Blue­dot fes­ti­val moves into its third year with its unique brand of music, sci­ence and space mashup. There is prob­a­bly no oth­er fes­ti­val like it: music fans can take their fill of sev­er­al stages and sci­ence geeks have a wealth talks and work­shops with experts, although its fair to say most fes­ti­val goers dip into a bit of every­thing. And it all takes place under the watch­ful eye of the beau­ti­ful Lovell tele­scope, the third largest steer­able radio tele­scope in the world.

This year, the fes­ti­val ethos is very much about sav­ing our plan­et. That theme was deliv­ered cen­tre-stage at Blue­dot on the Thurs­day night as Man­ches­ter’s Halle Orches­tra per­formed The Blue Plan­et against a cap­ti­vat­ing back­drop of the pro­gram­me’s wildlife shots.

On Fri­day, Blue­dot ful­ly kicked into action with talks, work­shops, space and sci­ence activ­i­ties, yoga and well­be­ing, and of course, music.

Last year saw Isle of Wight based Plas­tic Mer­maids play an after­noon set on one of the small­er stages – this year they were back in grander style for a main stage appear­ance – an impres­sive set suf­fused with ener­gy and the­atri­cal­i­ty – a hint of the Flam­ing Lips set to come.

Mid after­noon, the crowd who had gath­ered for Pro­fes­sor Tim O’Brien’s address glanced at the sky in bewil­dered fash­ion as rain­drops fell. O’Brien talked about the scaf­fold­ing vis­i­ble around the tele­scope. “Car­ing for the Lovell tele­scope is like own­ing a clas­sic car – it needs con­stant ren­o­va­tion work,” he explained, describ­ing the new out­er sur­face that is being applied. He skyped the Break­through Lis­ten Project in Cal­i­for­nia, who search for intel­li­gent life out in space and for a dra­mat­ic finale, O’Brien played the ‘sound’ of a star ripped apart as it comes into con­tact with a super­mas­sive black hole. You can’t real­ly get more dra­mat­ic than that.

Pub­lic Ser­vice Broad­cast­ing are a nat­ur­al fit for Blue­dot and their ear­ly evening set was a ener­gis­ing col­lec­tion of ‘great­est hits’. Dur­ing the day, fes­ti­val goers had been busy rov­ing around the huge site – PSB’s open­ing notes drew the crowd togeth­er as one and cre­at­ed the sense of a shared fes­ti­val experience.

public service broadcasting

The rep­u­ta­tion of much antic­i­pat­ed head­lin­ers The Flam­ing Lips goes before them but noth­ing quite pre­pares you for the actu­al expe­ri­ence of stand­ing in front of Wayne Coyne and his band; there is no let up in the onslaught of par­ty para­pher­na­lia deployed, from con­fet­ti can­nons burst­ing forth, balls bounc­ing off into the crowd, a giant sil­ver sign and lat­er, Wayne singing and zorb­ing over the crowd to Bowie’s Space Odd­i­ty and Star­man. Coyne remains the cool front man throughout.

Over the week­end, sev­er­al strong per­for­mances stood out: Balo­ji, a Bel­gian Con­golese born rap­per, cur­rent­ly mak­ing waves with his refugee song L’hiv­er Indi­en, man­aged to get the crowd danc­ing to the band’s mix of funk and African rhythms. They toned down the lyric con­tent for the younger audi­ence mem­bers – not some­thing that both­ered Coyne and Co.


Nadine Shah deliv­ered a cool and classy main stage set, her warm and grav­el­ly vocals work­ing with the Roxy-esque sax­o­phone of Pete Ware­ham. She played a mix of mate­r­i­al includ­ing the title track from her lat­est, polit­i­cal­ly-dri­ven album Hol­i­day Des­ti­na­tion the brit­tle vocals con­vey­ing her anger at the plight of refugees in crisis.


Gary Numan’s set was exhil­a­rat­ing. The­atri­cal­i­ty con­tin­ues to be a part of Numan’s DNA: the stage a futur­is­tic waste­land, the band mem­bers dressed for a punk apoc­a­lypse while Numan and his band per­formed in a con­stant cloud of dry ice. Numan duti­ful­ly rolled out the old hits: Cars, Are Friends Elec­tric? and mate­r­i­al from the lat­est con­cept album Sav­age: Songs from a Bro­ken World such as the plain­tive and des­o­late My Name is Ruin. Numan’s lyrics pos­sess a poet­ic strength, such as on When the World Comes Apart, beau­ti­ful but ici­ly doom laden. Numan prowled the stage, those famil­iar dra­mat­ic bal­let­ic moves still much in evi­dence. The only sign that indi­cat­ed the pass­ing of time was when he intro­duced his daugh­ter, Per­sia, to accom­pa­ny on vocals.

