Words: Craig Connolly
There’s nothing like an old festival poster to get those nostalgic tingles washing over you.
Oxegen has legendary status in the minds of many festival goers, who from 2004 were treated to the likes of The Chemical Brothers, N*E*R*D and The Artic Monkeys, across a number of stages.
Following a hiatus in 2012, the festival returned for the final time in 2013. There’s not really been anything like it since and if it were still going it would’ve taken place this weekend.
With that in mind, we dipped back into the past and ranked every single line-up from 2004-2013, looking at the size of the line-up at the time, some of the underrated acts and what they went on to do afterwards.
After a year hiatus in 2012, Oxegen stans were hoping for a return to form. Instead, 2013 was the year EDM wrapped its swollen bro muscles around the festival, strangling the life from it and effectively resulting in the death rattle of Oxegen as we know it.
Sure, seeing Snoop go through the back catalogue would have sated even the most avid hip hop fan, but no amount of boom bap would’ve made up for having to navigate through the swathes of steroid-addled Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike fans in their string vests. Molten garbage.
Highlights: Snoop Dogg, Soulwax, George FitzGerald
Lowlights: Every other act in the lineup
I’ll never forget this year, watching the penalty shootout of the World Cup final on the screens at the main stage moments before Red Hot Chili Peppers boxed the head off me with a typically chaotic performance.
This line up has aged the worst of all Oxegen line ups. Barring Arctic Monkeys, every act on the line up was at the peak of their powers and for a lot of the bands it was all downhill from the summer of ’06 (see Hard-Fi and The Magic Numbers).
Highlights: James Brown, Arctic Monkeys, Sigur Rós, Primal Scream, Paul Weller, The Go! Team, Goldfrapp.
Lowlights: Bell X1, The Magic Numbers, Hard-Fi, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Only in its second year but Oxegen had already become the go to event of the summer for late teens and early twenty somethings.
The line up has aged surprisingly well, at the time the majority of the acts were either bona fide superstars or very much on their way to getting there (see The Killers and Kasabian). Any festival that can have LCD Soundsystem as the bottom tier act on the poster must be doing something right. 2005 loses marks for its lack of hip hop but future years made up for lost time and we’ll get to them.
Highlights: The Prodigy, Queens of the Stone Age, Bloc Party, Snoop Dogg, The Streets, New Order, LCD Soundsystem, Ian Brown, James Brown.
Lowlights: The Tears, The Bravery, Josh Ritter
The debut year of the festival and where it all began for thousands of Irish festival revellers. This would be higher in the ranking if David Bowie didn’t have to pull out for issues that were never cleared up (rumours at the time ranged from getting a lollipop stick thrown into his eye at a previous gig to him having a heart attack in the week leading up to the festival).
Anyway, he was replaced by The Darkness as main stage headliner and while I like novelty glam rock as much as the next spandex-laden man, it was far too much of a drop off in quality to satisfy.
What 2004 did have was the likes of N*E*R*D, Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers, Wu Tang Clan, Faithless and Basement Jaxx which guaranteed peak time banger after banger for the duration of the weekend.
Highlights: See the bands named above, obviously.
Lowlights: Complete Stone Roses (A cover band being on the line up poster is not a good look), Ash, P!nk.
Queen Bey! A lot of people will be surprised to see 2011 outside the podium places considering Beyoncé graced us with her presence (still can’t wrap my head around her potentially eating a bone-dry Charcoal Grill at a racecourse in Punchestown), however, this year fails to hit the lofty heights of other years purely because Black Eyed Peas and The Script headlined on the Friday night – that’s festival sacrilege.
The older Oxegen got the more it moved away from the alternative bands and artists that made it great. Don’t get me wrong, having Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes ticks the box of big ticket alternative bands playing the festival, however, for every one of them, there was a Paolo Nutini, Jessie J or Calvin Harris waiting in the wings.
In fairness to the bookers there was a number of inspired bookings such as post ‘Defamation of Strickland Banks’ Plan B and a pre-superstardom Bruno Mars on the bill.
Highlights: Beyoncé, Arctic Monkeys, Leftfield, The Strokes, Plan B, Friendly Fires, Primal Scream, The National.
Lowlights: The Script, Black Eyed Peas, Swedish House Mafia.
Deciding between the top four was tough and 2008 would arguably be a notch or two higher had it more hip hop on the bill, you kids don’t know how good you have it with the likes of Longitude and Forbidden Fruit for top tier hip hop.
2008 was the first year the campsite opened on the Thursday night which allowed for 25 per cent more craic to be had over the course of the weekend. Bands like Rage Against The Machine and The Verve were seen as a major coup and were both among the busiest and best loved of the festival.
