Hosted at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Macclesfield near the M6 between Manchester and Birmingham, the second incarnation of the bluedot festival took place last weekend and drew crowds from all over the country. Bluedot is a very special festival in that it is as much music- as science-oriented with a good few comedy acts and nerd-pleasing performance shows thrown in for good measure, satisfying all of my geek-receptors.
Standing in the queue on one of the many excellent food stands, which catered for every taste, ranging from vegan falafel to traditional fish and chips, one would hear talk about research grants entering the next round, or Ph.D. papers being accepted for publication.
One of the things that makes bluedot stand out is how family-friendly it is. There were plenty of entertaining hands-on activities throughout the day, including Jedi training school, the Planetarium, and the soothing Luminarium, which uses natural light shining through a giant structure to play with sounds, light, and moods.
Following the day’s worth of shows and workshops, such as learning how to program robots for kids, concerts were held across the six stages, culminating in DJ sets late into the night. Once inside the festival grounds, security was present but not too overbearing, enhancing the friendly festival experience and keeping everyone in a good mood.
We arrived nice and early on Friday lunch time to avoid the inevitable security queues and found ourselves with a relatively empty festival site. This presented a perfect opportunity to experience the wonderful Luminarium, which turned out to be one of the main attractions of the weekend. Having suitably calmed down from the drive across the Pennines we decided to head over to the Roots stage, the only stage outside of the main area to relax in the sunshine and listen to the cool bluesy sounds of singer songwriter Benjamin William Pike.
With our musical bones limbered up and ready for the festival, we went on to educate ourselves a little and wondered over to the many science stalls, which let us learn about peatland restoration, why and how much the mountain glaciers of Everest are shrinking and what makes a perfectly aerodynamic car (plasticine included).
It is such a great experience talking to people who dedicate their lives to science and getting hands-on experience with toys that are normally reserved for Horizon documentaries. While riding our intellectual wave, it was a short walk across to the Mission Control tents to be dazzled by fantastic and highly entertaining lectures about gravity waves by Dr Marcus Chown, and about the wonderful world of parasites by Dr Sheena Cruickshank.
With our brains filled to capacity with new ideas, theories and inspiration, it was time to head over to the main stage (Lovell Stage), named after Sir Bernard Lovell, who was the founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, to boogie on down to Jane Weaver before witnessing what can only be described as unadulterated yet sweet madness of the Moonlandingz, who started their show by giving the front row of the audience an unholy communion of wine and crackers. Unfortunately, the Moonlandingz clashed partly with Leftfield, who we decided to watch in full as they were playing the entirety of Leftism.
A quick stone-baked pizza and some cheesy nachos later, we headed back to the main stage for two of the musical highlights of the day. Now to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t listen to much of Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends’ music before because it wasn’t really my cup of tea, but seeing them live I was simply blown away and loved every moment of their set.
Following Furman on the main stage was the act that, judging by the amount of t-shirts donning their name, many had been waiting for. It had been many years since I had last seen the Pixies and I was curious if they still had it. Yes they did, and boy did they bring it. Throughout their incredible hour and a half set, they played songs from their new album Head Carrier, with plenty of favourites from the early albums to keep everyone entertained.
I was one happy camper and the rest of the weekend was going to be a bonus. On a complete musical high from seeing my teenage idols still playing with the same intense ferocity and passion, I wondered over to the Nebula stage to see Manchester’s crazy electro dance duo Age of Glass before calling it a night and sleeping soundly with Crackity Jones going round and round in my head.
Going by the first day, Saturday at bluedot festival surely had a lot to live up to. The organisers did a fantastic job scheduling activities for children (big and small) in the first half of the day with a gradual drift into the musical part of the festival throughout the day.
After a leisurely breakfast and an excellent coffee from one of the many food stalls, we made sure to see the highly-recommended Pif-Paf Theatre’s Seed show about a man and his chicken fighting off slugs trying to get to his acorn, and an interactive show in a space-capsule camper van about Michael Collins’ trip around the dark side of the moon on the Apollo 11 mission.
After strolling around more of the science stalls and listening to Geoff White and James Ball talk about Fake News, we decided to catch as many gigs as we could fit in. A word of praise is due at this point. The organisers did a wonderful job to minimise the inevitable clashes between acts and we got to see most of the performances that we had been looking forward to.
Kicking off the day with experimental Plastic Mermaids and alternative rockers Toothless, we were treated by an absolute legend of the electronica jazz scene, Bruno Spoerri. It had been nearly 40 years since the release of The Sound of the UFOs and Spoerri played songs from the classic album mixed with newer inspirational material.
Saturday was the day for lovers of all shapes and forms of electronica from hard dance to dulcet techno with shows by the Radiophonic Workshop, Makeness, Factory Floor, and Sweat before the day culminated in long jaw-dropping sets by Orbital and Soulwax. After dancing for nearly 5 hours straight, my feet couldn’t take much more and we decided to make a quick stop by the Roots Stage to chill by the fire, listening to the LateNightTales before calling it a night. Another wonderful day; so far bluedot hit back to back home runs.
Thoroughly inspired by the first two fantastic days at bluedot festival, we once more decided to take in as much science, comedy, and music as we could. After browsing the exhibitions, playing with submersibles of the British Antarctic Survey, and seeing robotics in action from Sheffield Hallam University, we wondered over to listen to the infectious vibes of Senegalese Diabel Cissokho playing his traditional kora.
We followed this up with two enthralling lectures by Professor Sarah Bridle on dark energy and Professor Monica Grady about space travel before heading to the Orbit stage for the acquired taste of Girl Sweat Pleasure Temple Ritual Band. Besides the Pixies, the main act that I had been looking forward to were Shobaleader One. However, before they took to the stage, there was enough time to catch the wonderful techno of Gallops and Rival Consoles, and the indie rock sounds of Animal Noise and Flamingods.
Shobaleader One played songs from their recent release Elektrac, which features eleven Squarepusher classics. Shoba One were truly awesome and took instrumental fusion jazz electronica to a new level. Following Shobaleader One, the last two headliners Alt-J and Hawkwind unfortunately performed at the same time. So I decided to see Hawkwind as I hadn’t seem them live before and wanted to do so at least once.
Before calling it a weekend there was enough time for the hilarious interactive text adventure video game Dark Room, which saw members of the audience play out an 80’s style text adventure game and inevitably dying after finding themselves awake in a dark room. The weekend ended with one last dance to DJ Yoda, who was very much on form.
The atmosphere throughout the weekend was brilliant with everyone having a wonderful time. The organisers and staff did an excellent job to ensure that performers and audience came away with memories of a spectacular festival to cherish for a lifetime. Most of the acts appreciated the uniquely positive and friendly nature of the festival and spent the weekend on site, mingling with the crowd, supporting other artists, and being thoroughly entertained by the fantastic music on show.
After such an excitement- and fun-filled weekend, it became clear that I was no longer in my teenage youth. Far from it, actually, taking all of Monday to recover and process the amazing weekend that I have had. Bluedot has proven to be by far one of my favourite festivals. Only in its second year, it managed to attract big headlining acts and put together a fitting melange of science, comedy, theatrical performances, electronica, and rock acts that catered to the more sophisticated music lovers.
Let’s hope that the festival stays true to its scientific roots in years to come to maintain such a positive vibe and family-friendly atmosphere. It was a perfect weekend that leaves me salivating for more when it’s time to head to Jodrell Bank Observatory again next year.
Review and Photography by Gunnar Mallon of Bluedot Festival at Jodrell Bank Observatory on 7-9 July 2017.