Friday 22nd-24th July
Jodrel Bank Observatory, Cheshire
Words by Elliot Ryder
Promoting expansion of the mind camped out below the stars may not seem all that innovative for a brand new British music festival. However, the inaugural Bluedot Festival took this age old format to previously unexplored realms, blasting off in style with a 3 day collision of science and music before the stunning backdrop of Jodrell Bank Observatory. While sound may be nonexistent in space, music and the final frontier go hand and hand, with Bluedot celebrating the combination through a selection of panel debates, talks and future ready performances across the weekend.
Holding a piece of our moon in the palm of your hand and having the complexity of the Large Hadron Collider explained to you in detail isn’t on the usual festival itinerary. In short, Bluedot isn’t like any other festival. The usual summer festival experience is one of escape; Bluedot brought everything down to earth whilst shining a light on the furthest parts of the galaxy. A complimentary schedule of art, lectures and music awaited.
(Brian Eno's art installation - Photo: Jody Hartley)
In the iconic Lovell Telescope’s Friday afternoon shadow, thousands gathered in the hope to catch Professor Brian Cox answer the age old cosmic conundrum: are we alone? Presenting a live outing for BBC Radio 4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage, the debate did much to spark conversation of quantum mechanics amongst the informed, while those with their eyes on the music set to come over the weekend were left somewhat even further in the dark over the endless void of space. Nonetheless, very few will have walked away without purpose and significance crossing their mind as passages of Carl Sagan’s ethereal Pale Blue Dot were read aloud on stage.
Following performances from Public Service Broadcasting and George Fitzgerald, the curtain of a spectacular sunset faded into the horizon and Underworld took up their mantle of Friday headliners. Along with renditions of classics such as “Cowgirl” and “Rez”, new release “If Rah” proved to hit home with equal effect amongst the seasoned dancers. Simplistic lyrics such as ‘have a good time’ took on new levels of depth when uttered by vocalist Karl Hyde as the veterans delivered a lesson in rave culture to the fresh faced members of the audience. As the euphoric piano stabs of “Born Slippy” emerged to close the set, so did the cameras; but this was not a moment for modern day live music cynicism - capturing through the phone rather than immersing within the experience. Such arguments become less tangible when the opportunity to capture a crystal clear memory of such a unifying moment through music presents itself. With the unmistakable hook of “Larger Larger” ringing clear, the first glimpses of Brian Eno’s art installation beamed onto the Lovell Telescope, leaving Jodrell Bank a picture of euphoria.
(Underworld upon the Lovell Stage - Photo courtesy of Bluedot)
Saturday brought around a trip to the onsite planetarium before moving on to catch a playful performance from the aptly named The Big Moon over on the Orbit Stage, complete with a fuzz driven cover of Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger”. French starmen Air were to be one of the many big names lighting up the Lovell Stage in the evening, with the pairing generous enough to dish out some of the best of 1998’s Moon Safari - making their choice of viewing over DJ Shadow that little more worthwhile. Despite the performance beautifully recreating their signature panoramic sound, it fell upon an audience who seemed unenthused by the dreamy soundtrack, happy to save what energy remained for the appearance of the enigmatic Jean-Michel Jarre. Run outs for “Sexy Boy” and “La Femme D’argent” raised the spirits but were merely a footnote in comparison to the reaction to the space age anthem of “Oxygene pt 4” as Jean-Michel perfectly encapsulated his surrounding through the headline set. Terrestrial lifeform Ben UFO was charged with taking the party into the early hours at the helm of the Orbit Stage, offering up an escape further into the night via his characteristically vibrant record selections.
(Jean-Michel Jarre - Photo: Jody Hartley)
With scientific precision a constant up until Sunday, it seemed only fair to witness Mancunian punk outfit Cabbage wave the middle to such order on the Nebula Stage, thunderously providing a healthy dose of musical chaos to see in the final day of the festival. Only at Bluedot could such mayhem be followed by a short trip across the festival to hear experts deliver their verdict on how our sun came to be. Could it be possible that this may be a festival where you return home with more brain cells than you ventured there with? The next lecture in the schedule did not come from an esteemed professor but from former The Beta Band man Steve Mason in the confines of a packed out Orbit Stage. Forthright as ever in-between songs, the fiery Scot reignited a spirit of rebellion among the members of the audience whose lives had been diluted by planning, schedules and 40 hour weeks. With an air of positivity still very much apparent, all roads led to Lovell stage where Dan Snaith would reimagine his Caribou moniker in what would prove to be a performance worthy of being the last image to take from the ground-breaking weekend.
The four tightly knit shadows on stage worked their way through material spanning Our Love, Swim and Andorra. Tracks such as “Niobe” and “Your Love Will Set You Free” were reworked and developed magnificently, exploring and delivering on the possibilities offered up by the band’s full live show. For the encore, a truly celestial moment was provided. Perhaps there has never been a more fitting moment for “Sun” to reverberate out than when in the presence of Jodrell Bank. Much like the Lovell Telescope before them, Caribou and Snaith live to explore, identify and make contact with new forms of music; a true honour to be in attendance when the two pioneers of space exploration and sound came together.
(Caribou closing out Bluedot 2016 - Photo: Courtesy of Bluedot)
Words by Elliot Ryder
Main photos courtes of Bluedot Festival