As a large part of the rest of the city was making the most of LIMF, Getintothis’ Paul Riley headed to Jodrell Bank to sample an intergalactic newcomer to the festival scene.
Walking through the main entrance of Jodrell Bank’s Discovery Centre, we were greeted by a sign directing us to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Located under the smaller 42-foot satellite dish, affectionately just named 42 in honour of Douglas Adams, it set the scene for the weekend. As one person we overheard said, with typically Northern stoicism, ‘Ooh, it’s a bit spacey, isn’t it?’
Jodrell Bank is home to the Lovell Radio Telescope. The 250ft monster is the world’s largest steerable telescope, which sounds impressive initially, but doesn’t quite prepare you for seeing it with your own eyes. It is the biggest moving thing we have ever seen, putting us in mind of something out of Transformers or Godzilla, except this isn’t science fiction. Named after the astronomer Bernard Lovell, OBE, the 250ft dish has been used to track probes to the Moon, Venus and Mars, as well as being on standby in the early 1960s to be used as an early warning system for ICBMs launched at the UK from Russian launch sites. In 1962 it was turned towards the Iron Curtain during the Cuban Missile Crisis and it has also been used by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).
With a line-up that managed to be both eclectic and still closely tied to the stargazing, tinfoil-hatted geek brigade, the inaugural Bluedot Festival was in parts triumphant, despite some hiccups that we will generously attribute to teething problems. Apart from the various telescope dishes, the site itself was small but attractive, and a pleasant place to be. The crowds were very well-behaved and spanned the spectrum from young families to grizzled-looking Mancs who still have one foot in Madchester.
After sitting in a taxi for an hour in a traffic jam on a narrow Cheshire lane, we eventually capitulated and decided to walk the rest of the way to the site. It is a shame that the traffic was so bad, but something that we suppose is unavoidable given the location. What was more annoying, after walking for a good few miles loaded down with gear, was to finally get on site and realise that two of the most appealing things on the line-up had been put on at a point when most people had not even got there yet.
At 5:30 on the Friday, Brian Cox and Robin Ince’s BBC Radio 4 Show, The Infinite Monkey Cage, was recorded live on the main stage. This was shortly followed by Public Service Broadcasting. Putting up one’s tent to the sounds of Spitfire floating over from the arena was not the most gratifying of experiences.
We were lucky, in that we managed to get to the main stage in time to see their final song. It seems that since the last time we caught the band, they have added a pretty boss brass section to proceedings. We missed most of the set, but what we saw was pretty incredible.
Hey-ho, taking that one on the chin we availed ourselves of some rather fine strawberry cider and took a stroll round the very pretty site before the first big hitter of the weekend, Underworld.
Underwhelmed, unfortunately. At first we were close to the stage, but were quickly forced to retreat to the bar as the volume of the PA system was physically uncomfortable, Underworld were ok. Far too loud, but ok.
Bluedot didn’t exactly start off with a bang, then. After half an hour of pummelling from Messrs Hyde and Smith, we left them to it and went off in search of Paddy Steer. From then on, the music at least was generally of a very high standard. Most of the other acts we saw were similarly brilliant. Hats off to the organisers for on the whole putting together a fantastic line-up, but sadly, the teething issues came back into play throughout the weekend.
Having missed PSB, we were also unable to see either DJ Shadow or DJ Yoda. Both were crammed into tents with tiny entrances, and both were inaccessible. DJ Yoda, we can get over, but missing Shadow was gutting. We didn’t mind missing the first part, as we were otherwise engaged watching The Vryll Society knock out one of the performances of the weekend. However, when the lads had finished and we hustled over to the second stage, we were met by a twenty-deep crowd of pissed-off people at each entrance to the Orbit Stage. This was a theme for the weekend, as acts that have headlined much bigger events than Bluedot were frustratingly crammed into tents, perhaps due to sound restrictions as the main stage closed at 11pm.
Come Sunday, we had got the hang of it and were ensuring that we were early for anyone who was a must-see. Stealing Sheep gave an incredible performance to an appreciative and packed out audience on the Sunday afternoon, complete with rainbow capes, glittery face-paint and mesmeric dancing. At times throughout the weekend one felt like this was a larger echo of some of our times at The Kazimier.
We’d like to say that after Stealing Sheep, we saw a brilliant set by Dutch Uncles. Unfortunately, we had a PSB moment all over again, as the organisers in their infinite wisdom had decided to run the main stage at least half an hour early. That was pretty shit, especially when the majority of the bands played 45 minute sets. So all we can say in the end is that Dutch Uncles’ last two songs were great.
