“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
In 1994 author and scientist Carl Sagan wrote these words about a photograph of Earth taken by Voyager 1 space probe from a distance of 6 billion kilometres. 22 years later his ideas provided inspiration for a new festival of arts and science that took place at Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, in the shadow of the giant Lovell telescope.
Aimed at inspiring curiosity and invoking a sense of wonder, Bluedot’s ambition was neatly summed up in its motto “Observe. Explore. Experiment.” Big name headliners like Jean Michel Jarre, Underworld and Caribou provided sufficient gravitational pull to bring in big crowds and boldly stake its claim for a position at the centre of the boutique festival galaxy . Headliners aside, it’s the undercard that makes a festival; and here Bluedot also showed its true cosmic greatness.
Of course, there were a few teething problems. Like many location concept events (e.g. Festival No. 6) access to the site was limited, which at busy times created traffic queues. Weather conditions affected car parking facilities, and Saturday’s full capacity felt oversold and crowded. Persistent refusal to publish stage times online wasn’t its finest moment and its cinema programme felt somewhat underwhelming. But given the intergalactic scale of Bluedot’s ambition, it still felt like an incredible achievement and an experience worthy of much praise. In celebration of its success we’ve put together a list of our space-themed highlights.
With last year’s Race for Space still fresh in everyone’s minds, Public Service Broadcasting must have been at the top of Bluedot’s artist wish list. Their audio-visual futuristic retro transmissions had all the required ingredients: wonder, tension and danger, fleeting sense of joy and fragility of human life. In essence, PSB were a perfect musical opener for a weekend centred around space exploration. Exuberant shout-along of ‘Go!’ and jubilant dancing astronaut during ‘Gagarin’ were moment of heart-warming communal joy, with the closing ‘Everest’ perhaps both a celebration of human spirit of endeavour and a reminder of our mortality. A DIY band, PSB have come a long way since playing tiny venues in South London. Seeing them effortlessly play the main stage was a delight.
British Sea Power are Britain’s biggest cult band who inspire almost religious devotion. To understand why perfectly rational human beings are prepared to follow them to infinity and beyond, it’s necessary to witness one of their more off-piste moments. By BSP standards Bluedot didn’t quite match the demented brilliance of their Krankenhaus club nights, but it certainly had a spark of that genius. Staged draped in greenery, the set mixed familiar tracks and new material: ‘Waving Flags’, ‘No Lucifer’, ‘Great Skua’, ‘What I’m doing’ … Then suddenly ‘The Spirit of St Louis’ unleashed that demonic BSP energy. Ursine Ultra BSP bear mascot was on the loose. Frontman Scott looked like he entered a shamanic trance. Finally, ‘Carrion’ floated into a sea of euphoria that spilt over into the parting ecstatic, slightly eerie mantra of ‘All In It’. BSP may not have fitted Bluedot’s thematic parameters but they certainly delivered the best set.
Cosmic Post Rock
Who best to soundtrack a festival devoted to science and space exploration than a band who recently provided a sonic background to a sci-fi game? 65daysofstatic don’t play many festivals and their Bluedot announcement was a big draw for many fans. Early into their set, guitarist Joe Shrewsbury stopped to address the crowd, “Good times. Brexit never happened here.” He paused, adding. “But it did. Please go and do something about it. Everyone should go forward and stop this tide of idiots.” Dark, passionate and eloquent, 65daysofstatic produced one of the most memorable sets of the entire weekend. True disciples of Sagan’s wisdom.
New Music Frontiers
Never mind those big names. Festivals are all about finding your new favourite band, right? Here, once again, Bluedot didn’t disappoint. Phoria may not be a household name yet but their early afternoon show attracted a sizeable crowd. Emotional depth and delicate intensity evolving into brutal tribal drumming, it was a show of Sigur Ros proportions. Serious future headliner material. RHAIN, sadly, had the disadvantage of being pitched against much bigger acts. Her audience may have been unfairly sparse but her irregular Bjork-like vocals and witty observations certainly won new fans. Expect to see her playing tastemaker events like Green Man or End of the Road soon.
To its credit the festival didn’t shy away from the more unusual musical entities. Orbiting the distant Nebula stage were the outlier characters like the colourful Mancunian maverick Paddy Steer, wry and upfront Post War Glamour Girls and analogue disco late nighters Killer Computers. Kraukedelic extremities of Girl Sweat scarlet and gold Pleasure Temple Ritual powered by the “Bad Ass Mother Fucker” Casio was a true noise revelation of universal proportions, matched perhaps only by the flamboyant dance pop frenzy of Age of Glass.
With dozens of festivals taking place every weekend, only a few attract enough attention to make artists stick around rather than leave as soon as their set is done. The team behind Bluedot are seasoned promoters, so their reputation have clearly made the prospect of spending time at the festival an irresistible proposition. For us, the weekend turned into a peculiar musician Pokemon GO adventure: PSB’s J. Willgoose, Charlotte Church, Lanterns on the Lake troupe, a flock of Stealing Sheep, a couple of merry Sea Power crewmen. Everyone was about. Lanterns on the Lake vocalist Hazel Wilde told us that, as a fan of Carl Sagan, she wanted to be involved in the festival from the start and had “been looking forward to this one for months”.
Big shoutout to all Bluedot stewards and security staff! It may seem like a secondary consideration but then you spend several days in a field with lots of things happening around you, it is not the music or any sort of entertainment that can make an event the best or worst experience of your life. No, it’s things like toilets, food, stewards, bar and security staff. Unlike some festivals where security seem to think that their job is to upset punters and perpetrate aggression, Bluedot clearly took great care in recruiting and training their staff. What’s more, they also showed serious commitment to improving access for disabled fans. Full marks and a big thanks!
No festival round-up is complete without a mention of food and drink. True to its boutique brand, Bluedot offered an array of cuisines. More importantly, in contrast to many big boutique festivals, everything was fairly reasonably priced (£7 – £8 for a meal, £4.50 for a pint), with more elaborate space-themed restaurant dinner options, molecular drinks and a good selection of craft beers. As an extra bonus, the dude from Toasties & Baguettes in the Tangerine Fields was delivering incredible rap about cheese toasties and politics whilst serving the said toasties to a growing crowd of eager hungry punters. Top booking Bluedot!
From the planetarium shows about astrophysics and the night sky to the Large Hadron Collider exhibit and live experiments performed by trained particle physicists, Jodrell bank was the place to be for anyone with a passion for science and scholarly imagination. Bluedot’s ambition was clearly to educate and ignite interest in science. Partnership with the University of Manchester and UK Space Agency provided access to some of the best minds working in the field of astronomy. They even brought in that most rock’n’roll of physicists, Prof. Brian Cox. Looking around the site, it felt like in years to come we may have a generation of people inspired to study physics and astronomy by attending a festival at Jodrell Bank. Mission accomplished.
Intergalactic family adventure
Most boutique events pride themselves on being family-friendly but few actually deliver on this promise. At Bluedot there was plenty to see and do for all ages and whole families . From the pink moon-dwellers Clangers live shows to the Bubbles and Balloons sessions; not to mention a mind-blowing array of panels and talks dedicated to science and nature. Its inclusive vibe also meant that nobody – old ravers, gangs of younger music fans, family groups – felt out of place. In true spirit of Carl Sagan, Bluedot embraced “our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale dour dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Pre-register for Bluedot 2017 tickets here.
Photo credit: Charlotte Wellings
For more pictures from the event, visit our Bluedot gallery HERE.