Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Oxegen – the morning after the three nights before

If you want the reviews, please scroll down the page. If you want the analysis from 60 hours in the mud, please keep reading. Sunday night, I’m walking back into the media area after seeing The Specials and I bump …

Mon, Jul 13, 2009, 09:50


If you want the reviews, please scroll down the page. If you want the analysis from 60 hours in the mud, please keep reading.

Sunday night, I’m walking back into the media area after seeing The Specials and I bump into an acquantance of mine. He’s shell-shocked. He has come down for the day, has been for a walk around the site and he’s preparing to go home. “I feel so old”, he mutters. Rory is 28 years of age.

Lesson one: Oxegen is not really a music festival – it is where 55,000-60,000 young ones go to roll in the mud, chat each other up, get very drunk or stoned and have a good time on their own terms. It’s a very innocent Hamsterdam with €2 million spent on security and policing to make sure it’s all confined to these muddy acres.

That there are bands playing is a bonus, as far as the Oxegen kids are concerned. They’re huge music fans, after all. Huge. They love music. But really, they’re here for everything else: the fun-fair, the campsite, the beer, the mud, the slagging off of people who wear GAA jerseys from rival counties, the scoffing of burgers, the munching of chips. Those fluttering flags, the Maser graffiti, that isolated Ecogen tent, the “gourmet” food options: let’s be honest, the promoters would still have had the same numbers here without those add-ons.

Yes, many people did pay good cash to see some acts, but the vast majority are here for Everthing Else and you won’t find this attraction on the line-up of 207 acts. That there happens to be such a stonking line-up of bands playing is a bit of waste to be honest. People are still going to have a great time at Oxegen regardless of who is playing or what the weather is like or who painted the walls they’re going to be pissing against. For the regulars, it’s a break from the old routine. Like all such breaks, the participants think it’s absolutely fabulous. I wouldn’t call it “the best festival in Europe”, but it’s definitely the best festival in Co Kildare.

But this is a blog about music so let’s concentrate on the music. I know there will be plenty of jip here and elsewhere this week from people giving out yards about going to Oxegen to see their favourite bands and not having a good time because the kids just weren’t as into the act as they were. I’m thinking of the Blur fans, the Specials fans, the Nine Inch Nails fans, the Starsailor fan. Note “fan”, singular.

Unasked for advice: don’t go to Oxegen to see your favourite band. Just don’t. You won’t enjoy it. See lesson one above. Go to a gig by your favourite band where you know you will be surrounded by people who are also seeing their favourite band. Don’t go to Oxegen and be surprised that the kids only know one or two songs by Blur.

Oxegen is for The Kids and this year, The Kids were going nuts for pop. I’d say that this was an eye-opening year for the Oxegen organisers. Lots of lolly paid out for headliners like The Specials, Blur and Fever Ray, but massive crowds and bigger reactions in the main instead for pop acts like The Script, Lily Allen, Pet Shop Boys, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and The Saturdays or Irish indie acts like Snow Patrol, The Blizzards and The Coronas. Sure, some people will be saying “oh, Friendly Fires got the best crowd of the weekend” or “weren’t Dirty Epics fab?” (er, no, they weren’t), but trust me here, this was the year that Oxegen spun 180 degrees on its axis and discovered its pop side. Those acts above are the ones who had the great unwashed beaming like loons and grooving like failed Strictly Dancing contestants.

It’s not before time. All these kids want to do is sing along with the songs they hear on their radios or TVs. They sure as hell don’t hear “Tender” or “Too Much Too Young” or “Head Like A Hole” all that often on their favourite spots on the dial.

Prediction: in 2010, we may see even more pop and Irish acts at Oxegen, while the collective might of Live Nation/MCD/Festival Republic/POD in full flow will mean the more credible mid-strand acts on the circuit will be working out how to programe their Sat-Navs to get to Stradbally. Who knows, there may even be room too on the calender for a 8,000-10,000 capacity indie fest which is not as pop as Oxegen or as arty as the Picnic.

It makes perfect financial sense. If you took a good half of the Oxegen bill and lobbed them onto the Picnic line-up, you’d have a lot of happy campers willing to buy those tickets which Ticketmaster are still waiting to sell. The punters who really want to see those acts are not going to Oxegen, no matter how much the fabulous line-up is spun and enthused about. It’s still a truth universally acknowledged by people who are really into their music that Oxegen is for the kids. And they’re right.

Look at the dance lean-to. There were only a couple of hundred there to see Fever Ray and a couple of dozen to see Hudson Mohawke, two acts that potential Picnic-goers would go to see in their droves. Maybe this is a sympton of a reduced Oxegen attendance in total, but it’s also down to the music. No matter how you slice it, Fever Ray’s gothic panto and HudMo’s 23rd century pop are minority tastes. Like the flags and the Ecogen tent, they’re unnecessary trendy sops to the notion that a festival like Oxegen has to be more than just mud-and-music. The fact that both acts were playing didn’t sell one extra ticket for the weekend.

During both sets, people kept walking out, totally confused and bemused by what was going on. Instead of going for the hip angle, the promoters could have booked, say, Darren Styles, Ultrabeat, Cascada and a few other acts from the Clubland circuit for half the fee paid to Fever Ray and had that shed rocking all weekend. They’d probably have sold more tickets too. You could blame the acts for going to Punchestown but, like footballers going to Manchester City for a big wage-packet, they’re following the money.

Next year, then, expect a much clearer drawing of the lines between the two big fests in the Irish market. It’s in the promoters’ best interests. Sure, there will be still some oddities amidst the riggings due to touring schedules and the like, but the lines have been drawn and you can bet that the promoters will deal with that when it comes to deciding who goes where. After all, it’s in the best interests of their bank accounts.