AFTER a two-year hiatus, Oxegen, Ireland’s longest-running, mainstream music festival, has changed. Oxegen was renowned for its pick’n’mix booking, with acts such as Jay-Z appearing alongside underground artists like Arcade Fire.
Rather than appeal to a diverse audience, now Oxegen has a laser-beam focus on dance and pop. If your heaven is raving along to David Guetta and Calvin Harris, then Christmas has arrived five months early. By focusing on dance, Oxegen’s organisers are copying the UK, where festivals appeal to a segmented market. Thus you have V, for devotees of pretension-free rock; Latitude, for older, more eclectic fans; and Download, for metal heads. Festivals must know their niche.
The Oxegen line-up also tells us the state of modern pop is ever more generic. Chase and Status, Pit Bull, Rizzle Kicks and current UK number one, Naughty Boy, are all from the same gene pool.
Their music is brash, brisk and relentlessly upbeat. This is not the dance music of the ’90s, when even populist outfits, such as the Prodigy, brought darkness to the party. In the modern dance world, all is day-glo and chirpy and nuance is an alien concept.
Calvin Harris: From the Scottish town of Dumfries, Calvin Harris was living with his parents and working as a Marks and Spencer shelf-stacker when he was offered a record deal. He pitched himself as a one-man synth-rock band, notching up early hits, such as ‘Acceptable In The 80s’. But it was as a producer that his career took off, via hook-ups with Kylie Minogue and Wicklow’s Roisin Murphy, among others. His defining moment was the 2011 Rihanna collaboration, ‘We Found Love’, which Harris wrote and produced for her Talk That Talk LP. Selling 8.1m copies, the tune elevated Harris to the top rank of international dance producers. He is number four on the Forbes rich list of celebrities, with estimated 2012 earnings of $46m. The only artists ahead of him are Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift.
Example: Starting as a protege of The Streets’ Mike Skinner, r’n’b singer, Example, has become one of the UK’s biggest pop stars. Behind the surface level cheesiness, he’s subtle. His songs wax ambivalent about fame.
“All of my mates in the business have gone through the same thing,” he told this journalist in 2011. “They either turn to drink and drugs, or they break up with their girlfriend. It’s so easy to feel lonely. You are surrounded by people all the time. Then you get home to your flat and there’s nobody there.”
He has unlikely influences, citing Blur’s Damon Albarn as a style icon. “I’m not into my designer labels or spending lots of money on drinks and cars.... If Blur were doing dance music, that’s what I’d be like. Damon Albarn... he was cool, but he’d turn up in his jeans and t-shirt and Adidas. That’s my vibe.”
Rita Ora: The Albanian-UK singer has established herself as a mass-market Amy Winehouse. With her sultry vocals and dazzling stage presence, she was born to perform. She was discovered by rapper Jay-Z, who, in 2009, told her she could be “bigger than Rihanna”. She’s not quite there yet, but is progressing: featuring a who’s who list of big-name producers (including will.i.am, Major Lazer and Stargate), her 2012 debut, Ora, reached number two in the charts here and number one in the UK. Her second LP is due this year.
David Guetta: The spiritual father of the modern pop aesthetic, aged 45, Parisian David Guetta is the most influential DJ and producer in the world. He created the blue-print for the contemporary pop anthem, with his production work on the Black Eyed Peas’ 2009 uber-smash ‘I Got A Feeling’, the most downloaded song of all time. But his greatest influence may be as a DJ, with his stadium-sized shows introducing America — suspicious of electronica — to the pleasures of euphoric techno. Critics will argue that, sonically and aesthetically, he is indebted to Daft Punk, specifically their 2007 world tour. The difference is that his fellow Frenchmen were ambivalent about fame and success, and the jet-setting Guetta embraces both.
Chase and Status: Seeing themselves as inheritors of The Prodigy’s aggressive aesthetic, Chase and Status blend the slamming stridency of urban pop with heavy-rock aggression.
“When people say we sound like the Prodigy, we take that as a massive compliment,” said Will Kennard (aka Status) in 2011. “When we were kids, they were our idols. They were our first big entry into this whole world of dance. Liam Howlett took rave to people who had never heard it before. When people you’ve worshiped since before you had hair on your face pay you a compliment, it’s a moment you want to hold onto forever.”
They’ve attracted marque admirers on their way to the top. Rihanna tapped them for production work on her dark, tempestuous 2010 LP, Rated R. Their 2011 LP, No More Idols, featured guest turns from Dizzee Rascal, White Lies and Plan B. The cover shot of a British bulldog told you everything about the duo’s geezer-ish sound.
Rizzle Kicks: The Brighton partnership of Jordan Stephens and Harley Alexander-Sule has had an unlikely rise. Their first major hit, ‘Mama Do The Hump’, was produced by ‘big beat’ innovator, Fatboy Slim, and featured a sample of Neighbours star Craig McLachlan’s 1990 cover of the Bo Diddley song, ‘Mona’. The tune was a smash, reaching number three in the charts. In the UK, it was kept in second place by Jessie J. The track established Rizzle Kicks’ musical persona as irreverent cheeky chaps who know where the party is.
*Oxegen runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Punchestown Racecourse, Kildare. The main stage acts appear Saturday and Sunday.