Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

So what’s on the cards for Oxegen 2014?

After a weekend with a difference for the Punchestown Racecourse event, thoughts turn to what comes next

The best view of Oxegen 2013. Photograph: Patrick O’Leary

Tue, Aug 6, 2013, 09:56


You’d hesitate to call it a busy weekend for the Irish live music industry as it seems like every single weekend this summer has been a busy one on the live music beat so that description has been overused this year. But with events occuring simultaneously in Mitchelstown, Tullamore and Punchestown Racecourse, it certainly was the weekend with the most high profile music events on.

Reports from all three were overwhelmingly positive, which is good news for the promoters who put their shirts on the line again. We often give promoters a hard time at OTR when they mess things up, but it also has to be acknowledged that all involved are taking serious risks that many others don’t or wouldn’t. The adage about the easiest way to make a million euro in the live music game is to start out with 10 million always comes to mind when you’re considering how the industry works.

The event you’re pinning all your hopes on could come acropper because of the weather, an act cancelling at the last minute, problems with the venue, public order issues involving your audience and a 101 other random bits and pieces. This morning, then, those promoters deserve a round of applause from all those who had a good time at the weekend. After all, if Shane Dunne, Cillian Stewart and Denis Desmond hadn’t taken a chance in the first place, you wouldn’t actually have Indiependence, Castlepalooza or Oxegen.

There’s probably little doubt either that all three will return next year. While I’m sure it’s the last thing the event organisers want to think about this morning, there are still acts to tap, bands to make offers on and stages to book. Even if most of us only think about them when the summer arrives, festivals have become a year-round occupation for those who plan them.

The big question, though, is what Oxegen 2014 will look like. As we wrote here last week, Oxegen 2013 was a much slimmed down affair compared to the behemoths which preceded it on the same site and with the same name. That, of course, was on the cards since the festival was initially announced in April, but the subsequent drop-off in attendance (from an event which was planned with 50,000 in mind, per the licence application, and ended up with in or around 25,000 for the weekend – though the Irish Indo seemed to think there were 75,000 “revellers” there, which will be news to the promoter’s accountant, Ticketmaster and the gardai) showed up how much has changed.

Yet people did come and, per Una Mullally’s reports from the weekend (here and here), did have the crack. Contrary to a spate of baseless and malicious social media reports about stabbings at the event – gossip which was relying on a 2011 report for back-up, it seems – the weekend passed off without any major hitches. Yes, security and stewarding was more obvious and much improved, but that’s to be expected post-Swedish House Mafia. Compared to previous Oxegens – the ones with the rock bands, the ones with Coldplay, the ones with Kings Of Leon – this was a walk in the park.

But there’s also a financial bottom line and here’s where the questions will begin about 2014 and beyond. Despite many people – including, hands up, OTR – believing that this line-up would have no problem pulling a big crowd, this didn’t turn out to be the case.

Many reasons, both serious and trivial, will be advanced for this when the analysis begins: lack of disposable cash to buy tickets, the late announcement, target audience away on holidays, property tax, the change in date not suiting the Norn Iron crowd, an anti-Guetta backlack etc. There’s also the fact that, even when you point out the Oxegen audience’s preference for pop and dance in recent years, this was primarily a dance line-up as opposed to pop. Less V festival, more Planetlove.

Then, there was the fact that this was an event which needed a different sort of push. Back in April, we wrote that “the traditional way of pushing Oxegen – ie big ads in the Oxegen-friendly papers, blanket ads on the radio and, er, that’s it – may need retooling (and new tools) on this occasion”. Yet nothing new was forthcoming and perhaps that’s something to be added to the blame report for Oxegen 2013′s failure to sell.

The upshot is that the festival probably turned in a loss. When you’re hoping for a take of €3.75 million from weekend ticket sales, for instance, and end up banking around €1.5 million, that’s a loss. Add in a less-than-expected return on day tickets and that’s more of a loss. While we’re sure that there were cutbacks on the site to take this loss in anticipated revenue into account, there are certain expenses you can’t cut back on – acts, security, crew, insurance etc – and so Oxegen 2013 will go down in the big ledger in red ink.

In the medium and long-term, there are also questions to be asked. Oxegen was always a big, lucrative cash-cow in MCD’s event portfolio and one of its assets which was probably deemed to be hugely attractive when Live Nation started kicking the tyres and initially talking to the Dublin-based company. Taking 2012 off and then coming back with a totally different event in 2013 would appear to have damaged that brand. There’s no doubt that there is an audience for Oxegen 2013′s dance stance but, as we’ve seen with dance events in years past, it’s never going to be an event pulling a crowd of 80k. In fact, it’s hard to see any music festival as opposed to a standalone artist show pulling a crowd of 70 or 80k again such has been the fragmentation in the marketplace.

It remains to be seen if MCD return to Punchestown in 2014 with the same gear and the same name. Some would argue that they should return to the Oxegen of old, attract back the regular Oxegen crowd and suck it up. Others would point to the hugely successful launch of Longitude and wonder if that takes care of a certain part of the old Oxegen constituency. And remember that to 25,000 people, who had a blast over the last few nights in Co Kildare, will hope it will be more of the same in 2014.

There is no doubt that there is an audience for what Oxegen has become – the question for the promoter, though, is if it can put on such an event to pull that audience while also paying all the bills and leaving the site with a few quid to spare. That will be the real deal-breaker. I’m sure MCD would prefer big uncomplicated events like Oxegen of old rather than splitting the risk over a number of different events. Problem is when that big bet doesn’t pay off – and Oxegen hasn’t paid off in quite some time.

Meanwhile, a prediction: Electric Picnic will be close to a sell-out this year. All the signs from the usually reliable sources are that sales for this year’s event are well ahead of expectations and the promoters are on course to have a full Stradbally Hall at the end of the month. If you are planning on going and have decided to leave buying your ticket until the last minute, you may want to rethink that plan.