Oxegen 2013: A breath of fresh air or a last gasp?
It was once the festival that ruled them all but ticket sales have declined and the line-up has shifted to pop and dance. Will the likes of David Guetta, Calvin Harris and Rita Ora herald a new dawn?
New days: The Saturdays on stage at Oxegen 2011. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Old play: Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, at Oxegen 2011. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Viva la Vida: Fans watch Coldplay at Oxegen 2011. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Fresh Ke$h: Ke$ha at Oxegen 2011. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Fading fire: Arcade Fire performing at Oxegen 2007. Photograph: Kate Geraghty
Guetta fix: David Guetta at Marlay Park in 2012. The superstar French DJ will headline at Oxegen 2013. Photograph: Frank Miller
Cool Cal: Calvin Harris will play at Oxegen 2013
Reet petite: UK singer Rita Ora will perform at Oxegen 2013
Hero sandwich: Electro act Nero will perform at Oxegen 2013
Everything changes, and this maxim applies even to the most famous Irish musical bacchanalia of modern times. But this year’s Oxegen festival, which returns to Punchestown Racecourse after a year’s break, is a much different beast to those previous incarnations which have taken over a couple of hundred acres of the plains of Kildare every year since 2004.
While the event was often more noteworthy for youthful excess and the unruly campsite antics of the punters than for any musical prowess from its performers, Oxegen was usually a fairly reliable barometer when it came to the state of the musical nation. It had room for mega rock stars, leading-edge indie bands, pop pin-ups and the best of the dance acts on the circuit. You name an act and they’ve probably played one of Punchestown’s myriad of stages and lean-tos over the last decade.
That musical mix helped the festival establish itself as the big one of the Irish summer, a rite of passage for the post-Leaving Cert crowd and the place to go to see decent acts for everyone else. If it was good enough for Kings of Leon, The Killers, Jay-Z, Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Beyoncé, Snow Patrol, Green Day and hundreds of others, it was good enough for thousands of Irish fans, and the festival was usually a sell-out weeks in advance.
But that was then. In recent years, Oxegen’s lustre and appeal has faded fast. The off-stage behaviour and antics began to take over from the music. The Monday after the festival ended saw phone-in radio shows and online forums filled with – shock, horror! – tales of youths gone wild in a big field in the middle of the country. The festival was bedevilled with problems which would test the skills of the most seasoned PR spinner.
Worse, the volume ticket sales had fallen. A sold-out Oxegen was akin to a Celtic Tiger relic, something which we used to do when we had plenty of money in our arse-pocket. People decided to go elsewhere, and Electric Picnic became the big, hip name on the calendar. Suddenly, Oxegen was looking shabby, rusty and out of sorts.
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Spending big money on big acts didn’t reverse that trend. In 2009, the festival spent big on acts such as Blur, Fever Ray, The Specials and Nine Inch Nails, but the bulk of the Oxegen audience were buzzing about The Script, Lily Allen, Pet Shop Boys, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and The Saturdays instead.
The following year, it was Jay-Z, Black Eyed Peas, David Guetta, Eminem and Fatboy Slim who dominated the post-match analysis rather than Arcade Fire, who played to a couple of hundred people on the main stage.
By 2011, it was clear that the people wanted Beyoncé, Ke$ha, Black Eyed Peas and Deadmau5 rather than The National. Thanks to one of the most ill-considered festival booking decisions of all time, The National ended up playing to fewer people at Oxegen than they did in 2005 at Whelans in Dublin. Oxegen-goers seemingly wanted pop and dance rather than indie and rock, so it was time for a change.