London, Saturday night. Teenagers are crowd-surfing down the aisle of a moving Tube train. Two carriages have just been commandeered by 200 fans of The Others, who are somewhere at the front playing a gig, announced over the internet hours earlier. The crowd-surfers are the self-styled 853 Division, the commandos of The Others' private army.
The Others are signed to Alan McGee's Poptones label, have been dubbed "the most worshipped new band in Britain" by NME, and have released one single, "This Is for the Poor", which just missed the Top 40 last Sunday. It is a good, class-conscious anthem, but it doesn't explain the band's fervent fan base. That has more to do with what happens after the gig, when singer Dominic Masters, 26, leads us through the streets to a pub near his East End home for an impromptu after-show party. As usual, fans too young to travel home alone sleep at his flat in their dozens. Others arrange house shares between themselves. Masters has also persuaded a promoter to let underage fans into clubs after hours, so no one has to be left out.
In the two years that The Others have existed, they have built an innocent, idealistic society around themselves. Playing music a world away from corporate fame and fortune, to hardcore fans whom Masters knows by name, the band's shambolic gigs are an excuse for exuberant teenage bonding.
"I know they're quite basic and everything," one teenage girl tells me, standing on a Tube seat to glimpse some action, "but what more do you want? They're not playing for the recognition. It's like they're playing for you." Now that the recognition is coming, of course, the fragile, private world The Others have built is in danger of dilution. But when I meet Masters, all that worries him is how to keep his ideals intact.
"What happens when there's too many people to care for?" he wonders. "Because partying with the audience, spending time together and not being on a different level is important. If they're putting an investment into your life, you should try and give as much of your life to them. And if it grows like it might, I've got to work out better ways to make sure that there is still equality, so that no one feels excluded."
The Others' movement seems mostly about fun, and tiny, intoxicating acts of rebellion - like the boy who illegally lights a cigarette during the Tube takeover. But Masters does detect some shared values. "I've got a boyfriend, see, called Johann," he shyly admits. "At first, when the band was going off, I didn't know what our appeal would be. When the heterosexual, Oasis kind of kids supporting us found out I had a boyfriend, I thought there might be some kind of backlash. But nothing was ever said. When we socialise, there are loads of gay kids, some Asian kids, some black kids, some real south Londoners, and kids up from Hertfordshire. We get the kids no one else wants."
The notion that The Others are a home for the excluded is emphasised by "This Is for the Poor", a calling card specifically rejecting the wealthy. The glut of posh girls merrily moshing to it on the Tube therefore leaves Masters utterly nonplussed. "This is a contentious issue," he says, brow furrowing. "I wrote 'This Is for the Poor' genuinely for my own social class. I can't say that it's an inclusive song. I find it hard to understand how a middle-class kid could go through the pain or troubles that a lot of working-class kids have to, just to leave home. There is this divide, and I wanted to write for people like me."
Masters's roots are in Somerset, the son of a strong mother who sold marijuana to get by and a welder father who left when he was four. When he got out at 18, to study politics in London, he was soon dealing to students himself before "getting a bit carried away", and quitting just in time. He was married then, too, to an Israeli girl in a New Romantic group. For a while, he lived the conventional life, and dreamed of joining the Civil Service. Only when that hope was dashed, and the loving cocoon of his marriage collapsed, did he think of rock'n'roll. Becoming a face on London's underground rock scene, he pretended to be in a band. When the Portuguese rockers The Parkinsons called his bluff by offering him a gig, he formed The Others just in time to play. The Parkinsons took the fledglings "under their wing", then The Libertines "adopted us". It's a fan's story, more than a star's.
The cloud on the horizon remains the limits that Masters may one day find to his vision of an inclusive rock'n'roll community, when not every fan who jumps on stage can be trusted, or named. But that won't stop him trying. "To give people a good time - I think that's a good quality," he muses. "It's just, how long can you give them a good time for? After the concert and the sleepovers, when it goes back to normal life - that's when you can't keep looking after them. That's why we should try and build something out of this, so that if it does only last for a few years, we can at least forge a community centre out of it, or a youth club, or a pub.
"Maybe a pub," he decides. "Because it'll take two years to get the money together - and by then, all our fans will be old enough to drink..."
'This Is for the Poor' is out now on PoptonesReuse content