REVIEW: Bluedot Festival - out of this world

Bluedot Festival at Jodrell Bank.
Bluedot Festival at Jodrell Bank.

Whilst Buxton Carnival was taking place over the weekend, another altogether more geek-chic affair was happening in the grounds of the deep space observatory at Jodrell Bank.

The award-winning three-day Bluedot festival returned for its second year, combining a truly stellar line-up of music, ground-breaking live science experiments, expert talks and immersive artworks.

After landing on planet Bluedot fest on Friday afternoon following a refreshingly quick journey – just a 23 minute drive from Buxton, I popped up my tent and was ready to explore – just an hour after leaving home.

Like many festivals there is so much to see it’s impossible to do everything and after a long week I also wanted to relax... There was plenty of that with various different tents to sit down and casually listen to some of the world’s leading scientists give lectures, or sprawl out in front of the various stages, sipping real ale and enjoying some of the 100 bands which played. Like last year (Jean-Michel Jarre, Air, Underworld) they programmed a number of space related musical outfits: Oribital, Galaxians, Astronomy, Goldfrapp, Hawkwind, The Moonlandingz; a great idea, but I wonder how long the programmer can keep this up. My request for next year: Jeff Wayne’s The War of the World.

Friday night’s headliner was The Pixies who inspired the big moshpit moment of weekend. An anorak clad crowd joyfully sang in the rain to the ethereal backing of their most famous hit “Where is My Mind”.

The mind (and on some occasions expanding it) was to become a recurring theme of the weekend; and during one of my visits to “Mission Control” tent I met MiRo, one of a new generation of robots, especially programmed to mimic the human brain. It’s the stuff of sci-fi films but cuddlier - this one looked like a rabbit. MiRo uses his six senses and when I stepped into his orbit he turned around and fluttered his eyelashes at me – cute.

What strikes me about Bluedot is it really is for everyone, at every age – you curate your own festival – for me it was more music and less science, but for many the music was the backing track to the truly amazing guest speakers from around the world. Kids also love Bluedot – there is just so much for them to do. By day they are experiencing something straight out of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: insect collecting, bird watching, star gazing – and back to the future: dozens of fun science experiments and activities. Dads also seem to love this festival – I saw one, who was sporting an alien inspired “beardazzle”, jump up and down when he clocked, in the corner of Mission Control a replica of the DeLorean time travel automobile... He sat behind the wheel, beard shimmering in the sizzling Saturday heat.

By Saturday night’s Goldfrapp concert there was a full-on party vibe, with the biggest crowds of the weekend drawn at this point, lots more had added to the hubbub, excitedly clutching day tickets and I must admit I perhaps selfishly preferred it when there weren’t so many people. If you like fewer crowds try a Friday or Sunday day ticket. Clad head-to-toe in silver, Goldfrapp got everyone dancing, including the kids, lots of them sporting ear-muff style headphones, I amused myself with the thought they were listening to Disney music – but it was probably protective hearing. Orbital gave a euphoric set and closed the night with a version of the Doctor Who theme, joined by the maestros themselves the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. They had delivered their own full set earlier that day and during one track Orbital repaid the favour and took to the stage to add a modern chest vibrating kick.

BBC Radiophonic Workshop also performed an especially composed Bluedot track based on Steven Hawkin’s A Brief History of Time. After initially agreeing to the idea, Hawkins decided to record the lyrics too. It was a spine-tingling moment in the Orbit tent when it was played for the first time in public, leaving me spacing out to the familiar robotic voice: “If it were any different we would not be here.”

On the last night American all girl indie rock band Warpaint gave the killer performance of the evening, with haunting harmonies and bags of attitude that enthralled the crowd. Headliners Alt-J closed the Lovell Stage with a fitting airing of their clever classic Don’t Go.

There were a few fancy dress gems spotted over the weekend and if you make it next year be sure to wear something sparkly: silver foil saucepan hats, 60s space-age suits, Star Wars gold capes – they added to this shiny celebration, at all times overlooked by the towering Lovell Telescope. Turned into a set piece for the weekend, at night the telescope sported dazzling projections that even outshone the full-moon above. Because of its close proximity another theme for the festival was Manchester with more than a flavour of the city in the musical line-up and fantastic culinary delights on offer. I practically lived off the pop-up takeaway version of Tampopo, offering my second favourite ‘dish of the day’ Beef Rendang.

The festival feels clean and I was struck that compared to others there was no litter on the floor – this was a conscientious group of hedonists who lived the Bluedot Mission statement: to highlight the fragility of planet Earth! The 2017 message is loud and clear: look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. (Carl Sagan, 1934—1996).