Dance music breathes new life into revamped Oxegen festival

Meanwhile, spirits are high as Castlepalooza kicks off at Charleville Castle

Crowd  at Example performance, main stage Oxegen festival 2013. Photograph: Patrick O’Leary

Crowd at Example performance, main stage Oxegen festival 2013. Photograph: Patrick O’Leary


The Oxegen music festival in Punchestown firmly planted itself in the dance music calendar over the weekend, for 2013 at least. In a bold move that saw the event repositioned as an electronic music, pop and hip-hop party in a field, the strains of feedback from guitar amps disappeared from memory as superstar DJs were the order of the days and three nights.

Once the largest music festival in Ireland, Oxegen has been downsized to an almost unrecognisable festival from two years ago, the last time it took place. Shedding the fat of rock and indie, it offered a leaner more hectic vibe, with just three stages: the tiny ‘Other Stage’, which struggled to pull a crowd; the Heineken Live Project Stage, which acted as the main stage; and a vast warehouse that formerly offered most atmosphere at Oxegen and which was transformed into the Red Bull Electric Ballroom. There were a few add-ons, including Red Bull’s garden outside the hangar; a funfair; and a smattering of bars and food stalls. To those used to the comforts of music festivals with a more artistic bent, the site might have seemed Spartan or even slightly grim, but if you’re into CDs hanging from trees and spoken-word tents, Oxegen was never for you.

Mainstream dance music and the young crowd it attracts has always been victims of indie snobbery, but try telling that to more than 20,000 house and techno fans who all weekend had their hands in the air like they just didn’t care.

On Saturday afternoon Rita Ora drew a sizeable audience for her Irish debut, but the night belonged to Example on the main stage, and to Calvin Harris. Ireland has always been kind to Scottish songwriter, producer and DJ Harris, and, while now a star, he has commanded a decent audience here from his time performing with an almost indie-disco band.

If the site lacked the creature comforts of other festivals, it made up for it with impressive light shows, lasers, pyrotechnics and CO2 cannon.

Sunday was a different game altogether, with a far larger crowd on site and a more intense atmosphere, as if partying was an urgent requirement. Rizzle Kicks, a generally forgettable hip-hop group from Brighton, kicked up a storm on the main stage, while Irishman Al Gibbs played hard and heavy in the Electric Ballroom.

But this was David Guetta Day, and most of the excitement seemed to surround the French producer who has built a global brand based on his ability to turn simple cheesy dance pop into massive hits.

So is the new, dayglo and shirtless Oxegen here to stay? I’m sure promoters MCD will have interesting conversations during their debrief, but what can’t be denied is that there’s a market for this genre of music.

Whether Oxegen is the festival to fill that demographic’s needs is a matter for further discussion.

Meanwhile, tucked away in Charleville Castle, in Tullamore, Co Offaly, apparently Ireland’s most haunted pile, spirits were high as Castlepalooza 2013 kicked off, writes Louise Bruton.

The biggest musical draws of the weekend were minimalist electronic act Halves and reigning festival champions Le Galaxie. Though Castlepalooza is billed as a music festival, its intimate nature, with a crowd capacity of 2,500, meant it felt more like a huge house party.

The crowd could flit between the two stages and the bustling courtyard to feast on Irish acts such as Tieranniesaur, RSAG and Overhead, the Albatross; and international acts such as Brazilian disco giants CSS and London rapper Ghostpoet, whose set was, alas, cut short.

The laid-back vibe ensured no corner was left untouched, so whether you managed to play with the castle’s newborn kittens; encounter wedding couple Sian and Dave, who were dressed from head to toe in flashing lights; or stumble upon a DJ set from Dublin’s finest hip-hop enthusiasts Dylan Higgins or High Hat, a good time was to be had.

The festival’s intimacy meant a strong sense of community was generated and as a result the crowd stood united against the great enemy, rain, and danced the damp away.