Judg­ing by their Blue­dot per­for­mance, Leeds-based five-piece Ves­sels have hit on a mag­ic for­mu­la and their dense, dreamy and lay­ered sound found its nat­ur­al home in the dark con­fines of the Orbit tent where a hush fell over the mes­merised crowd. Theirs is a com­pul­sive sound that sends out hyp­not­ic waves – it’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive live set.

The Chem­i­cal Broth­ers wowed the crowds, swelled by plen­ty of day vis­i­tors just for this per­for­mance, with a phe­nom­e­nal laser show and the vol­ume at max­i­mum lev­el that seemed to send shock waves over the entire site. Those feel­ing in a more chilled state of mind head­ed along to see Slow­dive who offered a warm, dreamy shoegaze set, with rip­pling gui­tars and rich harmonies.

A sur­vey after Blue­dot last year asked who peo­ple would like to see next year: it was cheer­ing to know that The Orb remains a well-loved favourite, their per­for­mances are few and far between and many of the post-Chem­i­cal crowd squashed into the tent for some 90s ambi­ent dreaminess.

Com­bined har­mo­nious­ly with the music are the sci­ence and space-relat­ed areas – mean­der­ing paths lead to clus­ters of stalls and activ­i­ties at var­i­ous points of the site, where sci­en­tists and experts are on hand to patient­ly dis­pense their knowl­edge and enthu­si­asm. The Women of Sci­ence project was in atten­dance, with the aim of encour­ag­ing girls to take up STEM sub­jects. Local to the fes­ti­val site, Mac­cles­field Astro­nom­i­cal Soci­ety had brought along high-pow­ered tele­scopes to view the sun – if only the cloud cov­er would disappear.

For chil­dren there’s enough fun but edu­ca­tion­al enter­tain­ment to keep them busy over the three days and it is par­tic­u­lar­ly thrilling that such a range of experts are in atten­dance to impart their knowl­edge. My two test-case chil­dren, aged two and eight, found plen­ty to inspire them. They par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed the Star Field area filled with sci­ence experiments.

rocket making at Bluedot

Their favourite activ­i­ties were: build­ing a rock­et and mak­ing it fly using a foot pump, mak­ing a pul­sar, and a cod­ing work­shop. At the Wacky Sci­ence lab, you could make com­plex struc­tures from lin­guine and jel­ly babies; it was inad­vis­able to eat the jel­ly babies, as they had  been han­dled by plen­ty of tiny hands.

In the main are­na’s work­shop, The Hen­ry Royce Insti­tute focused on cells and virus­es; they had set up a walk-through ‘decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion unit’ for kids, with spe­cial suits to wear. The Nation­al Oceanog­ra­phy Cen­tre help­ful­ly explained their deep sea projects, prob­ing the deep on unmanned ‘rock­ets’ to send back infor­ma­tion of ocean­ic changes.

For Star Wars fans, Lightsaber train­ing returned after its pop­u­lar­i­ty last year, giv­ing chil­dren the oppor­tu­ni­ty to become a Jedi Pro at spe­cial class­es through­out the day.jedi class at Bluedot

Unlim­it­ed The­atre’s one-man show How I Hacked my way into Space took place dai­ly from a spe­cial­ly designed tour­ing Space Shed, set up in the shad­ow of the tele­scope. It tells the tale of a man, in the midst of a mid-life cri­sis, who has always yearned to go to space from his gar­den shed.

Bluedot spaceshed

With the ‘no rub­bish going to land­fill’ edict issued by the fes­ti­val team, the site stayed sparkling clean for its dura­tion, with lots of wheel­ie bins every­where for all the recy­clable food and drink con­tain­ers and a team of clean­ers pick­ing up every last bit of dis­card­ed waste. The loos were pret­ty good through­out too.

The most heart-stop­ping­ly beau­ti­ful instal­la­tion was Luke Jer­ram’s Earth, sus­pend­ed above a path­way by the Arbore­tum (see top of page) with a sound com­po­si­tion by Dan Jones. The project was inspired by the feel­ing of awe astro­nauts felt at see­ing our world from afar. Sev­en metres in diam­e­ter and print­ed with NASA imagery of the Earth­’s sur­face, the instal­la­tion served as a reminder of the beau­ty and fragili­ty of our ‘blue dot’. It served as a fit­ting trib­ute to our plan­et – and this unique fam­i­ly festival.


Blue­dot fes­ti­val, 19 – 22 July


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