Check­ing out the dai­ly line­up at Blue­dot fes­ti­val ahead of time could give you that FOMO feel­ing. Should you catch a band you’ve had your eye on…  or attend a talk by a notable sci­en­tist? That’s the music ver­sus science/space dilem­ma that you’re up against at Blue­dot but, once you’re on site and have found your feet, you start to relax and enjoy that sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion­ship on which the fes­ti­val is based.

Now in its sec­ond year, Blue­dot fes­ti­val is at Jodrell Bank, under­neath the dra­mat­ic, breath­tak­ing and beau­ti­ful Lovell Tele­scope. As you wan­der around the fes­ti­val grounds, from the peace­ful Arbore­tum to the busy are­na, the mighty tele­scope is ever present, cast­ing a strange­ly com­fort­ing pres­ence when­ev­er you look skyward. 

A Fri­day after­noon set by the ever-inven­tive Jane Weaver pro­vid­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to hear mate­r­i­al from new release Mod­ern Kos­mol­o­gy with its dri­ving Krautrock beat anchor­ing the swirling synths, a back­drop to her ethe­re­al vocals. She closed with an effec­tive, drawn out ver­sion of I Need a Con­nec­tion from 2014 album Sil­ver Globe

Man in spacesuit
Watch­ing Moonlandingz 

Moon­land­ingz are guar­an­teed to be enter­tain­ing. The late-after­noon slot may call for a some­what child-friend­ly per­for­mance, how­ev­er Lias Saou­di was nev­er going to let that restrain him. Bran­dish­ing a wine bot­tle (and crack­ers, part of com­mu­nion), Saou­di and crew played a strong set, a dense, joy­ful clat­ter of psych rock with touch­es of ear­ly Roxy Music. 

Pro­fes­sor Tim O’Brien, Asso­ciate Direc­tor of Jodrell Bank, gave a short address, invit­ing us to share in the Lovell Tele­scope’s 60th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions, he recount­ed a few fas­ci­nat­ing space-relat­ed facts, and even played us the ‘sound’ of a pul­sar. A spon­ta­neous round of applause erupt­ed from the audi­ence as O’Brien read the famous excerpt from Carl Sagan’s 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot, inspired by the view from Voy­ager 1; the stir­ring words and the sober­ing mes­sage seem more rel­e­vant now than ever. 

Fri­day’s head­lin­er, late to the bill, was Left­field, per­form­ing their sem­i­nal album, Left­ism. My fes­ti­val com­pan­ion Nicholas Mai, a fan of the band since their hey­day, has writ­ten a review of their per­for­mance.

Of Sat­ur­day’s music line­up, Plas­tic Mer­maids enchant­ed every­one with beau­ti­ful har­monies. Lat­er, Boxed In com­mand­ed the main stage with a tight, catchy set, while the crowd basked soporif­i­cal­ly in this year’s fes­ti­val must-have, the air-filled bean bag, look­ing like a sea of colour­ful slugs.

Pass­ing by the Neb­u­la Stage, a heav­en­ly noise assailed my ears and I was drawn inevitably into the ten­t’s gloom. This was on of those moments you hope for at a fes­ti­val, where a band you’ve nev­er heard of – and the name W H Lung does­n’t exact­ly stick in the mind – pro­duced a heart-stop­ping set with a psych-Neu fusion, dra­mat­ic and intense. This Man­ches­ter record­ing out­fit are def­i­nite­ly one to watch out for.

Tony Walsh per­formed his stir­ring poem about Man­ches­ter, This is the Place. The poem is a pas­sion­ate eulo­gy to the city, its her­itage and its pro­lif­ic cre­ativ­i­ty, which he read at the vig­il after the Man­ches­ter bomb attack. 

We have to thank our lucky stars that the Hart­noll broth­ers have reformed – the Lovell Stage seemed like Orbital’s nat­ur­al home. Decked out in their torch glass­es, and joined by Radio­phon­ic Work­shop for a danced-up ver­sion of Dr Who as an encore, the spec­ta­cle of the stage with lasers beam­ing out into the crowd, the majes­tic tele­scope and a full moon all com­bined for the per­fect head­line act.

A lit­tle about the talks, which I found inspir­ing: Arthur Miller, author of Col­lid­ing Worlds, gave a talk about the intro­duc­tion of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy into the art world. Ear­ly exam­ples of com­put­er art pro­voked laugh­ter amongst the audi­ence, projects such as Google’s Deep Dream indi­cat­ed the grow­ing invest­ment in the medi­um. The land­scape has grad­u­al­ly changed, now artists are har­ness­ing tech­nol­o­gy in far reach­ing ways.

