When we saw the announcement of a brand new three-day music and science event at Cheshire’s Jodrell Bank Observatory earlier this year, it seemed like a perfect combination between mind-blowing discovery and a glut of undeniably great bands.
Attending a festival’s inaugural outing also comes with a certain amount of intrigue, there are no past reviews to go off and no concrete idea of what the crowd will be like, effectively allowing Far Out to arrive without a single preconception.
Even before we have gone through the gates there are signs that Bluedot is set to be somewhat of a civilised affair. Punters (many of whom are joined by young children) make multiple trips back to their cars to collect cool bags, blow up their inflatable mattresses and load the trolly full of camping chairs
But with a truly vibrant lineup spanning everything from raucous techno to Professor Brian Cox, it will be interesting to see whether some acts get the reaction they are after from such a well-to-do group of attendees.
The first evening plays host to a fantastic double bill of electronica in the shape of discerning techno DJ George Fitzgerald and formidable headliners Underworld.
It must be a slightly weird one for the former, who spins tunes to a sparse open-air field as opposed to the sweaty club venues he is used to. Regardless, he seems to be enjoying himself, with the iconic Lovell Telescope providing a breathtaking backdrop. Another top draw from the bill is a visual installation on the side of structure courtesy of none-other than Brian Eno that will appear later in the weekend.
Fitzgerald comes off to rapturous applause as the field appears to fill up a bit just in time for Underworld. It’s the career-spanning set everyone wants, with classics like ‘Cowgirl’ blasting out alongside instant favourites from latest album, Barbara, Barbara We Face a Shining Future.
The heavens open for the first time over the weekend, causing a few of the more squeamish middle classes to disperse into shelter, but it matters not as Karl Hyde’s insatiable strut sends an ever-excited crowd into euphoria. The telescope is yet to have shown us the projections, but it’s been an encapsulating evening’s entertainment.
There is still room for more, however, as the ear-muffed kids are put to bed and the early hours descend. After an attempt to get into the over-capacitated tent for DJ Yoda’s trip through sci-fi movie samples fails, a trip to the Nebula stage for spaced-out rave rockers Henge proves more fruitful anyway. Dressed in what could be described as some sort of ceremonial robe (we’re not sure what the ceremony entails), the band’s frontman is joined by an army of bandmates and dancers who make the tent look like The Wind in the Willows on acid. Such gimmickry would be futile without good tunes though and Henge have the lot. At 1am the festival site falls silent, but we’ve had a perfect sign-off.
After rising for the second day we catch an uninspiring snippet of electro-pop newbies Formation and a slightly more engaging slice of indie from Post War Glamour Girls over on the Orbit Stage, but fewer musical goings on that we are desperate to see gives opportunity to explore the peripheries of Bluedot.
Heading into the field adjacent to the Main Stage where the Lovell is located gives chance to browse the plethora of science stalls and talks that are taking place. Here, we get a first-hand peak at Graphene, the pioneering material invented at the University of Manchester, and a fascinating look at Venus Flytraps in action.
Unfortunately the stench of the Cheshire hedge-funders is never far away, with the far side of the field housing a pop-up resteraunt with a seven-course taster menu hurtling towards triple figures if you want a drink on the side. Should this be what a music festival is about? Resoundingly, no.
But as evening comes there is much fun to be had. A blissed-out set from French ambience pioneers Air begins perfectly on the Main Stage, before we (and thousands of others) synchronise an exit plan in order to catch DJ Shadow.
The Orbit Stage where he performs is just yards from Air, but with a closed-off entrance to the tent – accessible only by a trio of tiny doors – it is soon a one-in, one-out situation.
Perhaps such a standout act should have been given a larger arena, but this time we’ve just about made it in and boy is it worth it. Again, this seasoned musician proves he has really put some thought into the current tour, with cuts from the more radio-friendly new album The Mountain Will Fall seamlessly blended with trademarks such as ‘Midnight in a Perfect World’ and the Unkle collaboration ‘Rabbit in the Headlights’.
The main arena is noticeably more packed on Saturday too, with day tickets having sold out largely in anticipation of one man. Jean-Michel Jarre is the kind of icon that makes a festival like Bluedot, and although there may be one or two purists unhappy, it’s a hell of a set.
Having shifted what is thought to be approaching 100 million albums over a five-decade career, he can pretty much what he wants. However, his ability to mix the 21st Century techno of his most recent Electronica work with ambient classics is astounding.
Overall, the set generally hits us at a faster pace than we were expecting, proving Jarre is a musician who can move with, as well as define, generations. The iconic chimes of ‘Oxygene Pt. 4’ are spellbinding as Eno’s projections come to fruition around the perimeter of the telescope.
Lava lamp-style visuals continue to cascade around the side of the dish throughout the night, meaning whether you are exploring the arboretum in a messy haze, or relaxing back at camp with the family wrapped up in bed, Eno’s genius is there for all to see.
The final day of the inaugural Bluedot arrives and fair to say although the vibe isn’t completely what we’re used to, it’s been a blast. For anyone who has indeed been worried about their usual hedonism being quashed by the swarms cheese-board and beaujolais enthusiasts, however, the perfect antidote open up the Nebula Stage in the shape of Cabbage.
This blistering five-piece demonstrate they are on a trajectory that shows no bounds, with a ramshackled (yet remarkably tight) platter of post-punk ending in a jaunty plea to free Making a Murderer subject Steven Avery.
As the day moves on guitars continue to reign supreme on Sundau, as the Orbit Stage plays host to a typically anthemic outing for Cumbrians British Sea Power, before an exciting glimpse into the enthralling krautrock of The Lucid Dream.
In an attempt to experience further delights beyond the music we join the queue for the Luminarium, but once again the call of former Beta Band frontman Steve Mason at the Orbit means we never make it to the front. Mason forthrightly addresses the gathering of “toffs” that face him, providing us with perhaps our broadest smirk of the weekend, but it’s a blinding condensing of his Meet the Humans tour all the same.
Canadian electro-pop wizard Caribou brings the Main Stage to a close. It’s a set that sticks to the more recent stuff, with Our Love and Swim dominating, but his more dexterous current incarnation appears to thrill and amaze in equal measure.
But there’s time for one last hurrah. One which, this time last year, would have sounded like madness. On the Mission Control Stage we are treated to a surreal trip through industrial techno and beyond thanks to former Snooker World Champion Steve Davis, aka DJ Thundermuscle.
After a heavy two-hour set that turns an excitable audience inside out, our last act of the weekend ends up being a euphoric embrace with Davis behind the decks amid a chaotic stage invasion. It’s an incredible way to end a festival that has come out of the blocks magnificently.