The third Bluedot festival is blessed with soaring temperatures, blue skies and an expertly curated line-up from the worlds of music, comedy and science that has seen it quickly establish itself alongside End Of The Road and Green Man as one of the UK’s best medium-sized festivals
With stellar performances from Gary Numan, Chemical Brothers and The Flaming Lips that reflect the Jodrell Bank festival’s future-curious nature, there’s also a vast array of talks on everything from the ‘future of air’ to space travel, climate change and bee keeping. Everywhere you look, Bluedot buzzes to the sight and sound of minds young and old being stimulated – with the prime message surrounding looking to the stars while treating the severely threatened little blue dot we call home with more respect. Luke Jerram’s seven-metre 120dpi replica of earth watches over scorched yellow fields filled with esoteric treats to provoke discussion like no other British festival.
The music’s not bad either. After Thursday night’s Blue Planet In Concert With The Halle Orchestra, Public Service Broadcasting up the ante on Friday as the Cheshire site begins to swell with late arrivals. Drawing, as you’d expect, heavily on 2015’s The Race For Space album as well as last year’s Every Valley, PSB are the perfect booking for a sunny evening under the Lovell Telescope. Backed by a highly animated tweed-wearing brass section, J Willgoose Esq. plays guitar and keyboard simultaneously to mind-boggling effect. Progress is dedicated as a feminist anthem to all of the women in the crowd, Gagarin gets a massive reception and Go sees a pair of spacesuit-clad astronauts dance their way across the Lovell Stage. They close with Everest, having left nothing in the tank and thoroughly warmed up a large crowd for headliners The Flaming Lips – the first band to play under the Lovell Telescope, seven years ago.
Adopting an interstellar theme themselves, the Oklahoma festival veterans open with a spirited take on the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It gives way to a kaleidoscopic explosion of ticker-tape and balloons, which looks all the more spectacular in the shadow of the telescope. The set is front-loaded with some of the Lips’ best-known hits, with Race For The Prize, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 1, Fight Test and The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song all arriving in the first half an hour. There’s a spontaneous, fitting run-through of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, followed by a brief snippet of Starman, and we’re at peak showmanship. Coyne strides across the stage atop a giant unicorn and enjoys his trademark zorbing session over the crowd before a massive singalong of Do You Realize? closes a performance that sets a high bar for the rest of the weekend. UNKLE on the Orbit Stage, Joy Orbison and the wonderful fiery steam-punk curiosities of the Roots stage field swallow up a euphoric departing crowd.
Emerging from a formidable Saturday hangover, a spell in the womb-like Luminarium and a quick cratedigging session at the Piccadilly Records stall does the trick. Returning to Bluedot after they joined last year’s headliners Orbital for a run-through of their signature Doctor Who theme, the Radiophonic Workshop emphasise the latter part of their name by running participatory daytime sessions, then incorporating the resulting sonic creations and sounds captured around the site into tracks during their set.
Backed by rousing visuals from the BBC archives, their set covers tunes from their 60-year career (including their 2017 album Burials In Several Earths), and features former Prodigy drummer Kieron Pepper offering a propulsive, human counterpoint to the ambitious analogue and modular-synth experimentation on display. The rousing finalé of the Doctor Who theme tune begins with the timeless Delia Derbyshire incarnation and wends its way through synthy soundscapes to a climax based on Peter Howell’s 1980 version; the kind of geeky attention-to-detail that makes Radiophonic Workshop the festival’s quintessential act.
Later, the Contact Stage tent is filled with people seeking hope of immortality from a fascinating discussion on consciousness transfer entitled Death Is Not The End. Back outside, his name meaning “man of science” in Swahili, Belgian-Congolese rapper Baloji proves another apt booking for Bluedot, while Nadine Shah draws a sizeable teatime crowd to the Lovell Stage. We’re drawn away to watch the brilliantly surreal, fourth-wall obliterating Paul Currie, recently described by Stewart Lee as his favourite Edinburgh Fringe comedian. Despite being given a slot that is cruelly short, Currie is outrageously funny. He has pandas for hands, too, apparently.