Chan­nel 4’s Geoff White gave a talk about ‘The Dark Web’ which, judg­ing by the lengthy queue to get in, is a sub­ject of mys­tery and fas­ci­na­tion to many. He illus­trat­ed his talk with a big pink bal­loon – a “giant tes­ti­cle” – which was cov­ered in plas­tic bags and thrown between var­i­ous audi­ence mem­bers, in order to demon­strate the encryp­tion involved in keep­ing a site dark and for its users to wear a cloak of invis­i­bil­i­ty. Sun­day’s talk: ‘The Observ­er presents Fake News’ was, ulti­mate­ly chill­ing: the sec­ond of two talks, Car­ole Cad­wal­ladr and team probed the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca deba­cle and revealed oth­er thought-pro­vok­ing issues around data and data misuse.

With the advent of a boil­ing hot Sun­day, it looked as if many fes­ti­val-goers had decamped to the lush tran­quil­i­ty of the Arbore­tum. I dis­cov­ered Aiden Moes­by’s Between Still­ness and Storm, in which the ener­gy of the weath­er is har­nessed and used to cre­ate instal­la­tions of sight and sound. The minia­ture ‘bell tow­er’ rang out with mys­ti­cal sound­ing tolls in the sum­mer breeze.

Bluedot arboretum

Anna Mered­ith has gar­nered much pub­lic­i­ty and the Orbit tent was packed for her quirky and fas­ci­nat­ing melange of the clas­si­cal with syn­thy dance – Mered­ith is pro­duc­ing some­thing utter­ly dif­fer­ent from any­thing else around at the moment. Sun­day’s head­lin­er was the endur­ing­ly pop­u­lar Alt J – the quirky band, able to turn their hand to a mul­ti­tude of gen­res, played hits and new mate­r­i­al. Let’s Tes­se­late and Dis­solve Me sound­ed par­tic­u­lar­ly haunting

But top of my list for Sun­day was a per­for­mance by Rogue Emper­or (pow­er­house ex Elbow drum­mer Richard Jupp, plus Doves’ key­boardist Mar­tin Rebel­s­ki, with Mike TV and Ollie Collins). There were ini­tial tech­ni­cal hitch­es, the band looked ner­vous and the stage lights were set to dim – extreme­ly dim. And the crowd were get­ting a tad rest­less. All the bet­ter to ramp up the atmos­phere. But then it all came togeth­er as the band launched into an amaz­ing dance set. Not of the in-your-face vari­ety, this crept up on you… dense and smokey. This was dance music but with a dreamy edge and I sus­pect the band can­not have been more hap­py with the crowd’s reception.

Bluedot Rogue Emperor


Bluedot jedi

Chil­dren and par­ents have prob­a­bly a week’s worth of sci­ence and space relat­ed activ­i­ties at their dis­pos­al. Although I was child free, I did have a ‘test fam­i­ly’ on site with me so I sam­pled lots of kid-relat­ed stuff. The chil­dren’s areas were burst­ing with all kinds of activ­i­ties, with enthu­si­as­tic experts on hand. At the Star Field, chil­dren made clay ani­mal seed bombs, learned about the glac­i­ers dis­ap­pear­ing at Ever­est and the effects of glob­al warm­ing. Unlim­it­ed The­atre’s one-(space)man play How I Hacked my Way Into Space with Jon Spoon­er, has a quirky and love­ly set – a gar­den shed. The­atre design­er Rhys Jar­man dressed the shed with items gath­ered from car boot sales and geeky web­sites –  vin­tage tools, Star Wars mod­els, tele­scopes, plan­et mobiles and a ten­nis rack­et. It is tour­ing fes­ti­vals this sum­mer, but its place at Blue­dot, under the Lovell Tele­scope, felt like its nat­ur­al home.

Bluedot spaceshed

Over­all, I was very impressed and inspired by Blue­dot – by the range of live music and science/space events, by the pas­sion of so many of the ‘geeky’ experts on hand to share their knowl­edge with you – no mat­ter how long it took them to patient­ly explain – and by the sheer orig­i­nal­i­ty and inven­tive nature of this spe­cial, cos­mic weekend.

Blue­dot fes­ti­val, Goost­rey, Cheshire

Left­field at Blue­dot by guest review­er Nicholas Mai



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