Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Oxegen: The Verdict

The full report from Punchestown, and what Oxegen teaches us about classism in Irish society. (photo of Chase & Status via Oxegen’s Instagram)

Tue, Aug 6, 2013, 11:59


Everyone had an opinion on Oxegen before it took place at Punchestown, but how did it actually go? Over the weekend, I wrote five reports on the festival, so here’s the aftermath verdict.

Yes it’s smaller
Way smaller. For people who are familiar with the Oxegen site, the enclosure traditionally reserved for press, VIPs (I use that term VERY loosely) and artists’ dressing rooms and catering became the main entrance and site of the ‘Other Stage’. This was a really poor location for a stage because people basically walked by it on their way in and then rarely came back. The stage was tiny and any time I checked in with it over the weekend, there were just a handful of people dancing. The giant warehouse/hangar was where Red Bull’s Electric Ballroom set up shop, and was hopping all weekend. It’s the best venue in the country for dance music in my opinion, a big, dark, giant room with great sound and all the visual bells and whistles you want. Just outside that was the Red Bull ‘garden’, a more chilled dance area with a bar, which was also very busy all weekend. Just over from where Oxegen’s second stage used to be was the main stage, or to give it its full title, the Heineken Live Project Stage. The crowds that stage drew depended on who was playing. All the birds went to se Rita Ora, there was a huge crowd for Snoop, who was thankfully more Dogg than Lion. Calvin, Example and Guetta all drew big crowds, as they should. On the fringe of these areas was a funfair and a bunch of generally blah food stalls; burgers and chips, Dominos, Subway. I wasn’t there for the first day, but I heard there were less than 10,000 people on site on Friday night, this increased a fair whack on Saturday (although the site didn’t seem anywhere near full), and it felt as though the crowd almost doubled again on Sunday. I don’t know where the Indo got their bonkers number of 75,000 people there over the weekend (?!), but I can only imagine it came from the David Drumm school of figure calculation. They should probably clarify that mistake.

Production standards were VG
Considering staring at a bloke (and it was a blokefest – 58 of the 60 performers were male. Iggy Azalea cancelled last minute) behind decks isn’t the world’s most captivating sight, you need to have other things to catch your eye. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many add-ons to a show as Guetta’s on Sunday night; CO2 cannons, confetti cannons, coloured fireballs, too many lasers to count, massive visuals screens, fireworks, the whole shebang. Unfortunately there was an epic stage fail just before his show when one of the big screens conked out and never recovered.

Cheez rulez ok
There were loads of people at Pitbull and he put on a pretty excellent show. Seriously. Obviously his music is awful, but it was kind of amazing trash.

In keeping with Festival Republic and MCD’s internment camp aesthetic to their guest areas as pioneered at Longitude, the guest area at Oxegen was grim. A bar in a nice tent, plus a smattering of plastic patio furniture all topped off with some surrounding railings. Now, while you may say “here is the world’s smallest violin playing the world’s saddest song”, this is actually significant. C-listers won’t be happy lounging around in a crap VIP area, so they just won’t try to blag these things anymore. Same goes for a lot of non-music journalists attending events such as Oxegen who don’t seem to care about the music, and just want to sit in a VIP area staring at each other. Less press there, less slebs there = less coverage. The days of Oxegen’s VIP area with its crazy golf course and nicer food outlets and pleasant seating areas and DJs playing just for the ego crowd are over, it seems. It’s also another pretty unnecessary cost cut out of the budget.

Security was hit and miss
One of the things that annoys me more than anything else at festivals is getting treated like crap. No one is entitled to roar something at you or be rude. Yet at EVERY IRISH FESTIVAL this happens. Most of the security I encountered over the weekend were very pleasant, calm, professional and polite. But as usual, there were a couple of bad incidents that really irritated me. The first was getting off the bus on Sunday, when a female official was astoundingly rude and sarcastic towards me – the kind of encounter that a few minutes later you’re thinking of all the amazing retorts you could have said, yet were too intimidated to do so. On the way back to the busses on Sunday night, the stewards marshalling the queues were extremely badly organised. While simply queuing for the bus (bear in mind, I was stone cold sober), no less than three security guards shouted in my face about standing over there or over here, or wherever they were trying to figure out, given their complete and utter disorganisation. While I was standing at a barrier, waiting in line, one security guard unprompted, roughly grabbed my upper arm in order to (I presume) shove me over somewhere else. It was completely unnecessary, and I told him so, and my arm still sore this morning, which indicates the force he used considering it happened at 1.30am yesterday morning. I’m not singling out Oxegen for this type of behaviour, just detailing what happened. I’ve encountered the same aggressive and stupid behaviour on occasions at Electric Picnic and Body & Soul, from stewards not having a breeze where anything is, to physically manhandling people for no reason. Apart from being completely unprofessional, your festival experience is made up of every encounter you have with every person. If someone WORKING at the festival meets those who attend it with aggression and hassle, then how on earth can they complain if someone acts the maggot?

