What a difference twelve hours makes. When State left Field Day last night, the venue was pretty much in a state of disrepair, a sea of beer cans and mud. Sunday morning comes however, the sun is shining and when we arrive at midday the event is in full swing. The bars have been closed down or replaced by stages, the sniffer dogs have gone back to base and Victoria Park is full of young people. And when we say young people, we mean young people. This is the Underage Festival, where anyone over eighteen (or under fourteen for that matter) is not welcome. Parents leave their precious charges at the gate and any adult not essential to the event cannot making it past the backstage entrance. It’s like Lord Of The Flies for the indie generation.
If that sounds like your worst nightmare we can understand why but this really is a very pleasant experience. The kids are most definitely alright and here for the music rather than an excuse to get off the leash and go wild. Yes, they are pretty much a junior version of yesterday’s audience but you do get a sense of London as a more metropolitan and mixed city today. It’s especially true amongst the many local and young artists playing around the site, where the white kids with guitars desperately want to be American but the black kids with samplers have more of a sense of being British about them.
Whatever their persuasion, the audience arrive early and they get into it from the start. Whereas as Field Day sort of stumbled and tripped into an atmosphere, the energy at is ramped up from the off. Although on the same site, Underage runs with a much smaller capacity, meaning that getting into see some of the bands that eluded us yesterday is no problem. Thus we finally come face to face with The XX. We wish we hadn’t bothered. While the record is genuinely something special, their live show has as much charisma as a wet lettuce – four bored looking teenagers standing in a row pushing buttons and playing guitars with the barest of movement. They are awful but, we repeat, buy the album. First Aid Kit are similarly lacklustre and did we miss the memo that said they were hippies?
At which point we head back to the land of grown-ups for a cup of tea and return to find the place deserted. The world and their girlfriend it seems have gone to watch Hadouken on the Converse Main Stage so we join them. Mistake. Hadouken are an abysmal mash up of metal, techno, rave and whatever else was cool for five minutes one Thursday afternoon last year. Thank the lord then for Marina and The Diamonds. Opening with the absolutely appropriate -Seventeen’ they do for us today what Mumford and Sons did for us 24 hours earlier. They would appear to be equally out of place but Marina’s alternative diva act goes down a storm and they are one of the day’s rousing success stories. As are the only Irish representatives Two Door Cinema Club, who prove to have made an impressive indent on the London circuit and are head and shoulders above the other guitar bands on the bill. Pop melodies mixed with infectious enthusiasm adds up to a winner in our book.
Of all the acts today, one of the most intriguing before hand was Esser. He cuts an odd figure in the flesh with his towering flattop, tattoos and checked shirt. His music is interesting too, nowhere near as manufactured live as it is on record but he still seems an uncertain performer and something doesn’t quite click. Maybe some artists these days are just put in high profile situations before they’re ready and so, not for the first time, we decide to depart for now and check back in a year.
Whether or not Tinchy Stryder is ready to perform live is immaterial, he is comfortably one of the biggest draws, as was Dizzee Rascal last year. You can huff and puff about his mainstream success watering grime down but he is effortlessly entertaining and when the synths kick off at the beginning of -Number 1′ they are literally sprinting across the park to get to him. The excitement continues for Little Boots who, playing a trimmed down set of twenty or so minutes, falls back on the singles and is suddenly a much more enjoyable for it. The Horrors too are much more at home in the darkness of a tent and without Faris’ nightmarish jumper. They can’t overcome the problems of just not being very good though, although it’s a slightly less painful experience than before.
And then, seemingly in a flash, it’s headliner time. Mystery Jets cement their position as a true band of the people, suggesting that – with new label Rough Trade behind them – they could well end up in a far healthier position than ever. Ladyhawke’s live reputation proceeds her / them but sadly not in a good way, although that could well be a good thing. This is certainly not the disaster we were expecting but neither is it anything particularly special, certainly bereft of the sparkle that makes her records quite often a joy.
We’re off to see the Pigeon Detectives. Not a phrase that you’d expect to hear State utter particularly often but, funnily enough, we do have something of a soft spot for the Leeds indie landfillers. It’s not particularly based on their recorded output (jaunty Northern guitar pop) but more their live reputation. As with Gallows last year, they are the perfect act to round things off – a band who realise that this is the very audience they need to connect with and nurture. Both on and off stage is soon a flailing mass of limbs and hair, with the odd snatch of melody breaking through. No-one can pretend that this is earth shattering stuff but to this audience it clearly means the world. “Good luck with growing up an’ that” declares Matt Pigeon as they depart, the sun still beating down. And that goes for us too.
Photos: Briona Stewart and Victor Frankowski – click on images to enlarge