Here is a piece I did on the underage bands phenomenon for the US edition of Vice Magazine.
Holy shit, it’s the future of rock and roll! And the future of rock and roll hasn’t started having its period yet. There is definitely something great about looking at little kids playing in bands. Like how a bass guitar is sort of bigger than most of their tiny little bodies and that they have to put cushions on their drum stool to reach the crash cymbal. Haha. It’s like watching the cute show on VBS come to life and play show tunes in human form. And what’s more being kids they are way ahead of all of you lazy, tired, self obsessed, beer-gut bores who sit in pubs talking about how great that Seven Ages Of Rock show was on Saturday night that you watched while you were having a quiet ‘cokey one’ in. You all deserve to die. Here is your replacement.
These bright eyed bunnies are utilising online social networking, peer to peer downloads and all-ages shows across the UK to play live, get their music available for free, meet kids just like themselves and laugh and jump up and down and fun stuff like that. They have a created a nationwide DIY network that in a weird way is closer in spirit to the early 80’s hardcore underground than pretty much anything since. Instead of letters, zines and 7’s these kids are using Livejournal, Myspace and BitTorrent. Its sort of like a Black Flag Van tour set in Tron. All of this is totally terrifying for the music industry. You’ve got to remember that these guys are basically like the Tory party: fat, white, middle-class and totally out of touch. Except that they kid themselves into thinking that they know what is happening because PR’s email them all day and hey! If your inbox is full of new bands and you go down the Buffalo Bar once every three months you totally know what’s up right?
When the underage thing began to take off these dinosaurs shat a kidney. The usual channels had been subverted and suddenly there were hundreds of kids hanging out at Way Out West and Underage in Elephant. Clueless as to how to convert a bunch of kids who just drink coke and ran around all day then sing about it into label success the underage nights became a&r gangfucks with pretty creepy overtones. It was like band sex-tourism with acts getting signed just because they didn’t have pubes regardless of what they played. Leo Silverman who runs Brille records told us it was a pretty heavy scene down there: “I felt like a single spermatozoa swimming around with basking sharks all gulping at straws”. Wow. We talked to four bands that have come out of the whole thing with deals and their integrity intact as well as young Sam Kilcoyne who is sort of like Albert Grossman of the whole thing.
Talking to Sam Kilcoyne is kind of scary. He has a voice like a thousand yard stare. What were you doing when you were 14? Listening to Skee-Lo and trying not to get caught beating off that’s what. Sam listens to Suicide and puts on Underage in Elephant & Castle, the night that set the standard for under-18’s nights in London. He has booked a whole festival this August in Hackney that will be like a big celebration of the fact that Underage is the best party in town. But none of you can come because you are all too old.
Vice: What was the original idea behind Underage?
Sam: The only place where you could go and see good bands if you were under 18 was Way Out West and living in South-East London we couldn’t even afford the train fare. Instead of going to the Ivy House, which was the only shitty venue in Peckham, we just put our own night on. I literally just wanted to see the Horrors and that was it. I had no intention of it being a regular thing. We did it and a lot of kids thought it was the best thing that they had ever been to and a massive percentage of them thought that it was the shittest thing that they had ever seen.
What is your booking policy at the club?
I don’t know. Whatever I’m into at that moment in time. All I want is The Liars and Suicide to play my night and I’ll be happy. Out of the acts we’ve had Black Lips were amazing, Second Sex were shit hot and Tiny Masters are unreal. If a band is 15 and they have a great look and everyone loves them I still I won’t book them if I think they’re shit. Fuck ‘em.
And what is your policy with regards to over 18’s trying to get into the night?
Fuck off home. Go somewhere else. What are you doing here?
How about the a&r’s that look desperately at what gets booked at Underage as a litmus test for what they should be signing?
It’s a fucking joke; every band has got a manger now for a start. If a band wants to play let them play. It’s pathetic. Everyone has a preference to Virgin or whatever and we constantly get hassle from the majors. Calls from Polydor saying can we get all these names on the list. When Patrick Wolf played I almost lost it. There were about 100 people on the list and that is for a guy who already has a major label deal.
How about the other nights that have a ripped you off?
I might not like the nights themselves but I love that people are doing it. It’s gone from no choice to as much choice as possible. I think there should just be more and we should all keep pushing it.
How important has online technology and social networking sites been to making Underage possible?
I am a lazy fucker so I don’t flier. I put it up on Myspace and who comes comes. So yeah, without that no night. I probably should be out there force-feeding my flier to every teenager there is but I really can’t be bothered.
What happens when you are 18?
Once I’ve done the festival in August I might do a couple more then I’m either putting a line under it or passing it on to someone younger. I think it’s a good idea and should be carried on. I’m no rush to put on an adult night, there are so many in London that to make it work you better make it pretty fucking extraordinary. So I’m taking it to Paris.
The Underage Festival takes place in Victoria Park in Hackney on the 10th of August
Pull In Energency
Pull In Emergency are all 14 apart from Frankie who plays the guitar and is actually so old that he is having to do GCSE’s. Half of them were in a band before that only wrote songs about loosing your socks. Or the band name had something to do with socks. They don’t remember. The first song they wrote is about being stuck on one of those long busses that snake around central London all joined up with accordions. It’s called Bendy.
VICE: Hi Alice, your manager told us you were at Sports Day.
Alice (guitar): Our Manager?
A guy called Alex?
Oh Alex, yes. Haha, he is only 19. He plays in that band The More Assured. He looks after us though.
It is very quiet. Are you sure that you are at Sports Day?
