Since its first year in 2016, Blue­dot has carved out a unique place in the fes­ti­val land­scape, curat­ing a music line­up that can rival any oth­er gath­er­ing. But it also offers some­thing spe­cial – a win­dow into the world of sci­ence and space. Talks and work­shops are giv­en by some of the top names in sci­ence, and if you wan­der down to Blue­dot’s sci­ence area, you’ll find clus­ters of stalls host­ed by uni­ver­si­ty, research and explo­ration teams, eager to share their knowl­edge. With so much going on, there’s always a ‘sci­ence or music’ dilemma. 

It has now been three years since New Order wrapped the Lovell Stage at Blue­dot 2019. So what has changed for this year? The Roots stage has gone and beneath the beau­ti­ful Gaia art instal­la­tion by Luke Jer­ram is a new well­be­ing area, with mas­sage tents, a yoga tent and a suit­ably chilled look­ing cafe. It also looks as if the fes­ti­val’s cen­tre­piece – the Lovell Tele­scope – has had a makeover. It’s a dra­mat­ic, breath­tak­ing and beau­ti­ful struc­ture and as you wan­der around the fes­ti­val grounds it is ever present, cast­ing a strange­ly com­fort­ing pres­ence when­ev­er you look sky­ward. And we find out more about the makeover when Tim O’Brien, Jodrell Bank’s asso­ciate direc­tor, gives his annu­al wel­come talk.

It has become a Blue­dot tra­di­tion to mark the fes­ti­val’s open­ing with a clas­si­cal con­cert on Thurs­day evening. This year was the turn of Han­nah Peel, who has appeared at Blue­dot before; she has teamed up with the Para­orches­tra, unveil­ing a live per­for­mance of her dra­mat­ic piece The Unfold­ing.


Fri­day’s music line­up starts with LYR (Land Yacht Regat­ta), fea­tur­ing Poet Lau­re­ate Simon Armitage, Richard Wal­ters and Patrick Pear­son. It’s a gen­tle start to the pro­gramme with Simon’s com­fort­ing spo­ken-word delivery. 

As the day unfolds, the music ramps up: young artist Kahreign deserved­ly gets an enthu­si­as­tic response from the Neb­u­la tent crowd. She’s a con­fi­dent and expres­sive per­former and plays her own par­tic­u­lar style of Afro fusion, mix­ing ele­ments from Zim­bab­we, South Africa and Man­ches­ter. Lat­er, par­ty ani­mals Los Bitchos ramp things up fur­ther with an upbeat set, their dis­tinc­tive twangy gui­tars and cumbia / Turkish/ glob­al sound get­ting every­one danc­ing. It’s one of the best sets of the festival.

Tim O’Brien heads onto the stage for his annu­al wel­come speech. He talks about the James Webb space tele­scope which launched on Christ­mas Day, and is deliv­er­ing data that is chang­ing our under­stand­ing of space. In fact every sci­en­tist giv­ing a talk over the week­end men­tions NASA’s new space won­der. We also learn about the Lovell Tele­scope’s upgrade: patch­ing it up yet again wasn’t going to work so they decid­ed to resur­face the whole thing. And then, as we watched, the tele­scope almost imper­cep­ti­bly shift­ed round; see­ing it move is a strange and awe-inspir­ing sight. 

Lat­er, one of the most dra­mat­ic and sat­is­fy­ing sets took place at the Orbit stage as Welsh elec­tron­ic artist Kel­ly Lee Owens played her shim­mer­ing, crys­talline and expres­sive elec­tron­i­ca. There’s an inten­si­ty and an emo­tion­al res­o­nance to her work which brings an added dimen­sion. It was a shame that her set part­ly clashed with Groove Arma­da, who were mak­ing a Blue­dot appear­ance on what they’ve announced to be their final tour. The band also pro­ject­ed some stun­ning visu­als onto the telescope.


Sci­ence talks and work­shops were in abun­dance. British Antarc­tic Sur­vey talked about sur­viv­ing in Antarc­ti­ca on cli­mate change research. At their stand you had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to climb into one of their (very cramped) two-man tents, and observe the mea­gre rations of a two-week sur­vival food pack – well at least there’s Mar­mite. Speak­ing to one of the explor­ers was quite an eye open­er; she had been there for three months and on return­ing, found re-adjust­ing to ‘nor­mal life’ again quite a dif­fi­cult task, even to the point of see­ing the colour green again after see­ing noth­ing but a sea of white. A sea spi­der (in a glass case) was an inter­est­ing spec­i­men – for­tu­nate­ly they only live in very deep waters.

Chris Lin­tott held Mis­sion Con­trol in thrall with a talk called ‘How to be Sur­prised by the Uni­verse’. One sto­ry caused amuse­ment – a team of sci­en­tists at a space cen­tre in Aus­tralia were excit­ed – and mys­ti­fied – to dis­cov­er a strange increase in radio waves. But only at lunchtime. Fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion lead to the dis­cov­ery that their microwave was busy at that time… and some staff were too impa­tient to wait for the ‘ping’ to indi­cate their food was ready. Hence the release of waves into the air. Mys­tery solved.

