around 5,000 of Britain’s most hip and music-savvy youngsters gathered for the Underage Festival, the first ever credible festival for under-18s, featuring headliners Patrick Wolf, Boy Kill Boy and Jack Penate.

At least, that’s what the old folk would lead you to believe. What actually happened on 10 August was about 5,000 people between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, none of whom would describe themselves as ‘hip’, ‘savvy’ or ‘youngsters’ in a million years, went to Victoria Park to see the Pigeon Detectives, Crystal Castles, Foals and catch one of the headliners if they could.

My sister and I headed down to the event from Manchester, staying overnight with my aunt and going to the actual festival by Tube. It was ridiculously exciting. We got lost in Mile End and ended up asking a real-life Cockney for directions. He was driving a cab and everything; sorry – I mean “everyfink”.

By the time we arrived there were hoards of super-cool teenagers loitering about on the grass and a fair number of not-so-super-cool parents standing just close enough to their offspring to keep an eye on them but far enough away that their offspring could ignore them entirely. We sat around for a bit, waiting for the scary-looking people in orange to open the gates and I asked my sister if everyone there was cooler than me. Then I sat in glue, twice, making the answer a definite yes. My inferiority complex was fed some more when the people from Style magazine asked pretty much everyone except me for a “quick chat” and a photo of the stuff they were wearing. Even the idiot who’d come out in the glorious sunshine to spend the whole day dancing in a bloody leather jacket got asked. And the kid with lime-green drainpipes on, with matching trucker-cap. And the boy with a peroxide blonde, pudding-basin haircut. I was not a happy bunny.

The first band we went to see was the Displacements. I’d never heard of them before, but in my extortionately priced programme – which some little sod nicked, might I add – it said they were influenced by the Clash, the Who and the Damned, so I figured they might be OK. They weren’t. They were brilliant! (See what I did there? Aren’t I clever!) Their songs were great, they were full of energy and seemed to be really enjoying themselves. The bassist waved a can of Stella Artois at us, mocking the fact that our bar was non-alcoholic, despite the fact the singer himself was not yet eighteen. (Although most groups seemed to ignore the fact they were playing to an underage audience, every so often it would get pointed out. Kid Harpoon used the fact to suck up to us all, telling us we’re “better than those old fogies (he’s) used to playing to”. Most of them just laughed at us though. I remember one particular comment from the Pigeon Detectives. The answer is no, I will not save up the money from my paper-round to buy your record. For one thing, I don’t have a paper-round.)

After the Displacements, my sister and I went to get some chips. On the Tube we’d been discussing prices of food, etc, and wondering, rather optimistically, whether they would be sympathetic to the plight of us poor young ’uns and so charge a little less. They weren’t. Think along the lines of £1.50 for a bottle of water, £2 for Coke and no less than £4 for a pineapple and mint smoothie (a strange combination, but well worth a try). Nonetheless, we needed something to do while the horrible Metros were on and stuffing our faces seemed like the best idea. Certainly better than listening to them, anyway. Unfortunately it did mean that I felt quite sick through most of the Crystal Castles set, though that may well have been the fact I was dancing like a maniac while simultaneously trying to crane my neck around the security people who insisted on standing right in front of me and avoiding getting my head crushed by over-enthusiastic crowd-surfers who insisted on landing on top of me. Not that crowd-surfing was allowed, of course. Far too dangerous. We are only young after all, and each of us a delicate flower in need of protection from not only the outside world but from ourselves, protection given by terrifyingly fat, terrifyingly short and ear-splittingly loud black women and their huge, muscular male counterparts. (In actual fact, the security was great. On account of the ridiculously high temperatures, they squirted water into the mouths of the front rows and chucked bottles out to be passed around for the rest of the crowd. Mind you, each and every one of them was a crap shot – I think I got more water up my nose in the Blood Red Shoes set alone than I did that time I went swimming and forgot to take my head out of the water before breathing in.)

I’m going to fast-forwards a few hours now, because if I don’t this review is going to take several millennia to write. I’ll miss the bit with the Rumble Strips on a golf-cart, and the small pink book that nearly gave the drummer of Blood Red Shoes concussion. I’ll even miss out the fact I got smiled at by the singer of Pull Tiger Tail, and grabbed both the singer and the guitarist of Foals when they danced by during their set (this was very odd, as I had exactly no desire to touch either of them until I could, when it suddenly and inexplicably became the most important thing in the world). And I’ll certainly miss out all the times I lost my sister, because my dad’s going to read this and I want him to think the whole trip ran perfectly smoothly. Which it did, of course…

I’m going to skip to the Patrick Wolf set. He was the last act I saw, though I stayed in the tent he was playing in for three sets beforehand. They were all very good, might I add, Foals especially. I’d never heard them before, so I asked the guy next to me – sporting a thoroughly questionable hair-cut and a bizarre pair of trousers – if they were any good. He said, and I quote, “Oh, they’re brilliant! Really brilliant! And I mean, like, really, really, amazingly brilliant! Oh, they’re so brilliant…  Brilliant…” He was right, too. Anyway, back to Patrick Wolf. About halfway through the Pull Tiger Tail set, I realised with some horror that almost every other person in there was waiting for Wolf, and that at least two thirds were girls who were totally in love with him. (The girl in front of me had been in there the whole day, right at the front and right in the middle, just waiting for him. I wouldn’t have minded this much but she kept complaining about it being hot and that she was getting squashed. I was like, “It’s a gig, tit-face. What did you expect?” And she wouldn’t clap or dance for any of the other bands, except Patrick Wolf. And she had a friend called Flora. Yes, like the spread.) While his roadies were setting up, all I could hear was, “Oh my God, is Patrick going to come on soon? How long is it till Patrick comes out? Oh, he’s so hot! I love him! Patrick, Patrick, Patrick!” Then the chanting began. Squeaky teen-girl voices rose all around me. Bangled wrists rose and started to wave. The crush got so that I could barely breathe. Glittery eye make-up shone in the half-light. You could practically taste the hormones. And the chanting, always the chanting! I thought to myself, “Oh Good Lord, I am going to die!” And, as it happened, I nearly did.

I was doing OK for most of the set. I mean, I’d stayed on my feet and hadn’t yet killed Flora and her whining friend. I’m not a huge Patrick Wolf fan but I have his latest album and have seen a few videos on YouTube, so I was able to sing along well enough to not anger the super-fans that surrounded me. But then, he did it. He threw a bit of his shirt into the crowd next to me.

The doctors say that I’ll probably be able to walk again in a few months but till then I’m confined to a wheelchair. I have to get someone else to wheel me around though – the damage to my arms was so intense that they’re pretty much useless now. I don’t blame Patrick Wolf – it wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t to know that this simple act of flamboyant showmanship would turn into the horrifying blood bath that it did. No, I don’t blame him.

I blame Flora.

Helen Owen is now safely back at school



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