The whole weekend felt like a struggle between two different camps – those who went expecting a Glastonbury-esque experience, and those who thought it was going to be Pontins with rockets. We’re all for family-friendly festivals. You only have to look at the likes of LIMF and Oye to see how to do it properly, but Bluedot was just a bit too much like a crèche Comic Sans. At one point, a member of our party was surrounded by security and escorted behind a barrier for a drug search, as he had been ‘spotted’ smoking a pipe. Fair enough, you may say, but the pipe was a perfectly legal item, which was used for tobacco as well (OK) as a bit of weed. When asked to explain himself, he was a little put out – security kept the pipe, informing him that Bluedot was a ‘nice, middle-class, family-friendly festival’.
The irony was not lost on us as we popped into the Close Encounters tent straight after this, to hear Shaun Keaveny talking to Tim Burgess and getting a good laugh out of cocaine stories. As if half the audience’s Holland & Barrett loyalty cards haven’t ever been used for cutting anything more illicit than 20% off Manuka Honey.
We wouldn’t want to put a downer on the whole weekend. It is a stunning location, with some brilliant music, and with a few tweaks (including one to an utterly confusing timetable and programme that failed to give any description of most of the performers), this could be a highly attractive addition to festival calendars for years to come. There are few greater sights on the festival circuit than that massive telescope, adorned with Brian Eno’s light installation. Just don’t turn up expecting a rave; despite the wacky and seemingly trippy line-up, Bluedot is very posh, there are more yoga poses than actual dancing, and there are kids sleeping.
Oh, and one last thing before our six of the best. We couldn’t possibly sign off this review without mentioning possibly the biggest name of the weekend. Jean-Michel Jarre. Throughout all of our relative adversity on the Sunday, memories of his performance on the Saturday night kept us in a state of bemusement. Maybe we just don’t get his retro-futurist style, but after twenty minutes of what seemed like a Spectrum ZX lightshow and sounded like an 8-year-old playing chopsticks with added reverb, we walked away, mystified. Utter nonsense. He may not be the worst thing I have ever seen, but he is far and away the most disproportionately paid. Nonsense.
Getintothis’ top six picks of Bluedot Festival 2016
Half the pleasure of watching this man is in hanging back a bit, and seeing the crowd slowly draw in as his set of completely mental button twiddling cacophony twitches from one sketchy groove to the next. Just how is he making all of those sounds? What is that thing around his neck? How do you dance to this? Oh, now he’s wearing an alien helmet.
Mr Steer fascinated, freaked out, and left his audience with an indelible impression of a one-of-a-kind glittery musical dervish.
Age of Glass
Simply incredible. A tsumani of a band powered by a bassist of biblical proportions and a front man who looked like he just walked straight out of the funny farm. Eyes popping out, he sounded like something between Kate Bush and Lemmy as they surged straight from one song into the next in a truly impressive example of showmanship.
Girl Sweat Pleasure Temple Ritual Band
For every cloud, there is a silver lining. For Bluedot, being unable to get anywhere near DJ Shadow forced us to take a punt on a band we’d not come across before. Holy shit. Each song seemed a crescendo that ended with Girl Sweat, a giant hairy dude in a gold cloak, screaming into a microphone he fit entirely into his mouth. Mad as a box of frogs who were too much for the nuthouse and got chucked back into the pond instead. Don’t know how they did it, but they made every song sound like their final song. Jaw-dropping.
Floating Points (live)
A perfect example of ‘biggest is not always best’, Floating Points’ light show made Mr Jarre look, well, a bit shit. Their incredibly precise lazer drew wonderful and beautiful geometric shapes throughout the set, matched movement for movement by the ethereal and hypnotic strains of the performers. Utterly spellbinding.
If it seems we’ve picked some of the strangest performances of the weekend, that is because it was where this festival really seemed to come into its own. There were flashes of brilliance all weekend in a brave selection of artists, and Algorave was no exception. This is a relatively new musical phenomenom whereby music is generated live by artists writing and rewriting computer algorithms. The intertwining of the different sounds, while watching the code edited and rewritten on the screens behind each of the performers, was a musical experience like no other.
The best headliner of the weekend, and one of the best live bands we have seen this year so far, Caribou were stunning. Perfect presentation of the recorded songs in a live setting was something special to behold, as it gave the tracks a new energy and moved the emphasis onto the performance. Polished and near-perfect, there could not have been a better way to finish the weekend than seeing them perform Sun to the backdrop of the Lovell Telescope.