The air in Victoria Park is warm and muggy, as Foals fans in the mandatory uniform of skinny jeans and checked shirts start to melt into puddles of cool. Today, Hackney is host to the world’s only successful alternative music Underage Festival; now in its second year and a phenomenon that has grown to boast an eclectic international line-up this year, from grime grandfather Dizzee Rascal to obscene Brazilian funksters Bonde Do Rolê. Underage isn’t the biggest festival this year, but it’s easily the most significant for teenagers. Every little bit feels like our own – something personal,
a rebellion in the nicest possible way against over-18 gigs everywhere.
First to the NME Stage, where a sweltering tent sees Poppy And The Jezebels’ sweeter-than-thou inoffensive sound getting hands swaying slowly only at the climax of their set, and even then not for very long. Moving swiftly on to the Topman New Music Stage, a crowd gathers to see the replica indie rock of Cheeky Cheeky And The Nosebleeds – a band Chris Moyles will soon be calling “the next Enemy”. Still, despite sounding like every other indie band of the moment, they manage to whip up a frenzy of angry, sweaty boys ripping each other apart.
The instinctive buzz of just being at the festival is begining to fade but is dramatically rescued by frYars, who, despite a crack about security not letting his bassist in because he was called Gary Glitter, has the NME Stage under a charm with his majestic electro, from ‘Olive Eyes’ (which sounds like emotional Europop would if pioneered by Patrick Wolf), through to the haunting melody of ‘happY’. Florence And The Machine’s stripped-down blues manages to lift spirits – particularly ‘Kiss With A Fist’ – with a glittery Florence prancing around in bare feet. Those Dancing Days start a limbo with songs that sound like an art-school Abba, and afterwards we head over to the Converse Century Stage, which is packed with twee boys in tattered pumps crooning “Cradle me, cradle you” to The Maccabees’ scratchy love songs.
Glasvegas are next and fail to provoke a similar riot with their watered-down drums, yet still cause a make-up-streaking tear to roll down every cheek with a bleak ‘Geraldine’. As it reaches 5.30 all other bands are put aside, as if they were just here to build suspense for this moment on the Converse Century Stage. A sea of dolled-up damsels and sweaty collars-up boys surge in, shouting gleefully as grime’s innovator strides on.
From the ADD techno of ‘Stand Up Tall’ right through to shiny-new disco anthem ‘Dance Wiv Me’ the crowd are enraptured by Dizzee Rascal’s every word. By ‘Pussyole (Old Skool)’ all the Dulwich boys are politely chanting “Blud, don’t make me get old skool”, though everyone knows mummy really wanted them to wear bullet-proof vests if they were going into Hackney.
Hot on the tail of Dizzee Rascal are math-pop Oxford drop-outs Foals, making saxophones OK to like again since 2005. A yelping Yannis whips his oily fringe to a crowd of girls who instantly swoon. The frustrated superimposed afro-beat of ‘Hummer’ instantly ignites the dancefloor. “These wasps’ nests, these contexts in your head” whines Yannis as the detonator of their album, ‘Red Socks Pugie’, is let loose. Gallows finish off the day with by far the best stage presence, with a snarling Frank Carter vaulting into the murky swamp of adrenaline with guitar-pummeling punk anthem ‘In The Belly Of A Shark’. Even the fact Frank’s mum is there backstage to “check that he has everything he needs” doesn’t shatter any of his credibility as a hardcore god.