By this stage the Dance Arena was one of the main draws for the festival and didn’t disappoint thanks to the likes of Justice playing to a crowd that would’ve been sous-vide had it been packed into that sweatbox any tighter.
At the time MGMT were seen as the most exciting band on the planet, which might have explained why people started climbing the structural poles of the 5000+ capacity tent to get a better view of them in their shiny get ups. This resulted in the gig being halted for half of their allotted time slot to get the maniacs down safely – Irish people just can’t have nice things.
Highlights: The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Justice, Aphex Twin, MGMT, Hot Chip, Rage Against The Machine, Roisin Murphy.
Lowlights: Scouting For Girls, R.E.M, The Fratellis, The Ting Tings.
Looking back on these line ups has highlighted just how lucky we’ve been to witness so many massive acts in a festival setting considering how small an island we are. 2009 had quality oozing from its Kanye-frame specs. This felt like the year they got the balance between alternative, electronic and commercial just right (Katy Perry played on the same stage as Nine Inch Nails for Christ’s sake).
The main stage represented a nice blend of breakthrough pop and tried and tested stadium fillers. I wonder what Lady Gaga and The Specials chatted about backstage?
Red Bull Music Academy was a welcome addition, bringing the likes of Florence & The Machine, M83 and Crystal Castles to Punchestown via a relatively intimate tent considering the size of the acts at the time.
The Dance Arena was where I spent the bulk of the festival, with Tiga, Boys Noize, Digitalism, Crookers and Bloody Beetroots representing the electro heavyweights.
You know a festival is doing well when they don’t even know where to put The Maccabees and Passion Pit so they just plonk them at the bottom of the poster
Highlights: Blur, M83, Boys Noize, Crystal Castles, Pet Shop Boys, The Mars Volta, Bloc Party, Nine Inch Nails, Foals, Lady Gaga, Fever Ray.
Lowlights: The Script, The Ting Tings, Paolo Nutini, The Saturdays.
The runner up, it fought a hard battle against the eventual winner but at this stage surely we’re all winners, aren’t we?
This is a no brainer – Jay-Z and Eminem (when he was still one of the very biggest acts in the world) among the headliners, being flanked by the likes of Dizzee Rascal and D12? Hook it to my veins! Chipmunk, Tinie Tempah and pre-EDM Example were also welcome additions amongst the usual plethora of indie, electro and pop.
Disco legends Earth, Wind & Fire added a touch of class to the main stage meanwhile the second stage played host to the likes of Groove Armada, a rejuvenated The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim before he turned into a peddler of atrocious house and EDM.
By this stage, the crowd at Oxegen had changed from the ever-benign skinny jeaned indie kids to a more nefarious audience. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re the biggest festival in the country and everyone wants a piece of you.
I don’t know, but needless to say there were scenes in the campsite that year that wouldn’t have looked out of place during a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon in the late 80s.
Highlights: Jay-Z, Eminem, Dizzee Rascal, Faithless, The Prodigy, Armand Van Helden, Fatboy Slim, Jamie T, Hot Chip.
Lowlights: Newton Faulkner, Ellie Goulding, Steve Angelo.
Two words – DAFT PUNK. To this day I don’t think there’s been a more fabled performance in Ireland than when the two French robot blokes rocked up to Punchestown with their pyramid stage/spaceship.
At the time I would’ve guessed there was 15,000 people at their performance but judging by the online reaction and general chit chat ever since there must’ve been at least a quarter of a million people in attendance.
It was a show that became the catalyst for the explosion of electronic music in this country, don’t get me wrong, we’ve always had a penchant for house and techno and licking the occasional dove in Ireland but that gig had an untold effect on the landscape of Irish music culture.
Who else played that year I hear you ask? Who gives a shit – the reason you go to District 8 every weekend or festivals like Life and Forbidden Fruit can creditably be traced back to that fateful July night in 2007. OK fair enough, 2007 doesn’t win on Daft Punk alone but you get my point.
This year also had the likes of Interpol, Queens of the Stone Age, Wu Tang Clan, Air, 2 Many DJs, Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, Klaxons, Brian Wilson, Modeselektor and a pre-world domination Justice.
The one thing that goes against this year was the biblical flood that took place leading up to and during the festival which resulted in all in attendance getting symptoms akin to trench foot.
Highlights: Daft Punk, Daft Punk, Daft Punk, Daft Punk, Daft Punk.
Lowlights: Avril Lavigne (purely because of how she stands for photos with fans). The Goo Goo Dolls (name another one of their songs, I dare you), The Fratellis (see The Goo Goo Dolls).