Tim Peake drew a crowd far big­ger than the same capa­cious tent could hold. He’s a great speak­er and made you feel as if you were on that jour­ney with him to the Space Shut­tle. Lat­er, Jim Al Khalili talked about the pos­si­bil­i­ties and pos­si­ble prob­lems of time trav­el, whether you’re plan­ning to go back in time or forward. 

Lanterns on the Lake opened with the atmos­pher­ic Spook the Heard and Every Atom. It was a beau­ti­ful and med­i­ta­tive per­for­mance. It may have been a more pow­er­ful expe­ri­ence if they had played dur­ing the evening, or in one of the music tents, in order to dis­till the full inten­si­ty of their music. 

But Blue­dot isn’t just about music and sci­ence. At the Arbore­tum you could dis­cov­er illu­mi­nat­ed art­works. A Cloud Gaz­ing project by Lor­na Rees looked like a tempt­ing choice where par­tic­i­pants lay wrapped in blan­kets on cozy beds study­ing cloud formations.

I was­n’t sure what the Lush Sham­poo bar was going to offer. Sham­poo flavoured beer? Free hair­wash­es? In the end it was a shop and treat­ment cen­tre but they appeared to be also host­ing a stage for cli­mate change aware­ness talks. Where­as Dyson’s pres­ence seemed a lit­tle less in synch with the fes­ti­val’s ethos.

Metron­o­my (below) have a recent album out, and they played a mix of old and new mate­r­i­al. With their catchy main­ly upbeat num­bers it was a per­fect set for an ear­ly evening crowd.

The Star Fields remains a nice­ly chilled cor­ner with a book­shop and the Notes stage; Tim Burgess host­ed lis­ten­ing par­ties and Helen Pankhurst con­duct­ed inter­views – I caught poet and writer Niki­ta Gill who talked about what inspires her to write, and she read some of her poetry. 

Calder Val­ley band The Lounge Soci­ety, burst on the scene only a few years ago and pro­pelled by an envi­ron­ment that nur­tures its local tal­ent in Heb­den Bridge and Tod­mor­den, plus cov­er­age by BBC Radio 6 Music, have had con­sid­er­able suc­cess. They’ve become far more ani­mat­ed and fun to watch on stage. 


The Mis­sion Con­trol tent was unsur­pris­ing­ly full for a talk by Dr Mag­gie Aderin-Pocock. Her warmth and enthu­si­asm, and her dri­ve to see women make fur­ther inroads into careers in sci­ence were utter­ly inspir­ing. She talked about her own career jour­ney, relat­ing some amus­ing tales, such as at 13 years of age, join­ing a tele­scope-mak­ing club where she was the only female with a group of men, all over 50. It was a heart­warm­ing expe­ri­ence to hear her achieve­ments and wit­ness her enthu­si­asm, which brought a stand­ing ova­tion at the end.

W H Lung first played Blue­dot in 2017. Their smokey motorik sound filled the tent and it was a mes­meris­ing per­for­mance. W H Lung’s star has risen fast and although they’ve shift­ed their sound in a more dan­cy direc­tion – notably on sopho­more album Van­i­ties – their core feel is still there, immutable, writ­ten into their DNA. Stat­uesque lead man Joe Evans, increas­ing­ly flam­boy­ant every time I see them, strides about the Neb­u­la stage which feels almost unable to con­tain his gan­g­ly fig­ure. I think back to that per­for­mance in 2017 and it’s grat­i­fy­ing to see how this band are achiev­ing so much and appear to have been able to take the direc­tion they’ve cho­sen for themselves. 

Along with many oth­er fans, I was very sor­ry to miss War­m­dusch­er. There was a last-minute change and they came on an hour ear­li­er than their intend­ed time of the app. 

And so to the head­lin­er Bjork with the Hal­lé Orches­tra, which sound­ed beau­ti­ful. Unfor­tu­nate­ly as I was as far back as close to the sound desk I did­n’t see her at all, a prob­lem encoun­tered by many oth­ers. The Blue­dot site is very flat which must be per­fect for the tele­scope (now there’s a ques­tion for Tim O’Brien…) but isn’t always so good for a main stage. We could real­ly have done with screens – some­thing for next year hopefully.

It’s been good to be back at Blue­dot, giv­ing us that space to drift, enjoy, absorb and learn. And with glob­al prob­lems weigh­ing heav­i­ly at the moment, it’s reas­sur­ing to dis­cov­er some of the advances and solu­tions sci­en­tists are involved in to help cre­ate a bet­ter world for the future. With a final glance at the tele­scope, we leave the site till next year. 

Blue­dot fes­ti­val; ear­ly bird tick­ets for 2023 on sale now at Dis­cov­er the Blue­dot
Pho­to gallery of Fri­day and Sat­ur­day at Blue­dot
Pho­to gallery of Sun­day at Bluedot

Pho­tog­ra­phy @oliviarosen for gourmet­gigs
Bjork cred­it: bjork wear­ing Mon­cler / pier­pao­lo pic­ci­oli @moncler @ppiccioli; mask @james.t.merry, make­up @isshehungry; bjarni frimann wear­ing @michael.stukan; orches­tra @the_halle. styling @eddagud; spe­cial thanks to @rhiannonlagden & @elliottjackadcock; pho­tos @santiagraphy

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