Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Oxegen 2011: the pointyheaded overview

Well, that’s that for another year. You’ll find all the Irish Times’ reviews from the weekend at Punchestown Racecourse here as our reviewers scratch their chins about everyone from The Strokes and Tinie Tempah to The Pretty Reckless and Friendly …

Mon, Jul 11, 2011, 09:59


Well, that’s that for another year. You’ll find all the Irish Times’ reviews from the weekend at Punchestown Racecourse here as our reviewers scratch their chins about everyone from The Strokes and Tinie Tempah to The Pretty Reckless and Friendly Fires at Oxegen 2011. As for the by now customary pointyheaded overview of the who, what, why, when, how and where, click this way….

This year was a weird one. I don’t think I’ve ever come across such an underwhelming, flat, “so what” pre-event reaction to such a big festival in Ireland. Despite what was a huge, attractive bill (given who is on the touring circuit this year), there was just no buzz about Oxegen 2011. This all changed when Amanda Brunker suddenly appeared on the bill the other week, but that it took such a publicity stunt to get people talking about Oxegen is a strange turn of events, given that we’re talking about “the best festival bill in Europe” (or whatever the line is).

As for Ms Brunker, there was probably more people in Beyonce’s entourage than those who watched her appearance on Saturday afternoon (in fact, more have watched it on YouTube). And if you think that it’s just media who are pushing the Brunker bandwagon as you scramble up to the high moral ground, please note that the most read story on irishtimes.com over the weekend was my colleague Steven Carroll’s review of her “performance”. I don’t think that all those reading that review possess press cards.

Walking around Punchestown Racecourse yesterday afternoon was kind of surreal. The sun was shining, it wasn’t raining and there was no mud. There was also not many people. Of course, it was the afternoon and most of the punters had other things to be doing (I’d have prefered to have been watching Tipp hammer Waterford) as they prepared for Beyonce and Coldplay later in the day but, compared to previous years, there just didn’t appear to be the same numbers in front of the stages and in the tents.

Compared to the audiences they’ve attracted here in the past, there were small crowds at the second stage to see Fight Like Apes and Friendly Fires. The Saturdays pulled a decent crowd to one of the big tents and Ke$ha had a good turnout for her main stage appearance. But I remember watching Lady Gaga on the main stage at the exact same time as Ke$sha two years ago and the place was packed right back up the hill as far as the food stalls. Guess she ain’t no Gaga.

Anecdotal evidence also pointed to lots of room on the pitch over the weekend. Those in the press room who had been there since Friday noted that there had been empty spaces and plenty of room to roam all weekend. A couple of stall-holders I talked to griped about the lack of business. A brace of Dublin Bus drivers said it was their quietest Oxegen ever. I ran into Cian the 24 year old Oxegen veteran at Odd Future who said even the campsites weren’t as busy as previous years. You also had radio ads running all day Sunday plugging that there were still tickets on sale.

Yet promoters MCD told me last night that there were “over 80,000″ people at Oxegen 2011. There was no breakdown forthcoming of this figure into the six categories of tickets on sale – day tickets for Friday, Saturday and Sunday; three day weekend tickets; three day weekend tickets with camping and, probably the most popular option, four day tickets with camping – so it’s hard to do proper data-mining of that tally. It was noticable that there were huge numbers of day-trippers (like myself) arriving all day yesterday to see Beyonce and Coldplay, both of whom drew massive crowds akin to what was the norm in yeards past. The problem was that there just didn’t appear to be anyone left over to see the other acts playing at the same time, cue miserable audiences for Jenny & Johnny and The National (who, at least, can console themselves with their humungous fee).

So are we perhaps seeing the end of an era? Oxegen started out as a festival which attracted music fans right across the spectrum. But within two years, it had been firmly defined as a rite-of-passage ritual for younger patrons, which put off older punters, who already had their coming-of-age at Witnness or Feile. For some reason, the latter now don’t like sharing a field with teenagers in GAA jerseys intent on having the crack and drinking enough alcohol to fall over in style – maybe because it reminded them of their own wanton youth.

But such notions stick and many who might well have liked to check out Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys or The National this weekend passed. They decided it just wasn’t worth the hassle or the cash to traipse around a racecourse for the weekend. There would be other times, other opportunities. Many of those who now pass on Oxegen would concur with what Ronan Casey has to say on why he’s opting out of Oxegen in this blog post. Plus, many of those who’d want to see those acts just listed have no interest whatsoever in Swedish House Mafia, Black-Eyed Peas, Deadmau5 or The Saturdays, acts booked to appeal to the younger target audience. We know from comments here and elsewhere that such a clash of music styles jarred for many. Why spend €240 on a ticket when you’d cross the road to avoid half the bill?

While the kids will always flock to Oxegen for the weekend – provided they or their parents have the cash to fund it – a cut-off point has become much more defined and it’s hard to know how Oxegen will react to this. Certainly, the booking policy seems more and more pop-orientated with every passing year and has been perfectly honed to that younger audience. Unlike two years ago when you had Hudson Mohawke playing to 40 people and Fever Ray scaring half the punters away, the dance stage (which was brilliantly tricked out this year by Red Bull and had a real buzz to it) is now perfectly pitched to the Oxegen audience and what they want to hear. There were certainly more than 40 people there to watch Irish rugby player Cian Healy do some DJ-ing.

We could well be seeing the end of the current cycle for big, catch-all festivals like Oxegen. There’s now far more choice in the market for those who want to see bands in the open air over the course of the Irish summer. Smaller events like Castlepalooza and city festivals like Forbidden Fruit have quickly found their feet and their audience. Of course, the numbers do not compare, but there is certainly a sense that those who’ve gave up on Oxegen haven’t retreated to their sofas and slippers. Oxegen may have abandonded them in the rush to keep the kids happy, but other promoters and festivals are happy to take up the slack.

There was speculation over the weekend that we may well see some changes for Oxegen 2012, including a move away from Punchestown. As we have seen again and again this summer, the promotion game is getting harder and there are no easy or fast sells any more (unless you’re the Kings Of Leon or Take That). When you’ve even a legendary name like Neil Diamond struggling to fill a venue, you know there’s trouble at the mill. The promotion game has to change and innovate, which will be interesting to observe as promoters who’ve become lazy in the good times struggle to relearn how to sell tickets and pull a crowd. Oxegen too, will have to change and adopt as it seeks to keep its status as the biggest draw on the calender. As we saw this year, it now takes more than simply flashing the cash and loading a bill with every act on the circuit to sell a festival.