With Oxegen 2010 just one day away, I thought I’d help remind you of what makes the festival so special. This list is for those of us who are not going, and also those of us who are busy packing those last essential items before we have to get the Dublin Bus to the campsite later today.
Instead of a usual ten-to-one countdown, I’m going to pick one set from each year Oxegen (and Witnness before that) has been in existence. So here’s the countdown of the ten best sets from Irish artists from 2000 to 2009.
Witnness 2000 – JJ72
JJ72 are one of Ireland’s most lamented rock bands. Formed just a year before in 1999, they played a stellar set at the very first Witnness in Fairyhouse, where they performed material from their as yet unreleased debut album. The album, JJ72, was released two weeks after the festival, and many of the new fans they won there helped propel it into the top ten in the Irish charts.
Witnness 2001 – The Frames
In April 2001, the Frames released their fourth studio album, For the Birds, and although it didn’t chart as well as their previous two efforts, it contained fantastic songs. A lot of hardcore fans packed in to see them at Witnness 2001 in Fairyhouse on the August Bank Holiday weekend, where they played many new songs, as well as an amazing cover of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Their set also included a fantastic guest appearance from half of the Waterboys for their song ‘Be My Enemy’.
Witnness 2002 – Turn
The third Witnness was moved forward by three weeks from August to mid-July, where the festival now stands. It was still at Fairyhouse, and had its biggest headliners to date in The Chemical Brothers and Green Day. Turn had first emerged in 2000 with their LP Antisocial, but would not release Forward until the year after this performance. Oliver Cole was absolutely fantastic as a frontman and during their appearance on the Main Stage wowed many fans. In addition to this, they also played an acoustic set to a smaller audience, which was a highlight of those lucky enough to see it.
Witnness 2003 – The Thrills
Sadly no videos are online for the last ever Witnness, and the first ever Punchestown festival. Witnness 2003 took place over the July 12th-13th weekend at the Punchestown Racecourse in Co. Kildare, and the venue change only made the festivities better. Due to injury Jack White and the White Stripes had to pull out, so Flaming Lips were bumped up to fill their slot on Sunday night. The event was headlined by David Gray and Coldplay, but the Irish highlight had to be The Thrills. I remember the weather being good that year, and the Thrills’ summery pop went down perfectly. So Much for the City had come out just a few weeks before, so ‘Santa Cruz’, ‘Big Sur’, and ‘Once Horse Town’ were everywhere that summer.
Oxegen 2004 – Cathy Davey
A name change in 2004 didn’t affect most of the punters who attended. The change in name was down to the new sponsor Heineken (thus the extra “e” in Oxegen) rather than Guinness who had sponsored Witnness (that’s why there was two “n”s). It took place on the 10th and 11th of July in Punchestown, and was headlined by The Cure and David Bowie. Unfortunately Bowie pulled out and the Darkness were shifted up to headline on Sunday. Muse filled their slot, and were fantastic. Sadly, both headliners were poor, particularly the Darkness who had only one album’s worth of material at that stage. There were many Irish acts in 2004, but it was the first festival performance of Cathy Davey, and announced her arrival on the scene ahead of the release of debut album Something Ilk.
Oxegen 2005 – Kerbdog
2005′s festival took place on 9-10 July at Punchestown. The headliners this year were more rocky, with Green Day and the Foo Fighters headlining Saturday and Sunday respectively. Although there were many Irish acts on the Main Stage over the two days (The Revs, The Saw Doctors, and the Frames, who had second billing), the big Irish draw for 2005 was the reformed Kerbdog. They had split in 1998, and although Wilt had played at Witnness, the chance to catch them live again was the best thing about Oxegen 2005. They’ve since split up again, and have released no new material, but at Oxegen 2005, songs a decade old still sounded amazing.
Oxegen 2006 – Bell x1
After his storming performance at the Heineken Green Room the year before (it was so packed I had to stand outside the tent to have a chance to hear him), James Brown was promoted to the Main Stage for Oxegen 2006. Headliners were the Who and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Who played a greatest hits collection, and promised to return to play songs from their new album the following year. That’s what festivals are about. Don’t promote your new record, play the hits! There were four big Irish acts on the Main Stage again this year, with Republic of Loose and Damien Dempsey on Saturday (as well as Dubliners the Marshals to open the gig), and Sharon Shannon and Bell x1 on Sunday. Bell x1′s set was fantastic as it included songs from their three albums to date, including ‘Flame’ which seemed to stop the rain for a few minutes.
Oxegen 2007 – Sinead O’Connor
The last of the two day festivals, Oxegen 2007 took place on the same weekend as the charity concerts Live Earth, which drew in many of the bigger names. However, the headliners were still big names with Muse, The Killers, Daft Punk, and Snow Patrol all playing. Arcade Fire , Razorlight, Kings of Leon, and even Babyshambles meant for a stellar lineup. The Immediate had been due to play, but sadly split up before the festival. The usual Irish names: The Blizzards, Director, The Thrills, David Kitt, and Delorentos. However, the highlight of the local acts was Sinead O’Connor, who played the Pet Sounds stage on Sunday, July 8th. Luckily, this was before she released her Rastafarian album, and instead we were treated to some classics as well as some lesser known tunes.
Oxegen 2008 – Fight Like Apes, The Swell Season
Having music on a Friday for the first time meant that campers now arrived on a Thursday night, meaning less sleep for all involved. However, there was now three days of music to enjoy. It took place from the 11th to the 13th of July, with Kings of Leon, The Verve, and Rage Against the Machine headlining. REM were also high on the bill, along with Stereophonics, The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Kaiser Chiefs. There were a lot of Irish bands at Oxegen 2010, and the Green Room on Friday was an entire Irish affair bar one band, Captain from London. The Irish contingent was so strong in 2008, it was hard to pick just one act. So instead, I chose two. Fight Like Apes, who played the New Bands Stage (along with the Script, Yeasayer, Holy Fuck, Alphabeat, and White Lies) and Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova who headlined the Pet Sounds Arena. Both sets were packed, as many people had heard the Fight Like Apes EPs and hype was growing before their album release. Once had been a major success, and Glen Hansard had gained many fans who would have never even listened to a Frames album.
Oxegen 2009 – The Chapters
The most recent Oxegen (until 2010 starts tomorrow) was held from the 10th to the 12th of July, 2009. It featured headline performances from the reunited Blur, the Killers, and Kings of Leon. Other notable international names were Snow Patrol, Bloc Party, Keane, Nine Inch Nails, and Nick Cave. Once again, many of the best Irish acts were to be caught at the Hot Press New Bands Stage, with O Emperor headlining on Friday(a good 8 spots above Mumford and Sons), and the Chapters playing high up on Sunday. The IMRO New Sounds Stage was also packed with great local talent, Heathers, The Brilliant Things, ASIWYFA, CODES, Dark Room Notes, Villagers, and the Jades. The Chapters were the highlight for me, playing songs from their EP in a set that had that perfect festival feel. Sadly, there’s no videos of the Chapters, so I’ve gone for a poor quality mobile phone recorded Dark Room Notes.