Hookworms tear into their performance on the Orbit Stage with relish, the Leeds psych-proggers melding astral melodies to a huge fuzz-drenched guitar assault, but the airy environs of the expansive tent make for a slightly muddied sound.
“Play Cars! Play Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”, the entire crowd assembled by the Lovell Stage at 7.35 on the Saturday night seem to be urging. Yet Gary Numan’s star is back in the ascendant nowadays; he’s recently completed the biggest tour of his career since 1981 in support of Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind), a commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic. His brand of anguished hard-edged synth-rock is far more closely aligned to Nine Inch Nails than The Human League, and he and his band are a blur of motion and melodrama – blending old-school stage presence and OTT performance with at-times disturbing gothic visuals on the screen above them.
And though he does dutifully trot out the aforementioned classics from his catalogue to a rapturous reception, the standout moment is a duet with his daughter Persia on My Mind Is Ruin, from new album Savage (Songs From A Broken World) – an apocalyptic, industrial treat for all the family.
Future Islands are on a bit of a hiding to nothing as Saturday Lovell Stage headliners, despite the efforts of their ever-captivating dad dancing frontman Samuel T Herring, who effortlessly swings between a joyous croon and a guttural belch-scream. Seasons (Waiting On You) is met enthusiastically, but dressed in black and with no stage show to speak of they can’t quite hold the audience, enticed away by a diverse late-night programme including Simon Munnery, Booka Shade, Cassetteboy and Gilles Peterson.
Bluedot‘s organisers may have been mindful of keeping the back-to-work-on-Monday-morning crowd onsite, as Sunday’s line-up is packed with many of the festival’s biggest hitters. Resultingly, The Chemical Brothers are pitted somewhat frustratingly against Orbit Stage headliners Slowdive, not to mention one of Bluedot 2016’s surreal highlights – Foxdog Studios.
Earlier in the day, Simon Raymonde’s Lost Horizons run through their debut album Ojalá, with singer Beth Cannon a towering vocal presence and Raymonde’s atmospheric post-rock guitar playing darting in and out of the mix. Seeking shelter from the sun, we witness Leeds three-piece Drahla creating a furious post-rock racket in the sweltering Nebula tent. Taking the tough decision to forego both Little Dragon‘s set on the Lovell Stage and live coding mash-up the Algorave, we opt for droll, Wikipedia vandal Gary Delaney and the utterly hilarious no-fi keyboard observations of David O’Doherty inside a heaving Contact Stage tent. The temperature inside the domed slow cooker reaches inhumane levels, O’Doherty joking that if you didn’t catch a tropical disease you weren’t at the gig.
Sunday headliners The Chemical Brothers are an absolute triumph. Past masters of building momentum, their show is an unstoppable juggernaut of repeated tease and release. Emerging to a downbeat version of The Beatles’ future-gazing Tomorrow Never Knows, their 90-minute show is right up there with their treasured Glastonbury headline performances in 2000, 2007 and 2011.
Swoon is glorious, the crowd echoing its “Just remember to fall in love” refrain, 10,000 fists punching the darkening Cheshire sky as hundreds of animated birds take flight from the Lovell Telescope. They nod to Bluedot’s easy proximity to Manchester as A snippet of New Order’s Temptation is manipulated into a blissful Star Guitar, and Hey Boy Hey Girl is dropped mid-set, explored for just long enough before moving on. This debut of their new visual stage show continues to keep pace with the barrage of greatest hits, a pair of giant red and blue robots lifting high above the Brothers as they turn the screw for the final half hour of the set, Galvanize, C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L, Leave Home and Song To The Siren finally surpassed by a gargantuan Block Rockin’ Beats that leaves no questions over who the stars of Bluedot 2018 were.