One day, one venue, eight thousand teenagers, no adults and a load of bands. Present this scenario to anyone in Ireland and they invariably shudder, images of the youth gone wild. But, as we have said before, London’s Underage Festival is not just a pleasant surprise to those expecting the worst, it is probably one of State’s favourite days out of the year. Take away the alcohol and less than joyful atmosphere of some events and replaced with a sheer happiness to be here and you have a winning recipe. It doesn’t hurt that the bands are none too shabby either. An 11am start certainly separates the men from the boys, or in this case the women. Ellie Goulding is well used to the rigors of the pop promo circuit and approaches her twenty minute set with sparkling professionalism. Such a small dose is quite enough for us but to the kids literally sprinting across the field to get to the main stage she is the day’s first hero. Compare her with Pulled Apart By Horses, who amble on to the Top Man Stage, complain about the hour and never manage to engage.
In fact, traditional indie fares badly to day. Next to the high energy urban pop acts, most of them come up well short. Egyptian Hip-Hop may be hotly tipped in certain sectors but they are flat and unconvincing, Stornoway too earnest for today’s crowd, The Courteeners are nothing more than sub-average, while the Red Bull Stage features a succession of dire emo bands. At least Darwin Deez know how to entertain. Kicking off with a formation hip-hop dance routine, they are huge fun and if their rough and ready US indie doesn’t always convince we are still enormously disposed towards them. There is something a little surreal about seeing Los Campesinos! perform with flashing Tango images behind them but they have their moments of inspiration amongst the petulant shoutiness. Band of the day, though, are our own General Fiasco, who draw a good crowd to the Youth Music stage and are fantastic, their previously ho hum songs sounding like serious contenders. This time last year we saw Two Door Cinema Club play to a lot less people so all bodes well for the Northerners.
If Underage provides a sense of what the next generation of music audience is listening to, then the future is most definitely urban. Dubstep, grime and hip-hop are everywhere – Annie Mac even has her own stage. It is these artists who also provide many of the best performances, band or no band. Last year’s big star Tinchy Stryder is back but seems to have an air of yesterday’s man about, his place taken by Tinie Tempah‘s exuberant main stage slot. Professor Green is the best of the lot, upping the game with a full supporting cast. Sending a packed tent wild with ‘I Need You Tonight’, the realisation dawns that the Underage masses aren’t here because these guys are pop stars, but because it was them that helped them gain that status.
As the evening draws in and the atmosphere begins to wain, we need a top rate headliner slot to finish things off. We certainly won’t get it from the awful Crystal Castles but when the disembodied voice calls us all to the stage for the start of MIA‘s projected one hour set a genuine sense of excitement re-enters the arena, fueled perhaps by the death threat rumours that have been circulating. Twenty five minutes of a DJ playing largely obscure electro and hip-hop later, the moment is largely lost. Then three women in burkas appear, followed by a shrill female hype MC and finally MIA herself. It rapidly becomes clear that her curtailed stage time is a blessing rather than a curse. Tuneless album tracks are given even more tuneless renderings and the flashy visuals and dancers can’t disguise the fact that this is truly awful, the worst performance we have seen from a major name in ten years. She says something about sound problems in America and this being old school shit (only two words off the truth) but by this stage people are flooding away. The Clash sample that finally signals the song that everybody wants to hear draws a reaction but is followed by a vocal so horrific that mere words cannot do it justice. Then she goes, having taken our money and given nothing back. The eighteen year olds who will be too old to return next year, and Underage in general, deserved so much more.