It’s literally the calm before the storm. During the early evening of day one at Oxegen an odd feeling of quiet hangs in the air. There just aren’t all that many punters around, and the festival doesn’t take off properly until BLUR slay the masses later on. In the meantime smaller bands are playing to crowds of varying sizes to various levels of success. French shoegaze meddlers M83 take to the stage in the strangely shaped Red Bull Music Academy which is quite a trek from the main festival arenas. The punters who journey over are treated to a faintly underwhelming set which draws heavily on main man Anthony Gonzales’s most recent album, the dreamy Saturdays = Youth. The sound is poor and the fact that people near the back are chatting indifferently to each other and strolling around, makes the whole thing feel like he is playing background music at a dinner party. Things gain a certain amount of momentum with the blissful -Kim and Jessie’ and -Graveyard Girl’, but the extended, repetitive workout of -Coleurs’ which comes late in the set borders on tedious.
Monaghan charmers THE FLAWS fare better on the IMRO New Music stage, lashing out their solidly-crafted, jangly pop to an enthusiastic bunch of fans who clearly know their Achieving Vagueness album inside out. They banter merrily to the crowd and the gig has an intimate chummy feel, like a night out in a small venue rather than a big music festival. They do a lovely, stirring rendition of Echo and the Bunnymen’s -The Killing Moon’ and raise the roof with their single -16′. It was a classy and cheerful little set.
We catch some of MOGWAI and it is as intense and ferocious as you might expect, except again the crowd is far from capacity. Starting with -Glasgow Mega-Snake’ and working toward a huge, rolling -Mogwai Fear Satan’, their set is a trawl through one of the most noisy back catalogues in contemporary music. Mogwai work best when they are as loud as possible, and although they sounded pretty thunderous from up near the front, a few vexed looks the band throw to the sound engineers suggest they might want to be louder still.
Ending the night in the dance arena is the enigmatic Canadian producer DEADMAU5, whose snaking, trippy house music is a refreshingly left-field alternative to the ubiquitous blog-flavoured electronica that stuffs the schedule. His mesmerising, progressive beats, peppered with disorientating samples, build a head of steam and thrill a hedonistic crowd getting their first fix of dance this weekend. It’s an energetic ending to a strangely subdued first day.