Sam Killcoyne – Underage Festival organiser

May 13, 2007

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Photo: Alicia Canter

Having been turned away from a gig for being underage, most teenagers would scuttle home in shame and take to drinking cider in their local bus shelter. But when Sam Killcoyne was barred from a Buzzcocks show on his 14th birthday, it fired him up to start his own live music and DJ night exclusively for under-18s. It’s held once a month at the Coronet Theatre in London’s Elephant and Castle and punters, club owner and organiser Killcoyne all agree that the Underage Club has proved a phenomenal success. So much so that this summer will see the first underage music festival, in London’s Victoria Park.

The theme will be ‘psychedelic village fete’, complete with a ceilidh, bunting, hay bales, hog roast, tombola, fairground, arcade games and a line-up that features Patrick Wolf, Mystery Jets, I Was a Cub Scout and Pull Tiger Tail. But why would under-18s want to go to an underage festival instead of, say, Glastonbury or Reading? Isn’t it a bit, well, uncool to be hanging around with other kids? ‘There will probably be a few little knobheads who think it’s uncool,’ says Killcoyne, still only 15. ‘But it’s about the music, not about being cool. If you’ve got 150 quid in your bank, you can go to Glastonbury, but otherwise there’s no chance. A lot of people have never been to a festival before and maybe can’t afford to go to one.’

With tickets at just £20, the original plan was to include all under-18s (at the club night, 10-year-olds rub shoulders with 17-year-olds), but the licence restricts sales to 14- to 18-year-olds only. ‘We were pissed off,’ says Killcoyne. ‘We tried so hard to do it for all ages but were told by the police it would be too dangerous.’ At least he has his wish that no parents will be allowed in. ‘They get a creche,’ he says. ‘They can sit down and wait if they want.’

Killcoyne has music in the blood: his father, Barry Smith, formed electro-indie band Add N to (X) in the early Nineties and now, in between running the Horseglue record label and store, helps his son with the Underage venture. ‘Dad helps out with the managers, because managers can be dickheads. I do all the creative stuff like flyers and choosing the bands,’ says Killcoyne, who receives £50 a month for his efforts. He plays down the influence of Add N to (X). All he remembers, he says, is his dad being away on tour a lot, though he admits he ‘only got into really good music when I was 14 and my dad introduced me to Rhys and Faris from the Horrors’.

This particular festival organiser is not generally a fan of festivals. ‘I can’t stand them. Glastonbury was hell. Basement Jaxx and the Killers played but they were both rubbish. I underestimated how muddy it was going to be and I didn’t bring any welly boots. The whole toilet thing really pissed me off. They make me feel sick.’

Tickets to the Underage festival are selling well. As for the future, Killcoyne says enticingly that he has a really bizarre plan, but won’t discuss it. He has already chosen a successor to run Underage, which he will give up when he leaves school, because running an underage night when he is no longer underage ‘would be weird’. The heir to the throne is Chazzer, a 12-year-old friend. ‘I’m not sure what his real name is, but he’s really into his music,’ says Killcoyne approvingly.

This interview first appeared in Observer Review’s Festival special

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