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.
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.
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.
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.
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