Erm. No actually. I pretended I was sick. I hate Sports Day. Please don’t print that though.
You sound pretty posh.
We all go to Public School. We all work fairly hard. The band fits in around school I guess. We all knew each other from school apart from Frankie, we met him after our first gig.
Where was that?
At Nambucca in Holloway. We were all 13 and the show started really early. There must have been 50 11 year olds crammed in there before the bouncers even turned up. I don’t think they knew what to do with us.
How do your parents react to you playing in places where people are drinking and smoking and stuff?
They are supportive but they don’t really know what goes on. If I let them come to more shows maybe they would.
How does playing somewhere like Nambucca compare to playing an underage show?
For a lot of the kids that go to the underage shows that is their whole scene. It is something they feel a part of and they just go to those nights. That is great but all ages shows are really fun as well. It is more of a mix of people. We played All Ages at Dingwalls that was really good. If you have a fake passport and look old enough you can get out there and do other stuff. I Dj in a collective called the Straight Necklin Crew and we play all over town.
What sort of stuff do you play out?
21 Seconds by the So Solid Crew always seems to go down well.
Emergency Pull In have a single forthcoming on Mute Irregulars.
Tiny Masters Of Today
Tiny Masters Of Today really are tiny. When they started out they were only 10 and 12 years old making other kiddie bands in the US like Smoosh look like the Grateful Dead. Twelve months later and as well as being a year older they have a gained a drummer. His name is Russell Simins and he used to play in some band called the Jon Spenser Exploding Blues or something and they have a recorded an album with a hand from Karen O, Nick Zinner, Kimya Dawson and even Gibby Haynes from The Butthole Surfers. We caught up with the Tiny Masters on the first day of Summer Vacation.
Vice: So, Summer vacation. You guys excited?
Ivan (guitar): Nope. It’s too hot to do anything.
Ada (bass): I just slept over at my friends house and I am going to camp for two weeks. It will be fun, real outdoorsy.
Over in the UK there are a lot of underage and all-ages shows. Do you guys play those kind of shows in the US?
Ivan: Sometimes. We played an all ages show at a place called Pete’s Candy Store. That was fun. We also play a lot of adult venues though with a bunch of adults as well as kids.
Ada: At the shows that aren’t all-ages there are lots of adults. It was really weird at first you know that adults would want to come and see us but I am used to it now.
Do the old people ever go crazy?
Ivan: I guess sometimes. They dance a bit or whatever. Once a drum tom fell off the drum kit and this guy picked it up and started dancing all over the place with it like he was crazy. And another time some guy threw a bottle at us. I don’t think he was mad, I think he was just maybe drunk or something. My dad went crazy at him though.
How did you find the kids in the UK compared to the US?
Ada: Everybody was nice. No one was mean to us and the shows went well.
Ivan: The UK kids are much cooler.
Ivan: Yeah, they just kind of dress cooler.
Did any girls come on to you because you were in the band?
Ivan: Maybe once.
What was she like?
Ivan: She was very pretty.
OK. How was it making a track with Karen?
Ivan: Very easy. We just made the track and she sang the vocals.
Ada: The studio was awesome, I had a big stack of Harry Potter books to read.
Do you guys want to play in bands forever?
Ivan: Maybe. I guess so.
Ada: I think I would like to be a writer or an Egyptologist. Maybe a rock star part-time.
Tiny Masters Of Today have an forthcoming album on Mute Irregulars released August 6th.
Poppy and The Jezebels
Poppy and the Jezebels are from Birmingham. Despite being outside of the London network these 15 year olds have not let that stop them playing shows for well over a year now. Maybe it’s because they are removed from the capital but their music does not share the frenzied pace of London’s under-age bands. They sound closer to the Velvet Underground but being played by 4 Nico’s instead of just one.
Vice: How’s Birmingham?
Dom: It’s good. We had an inset day today so we’ve been out charity shopping.
None of the kids we have spoken to have actually been at school when I’ve called. I’m pretty disappointed. Do you actually go to school?
Dom: Yes. I don’t enjoy it much but I like art. Music lessons are shit, they never encourage you to do what you want to do. They just make you sing a stupid song and all the instruments are really old.
How is it being an all girl under-age band?
Dom: We did actually have a boy in the band before. He played drums before we met Mollie. He was very unreliable though.
Amber: We played a show once and we were standing by the stage getting ready to go on and some boy was all like “check out the groupies”. You just ignore that.
How does the Birmingham under-age scene compare to London?
Poppy: It’s different. There are very few under-age specific nights but a lot of all-ages nights that are good mix of really young kids and older people. We’ve played all ages in shitty pubs and skate parks. All over really.
Mollie: In London it is a real scene and the young kids go really crazy but if you are not a band they know or friends with them a straight under-age crowd can be quite judgemental. At an adult gig they have usually come for just the music, there is no scene or trying to impress people.
Dom: We’ve played with The Nightingales a few time in Birmingham. We even played the Wulfrun Hall with them. That was good.
You are signed to a subsidiary of Reveal did you notice a lot of industry attention at your shows?
Amber: It’s really weird. Through Myspace you get contacted all the time by all these a&r guys who want to be on the list but because you don’t know who they are or what they look like you never know if they are there. You can usually spot them though, older people standing at the back staring that aren’t parents. It’s pretty creepy.
Faceless a&r guys. Weird. Sounds like that Mr Smith guy in the Matrix.
Poppy: A bit like that yes. We are just lucky, my Dad looks after us and we are signed to a really cool label.
Poppy and The Jezebels have an EP forthcoming on Reveal Records.