A couple of years ago, I promised myself I wouldn’t return to Oxegen after a frankly crap year in 2005 and a horrible one-day experience in 2006. This year I returned under different circumstances as part of the State team with the proviso what we would review as many bands as we could over the weekend. It was actually a great experience plus, I got to avoid the campsites and head home to my parents house every night for a real bed and a shower. In the morning, as web editor, I collated everyone’s reviews and James Goulden (sample shot above) and Shawna Scott’s excellent photos into our reviews of the previous days. It was a gratifying job.
There were some clear highlights for me: most I have written about for State such as Aphex Twin, Vampire Weekend, Pendulum and Holy Fuck. However as is inevitable with coverage of a headliner, multiple writers were at the same stage so I never got to chance to write about one band: Rage Against The Machine and their closing set on Sunday’s Main stage.
It was my first time the whole weekend I paid attention to the Main stage. It helped that I bumped into some mates beforehand. From our vantage-point near the IMRO New Sounds tent, we could see a huge mass of people gathered in front of us. The light emanating from the stage highlighted every corner of the field, while in the distance, to the left, The Chemical Brothers with their amazing looking giant visuals juggernaut looked like a spaceship about to whirl off in a dash of lights and colour. I wished I could be at both but then again you only see Rage once, The Chemicals play nearly every year.
Rage were late but nobody minded the wait. By my possibly incorrect calculations, they last played here in 1994, exactly 14 years ago, almost to the day. So take a few minutes more lads if you need to, while we limber up.
The band take the stage with a backdrop of a Zapatista flag and Zack De La Rocha announces “We are Rage Against The Machine and we are from Los Angeles.” We hear the opening guitar scrapes and drum rolls of ‘Testify’ and everyone loses it when Morello’s riff kicks in. It’s like they never left. De La Rocha is still lepping around like its Feile 94. He’s lovin’ it and is stalking both sides of the stage slamming himself around. Bassist Tim Commerford is covered in his trademark tattoo armour and Morello still looks the same age as always and plays the guitar with same jaw-dropping trickery. ‘Bulls on Parade’ follows and all the teenage years come flooding back.
As the songs are picked off – ‘People Of The Sun’, ‘Bombtrack’, ‘Know Your Enemy’, ‘Bullet In The Head’, they bring back memories of times past. Every song is a dormant memory perfectly formed in hibernation until it is woken up during the set. I realise I know all the words even though it’s been quite a while since I listened to any of the albums. It was like stepping into the past. I remember the first time I listened to Rage, taking a copied cassette from my sister, the inlay of which was covered in black nail varnish and listening to it in the car while waiting for my parents to come back from a market. I remember watching their Feile performance on TV and thinking how awesome it looked. I remember listening to ‘Bulls on Parade’ at ear-splitting volumes in my bedroom. I remember learning ‘Bombtrack’ on guitar. I remember a friend I had once who used to play, yes you guessed it, ‘Killing in the Name of’ out of his room to piss off everyone else. Bit of a cliché that one.
The sound cuts out a little but it can’t hamper my enjoyment of the gig. Someone in the crowd is holding an upside down US flag, which reminds us of RAGE’s political machinations, which in all honesty, don’t feel so prominent tonight. Then again, during ‘Know Your Enemy’ , I replace the “All of Which are American Dreams” mantra with the Warlords of Pez version of “All of Which is an Irish Breakfast” so who am I to talk? Hey, you only live once, right?
As we reach the encore of ‘Freedom’, everyone knows what’s coming next. And they deliver. ‘Killing in the Name Of’ has become the clichéd expression of adolescent rebellion for many but no-one can deny that hearing 60,000 people blast out “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me / FUCK YOU, I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!!” isn’t an experience born of the dealing with some kind of authoritarian bullshit. Rage leave me well and truly sated. We may have waited 14 years but it was extremely good timing in my book.