Was it a success?
Define success? I’d say there were a lot of people just hoping it would pass off without any drama. I also thought that when it went on sale, tickets would fly out for it. They didn’t. Perhaps if Oxegen was rebranded from the get go as an Electric Daisy Carnival/Ultra type event, it would have been more successful. Mammies and Daddies kept hearing about what happened at Swedish House Mafia over a year later and might have been reluctant to part with a ticket price they probably don’t even have in the first place. The media was obsessed with potential violence at the event – every radio station that rang me in the run up to the event to discuss it just wanted to mildly stoke those flames to have something to talk about. And there were a fair few cops on site. More than usual? Hard to tell, but there was nothing like the police presence the Phoenix Park saw this summer, when you were greeted by a line of mounted police by the Liffey after the gig. Then there was the bombardment of social media slagging of it. Oxegen had so much bad press before it even started, so it got off on the wrong foot. You can’t deny that there’s a huge market for commercial dance music gigs. Look at how many people are heading to Avicii in Belfast this month. But is Oxegen the festival that can capitalise on the tens of thousands of people who want to rave in a field? We’ll know next summer, because you can’t imagine the promoters are going to let that crowd go, even if they’re struggling to figure out how to get them somewhere en masse.

And finally… what Oxegen teaches us about classism in Irish society.
I’m someone who enjoys music of all sorts, festivals of all shapes and sizes, and concert crowds of all demographics. The line-up at Oxegen isn’t really music I listen to, but I was happy to head down and judge it on its merits. That’s my job. But there was one element of commentary that really depressed me in the run up to and during Oxegen. The comments on social media and in conversations that Oxegen 2013 was for “knackers”. I hate using that word, but that’s the term that was constantly thrown around in the run up to the festival. It’s a disgraceful way to label a crowd. I wonder how people would react if all of a sudden it was decreed that that everyone going to Electric Picnic were “faggots” and decided to broadcast this conclusion constantly in the run up to Stradbally? There would be uproar.

The assumption that there would be violence at the festival was unfounded. The casual linking of violence with dance music is ridiculous. If you have a problem with thousands of kids heading off to a festival to listen to dance music and pop, then that’s YOUR problem, not theirs. Of course there was drug-taking, and some of it was quite visible. Shocker. It’s a music festival, and I’m sorry, but I’d rather be working at a festival where people were taking ecstasy relatively responsibly than be surrounded by people getting absolutely locked on beer.

There were two prevailing sets of commentary on the Oxegen hashtag over the weekend if you did a quick search of Twitter. Those who were tweeting from the site were having the time of their lives. Those we were tweeting from afar were saying the most unbelievably derogatory things about people heading down to Punchestown to have a dance. I toyed with reprinting some of the things said, but decided against it because it’s just rotten. Using that kind of terminology¬†labels all people who are into commercial dance music as somehow ‘less’ and ‘other’.¬†It assumes that if you like David Guetta and Alesso and Al Gibbs, your sole intention in life is to cause hassle, get wasted and generally act like a tool. Guetta is the biggest pop producer on the planet – do you think everyone who likes his music is a “scumbag”?

I was there. The crowd was pretty great, to be honest. Everyone was up for a good time. Yes, it was boisterous and hectic, but this isn’t the National Concert Hall. I encountered zero agro from punters, didn’t see one fight, and had some great chats with kids over the weekend; from the 19-year-old women on the bus on the way down talking about their plans to go to Ibiza, to a young couple who borrowed my phone to find their mate, to another young lad who offered to buy me a pint when I picked his wallet off the ground, to a line of people at an ATM who self-policed at a queue when after another cash machine went down a few people skipped ahead. You’d see more hassle on Harcourt Street on a Saturday night.

If you decide that just because people take their shirt off to dance, or talk with a certain accent that you find unpalatable, or if your small mind decides that people from certain parts of Dublin aren’t as entitled as you are to go to a festival featuring music they like and have a ball – then who’s the “scumbag” in that situation? Live and let live.