Stefan Kucharczyk witnesses the phenomenal rise of a Wolverhampton rock night for teens...
In the dusty recesses of my brain, lie the deeply suppressed memories of a distant era. It is 1993, I am 12 years old and forced, against reason, to the social event of the season: the school youth club.
Resplendent in gold cords and honking new red jumper, if it hadn't been for the fact that I was a long standing occupant of the social periphery usually reserved for lepers and Maxi Priest fans, I could have been John Travolta's younger self.
In 1993, 'fun' events for the under-age consisted of either the parish disco or, as the lesser of two evils, said youth club. With rectal surgery maybe more preferable to being spotted at a Church of England disco (perish the thought, even now), the youth club unduly prevailed.
Nervously hiding from girls and the larger of my peers (that would be the rest of the demographic, then) and a dance floor paralytic even then, the sensation currently taking Wolverhampton by storm was merely the stuff of dreams.
Generation is the under-18s nightclub phenomenon run at Wolverhampton's Wulfrun Hall every fortnight. With its ethos of 'safety for all', 11 to 17 year olds can dance a Friday night away to some of Wolverhampton's hottest DJs.
The event is the brainchild of Civic boss Mark Blackstock, and was intended to compliment the Civic Hall's extensive schedule of music events such as the weekly disco-pop injection, Cheeky Monkey, and the near-legendary rock night Blast Off which cater for the over-18s.
With a string of special events, dynamic vibe and (parents: exhale now) a strict policy on no-drinking inside, or before entering, the venue, Generation is intended to reach out to the city's blossoming army of younger rock devotees.
Oddly, the event met a lukewarm reception from the city's youngsters when it was launched in 2002 and looked certain to be following my forlorn school club to the graveyard of well-meaning youth initiatives.
However, the last six months have seen Generation enjoy a surge in popularity and the event has begun selling out to its venue capacity. The last event, on Friday, was long sold out.
Civic Hall representative, Jonn Penney, chalks up the recent boom to a shift in the modern music trends.
"Music styles have changed in the four years [Generation] has been going and music is now more accessible such as on television, radio and the net," he said.
The return of rock music to the mainstream charts and with the flourishing of radio-friendly, accessible punk rock acts has undoubtedly helped the event refine its image. Dishing up a tasty play-list of punk rock, old and new, such rock veterans, Green Day, and the splurge of new rock and metal bands such as Fallout Boy, Automatic and AFI has helped Generation to start packing in the crowds.
"Four years ago we had only 200 attend the event - now we get 1,000 along. A sell out each time", observes Jonn.
Of course, the success of an under-18s events cannot depend on the music alone. Maintaining strict safety and security is a huge factor in convincing parents to allow their children to attend.
With many revellers attending from rival schools, problems with violence and, of course, under-aged drinking stands as a major obstacle that has undermined similar events in the past.
Jonn argues that while the Civic and Wulfrun want the event to be fun, safety is a major priority: "We offer security inside and outside the venue to keep an eye on those who attend."
Mark Sillitoe, a Generation regular, agrees that safety inside the event is one of its major attractions.
"Security inside is pretty good," noted Mark. "If any trouble happens, the people involved get thrown out. It is very rare though."
Mark, 16 from Wolverhampton, is currently in the middle of studying for his GCSEs and with his last exam on Thursday, Generation is the perfect place for him and his friends to relax: "Generation has a great atmosphere and the people there are just really friendly. It is a great place to meet new friends."
He thinks the high demand for tickets has more to with the event's reputation than the music.
He comments, "The word has spread. There used to be about six of us who went regularly. Now loads of people from my school go. It really feels like a community."
Similarly, Kooks fan Amy Marsh from Wolverhampton is also in the middle of her exams. She is adamant that Generation has done a lot for the young people of the city: "I don't like all of the music they play, but it is a great chance for young people to go out and hang out with friends."
"I never feel threatened there - it has a really great atmosphere."
Generation may thank current music trends, or even greater publicity, for its recent success, but the real factor behind its current, meteoric rise surely lies in its approach to running the night.
Offering a safe, nonpatronising, and genuinely fun evening indicates that authorities in the city are starting to think more creatively in their response to youth crime and the high-profile issues of under-aged drinking.
By taking its younger population seriously, this growing phenomenon is leaving the youth club as a relic of the past, and leaving its mark on a generation.
* Generation's next date is Friday July 7, 7-11pm. Tickets priced £5.00 are available from Midland Box Office: 01902 552121