Oxegen Festival, Punchestown“HERE, TAKE one!” A hand outstretched; splayed in a sweaty, eager palm were a selection of plastic neon glow sticks. “Go on, take one – everyone, take one!”
There was an earnest urgency in this young man’s face as he offered his party favours around an expectant crowd. One for you, one for you – the countdown had begun to what would, for many, be the highlight of a weekend of rain, mud and music, and this Oxegen-goer was determined that every one of us should have a glow stick to take us through the next hour and a half.
If television has taught us one thing, it’s that our lives have a potential soundtrack – the highs, the lows, the heartbreaks and the celebrations. For today’s 20-somethings, that soundtrack will be a composite of late-1990s pop, new indie rock and, to the surprise of many, the rap stylings of Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem.
It’s a testament to the number of hits the Detroit rapper – who released his first major release, The Slim Shady LP, in 1999 – has in his arsenal that very few of his numbers come to an end, each instead blending into the next, which, at times, seems to leave the crowd at an odd impasse, unsure whether to applaud or to keep on dancing.
First impressions are of an austere man, younger than his 37 years, whose constant cursing – “make some motherf***ing noise, Ireland!” – seemed at odds with his otherwise unassuming presence. It was only with the appearance of D12, the hip hop collective with whom he has been performing since the start of his career (although their rise to fame came only after his own), that Eminem settled, reluctantly, into his starring role on the main stage at the Co Kildare festival.
It is lucky Mathers – who, in black hoody, tailored shorts and baseball cap, cut a diminutive figure – has such a plethora of hits to fall back on, because something about his stage presence, or lack thereof, implies a man who finds fame, or at least performances of this scale, something difficult to cope with, as if the legend of Eminem has grown larger than Marshall Bruce Mathers himself. Silences between songs were filled by his fellow D12 rappers, while Mathers shuffled from one side of the stage to the next, until at one point he stopped the crowd with a “seriously, yo’, I want to dedicate this song to David Smith. He was from Ireland, and he was meant to be here tonight, but he passed away.” If there is one thing guaranteed to strike awe into the heart of the most reluctant festival-goer, it is the sight of a crowd, huddled from the stage back up the hill, hundreds of people deep, waving lighters and mobile phones in unison – hands oustretched, glow sticks swaying in rhythm with the music.
Although Mathers never quite seemed to own the stage, he did eventually resign himself to staying for a while, even going so far as to shed his hoody. The baseball cap, however, stayed on, even for the rapturous encore, Lose Yourself, one of the few tracks played in its entirety. But even in his closing address – peppered with “motherf***ers” – Eminem couldn’t quite get his head around the idea of basking in his own glory.
“Make some noise for D12, yo – and make some noise for your motherf***ing selves.” Spotlight off.