After conspiring distractions meant we had a year off last time around, Far Out Magazine just had to return to one of our favourite new festivals to bask in the glory of its third outing.
Bluedot was launched two years ago at the iconic site of Cheshire’s Jodrell Bank Observatory – a setting that had long been used to host one-off gigs thanks to the much-loved Transmission programme. However, Bluedot saw the occasional set of the BBC’s The Sky At Night play host to an all-together more widely encompassing event – combining music, art and science in one big whirlwind of hedonistic (yet family-friendly) joy over a whole weekend.
We arrive on Friday afternoon having unfortunately missed out on the Halle Orchestra performing the soundtrack to another educational BBC revelation, Blue Planet, a show which was the centre-piece of Bluedot’s first Thursday night. This surely has to be one of the contributing factors to the site being far more busy on the festival’s first day proper than was the case in 2016. Nevertheless, we find a small corner of the (surprisingly civilised) late night camping area which is still free.
All pitched up, it’s then time to visit the arena area, where our first treat comes in the shape of Afriquoi on the Lovell Stage (the main one) – who lays on a feast of afro-beat perfect for a crowd who already look sunkissed. Then, before we even have time to visit the Science Field, more pulsating rhythms coming from the Orbit tent have us hooked for a large portion of the evening thanks to dub legend Mad Professor and drum ‘n’ bass stalwart Roni Size, with the latter taking an excitable crown on a mesmerising journey through a live rendition of his most iconic LP, New Forms.
After well and truly danceable sets from Hot Chip man Alexis Taylor and Public Service Broadcasting, it’s time for one of the most anticipated moments of the festival in the shape of Friday’s Lovell headliners The Flaming Lips. The band return to Jodrell Bank seven years after their Transmission gig – a typically euphoric headline show that has since gone down in folklore in and around Manchester.
Tonight feels like a follow-up that well and truly delivers. Perhaps this time around there is a less of hardcore fanbase with much of the crowd here for the whole weekend, but Wayne Coyne and co ensure they have them transfixed from the off with classics like ‘Race For the Prize’, ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’ and ‘The Test’ blasting out alongside neon unicorns, giant dancing eyeballs and of course the obligatory cannons of confetti that follow The Flaming Lips everywhere.
However, perhaps the most awe-imspiring moment comes when Coyne is launched out into the crowd inside his trademark hamster ball for an emotional sing-along of David Bowie’s intergalactic anthem ‘Space Oddity’ underneath the unrivalled gaze of the second largest telescope in the world.
The late night fun continues after the Lovell Stage comes to a close, with a career-spanning onslaught from Unkle, and a live film score from Factory Floor over at the Science Field’s Contact Stage.
As we lie in the remnants of The Flaming Lips’ confetti, the Lovell Stage crowd is a far more lethargic sight on Saturday morning than it was just a few hours earlier. A combination of sore-headed revellers and early-rising parents are brought around by a whimsical, yet hugely intriguing set from The Radiophonic Workshop – the BBC’s in-house soundscape creators who bring the day’s opening set to a head with a rendition of the Doctor Who theme that blows off the cobwebs perfectly.
After a trip to the outer echelons of the site gives us a chance to take in some reggae on the Roots Stage and explore the huge suspended globe that sits above Jodrell Bank’s forest area – it’s time for something completely different at the Orbit Stage. Step up Far Out favourites Hookworms, who play an enthralling set dominated by material from their latest album Microshift – a record that leans more towards electronica than their previous two long-playing efforts.
With that in mind, the band prove a fantastic warm-up for a legend of the game in Gary Numan. The electro-pop veteran can still pull a massive crowd, belting out classics like ‘Cars’ and the Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric?’ – before providing a particularly heartwarming moment by duetting with his 13-year-old daughter, Persia.
One of the truly unique features of Bluedot is the annual installations that are projected onto the side of overarching Lovell Telescope throughout the weekend. This year the swirling combination of visuals is provided by artist Marcus Lyall. Simply lying under the structure, getting lost in the enormity and uniqueness of this sight becomes an unintentional highlight after overcrowding means we miss out on a late night set from Youtube sensation Cassetteboy at the Contact Stage. It’s one-in, one-out from the off in there unfortunately.
The best moment of Day 2, however, undoubtedly comes from Orbit headliners Booka Shade, who gift a packed tent a perfect alternative to Future Islands headline extravaganza over on the Lovell.
Upon entering the arena on the final day it’s clear day tickets have been more popular as Sunday seems remarkably busier. This is no problem at all for Warm Digits, who take the afternoon by storm with their melting pot of electronic motorik experimentation.
This is a theme that we continue shortly after at the Orbit Stage – although via a very different outfit in the shape of psych-rock legends Acid Mother’s Temple. They take a surely tiring crowd on a fixating journey through the weird and wonderful – all anchored by an infectious rhythm section that never lets up.
By now, we’re undeniably pumped for one final night of partying beneath the Lovell, with Crazy P and Little Dragon offering a couple of the most danceable sets of the weekend as a prelude to The Chemical Brothers’ first outing of their brand new live show on UK soil. The more recent Q-Tip collaboration ‘Go’ has the audience bouncing from the off – but it’s a medley of classics that bring the main stage to a massive crescendo, as ‘Glavanize’, ‘Leave Home’ and ‘Song to the Siren’ lead into apocalyptic closer ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’.
One stage we’ve perhaps neglected a little over the weekend is the Nebula tent, which sits a very short distance away from the Lovell in the main field. However, it’s here where we enjoy our final moment of revelry, where Henge take to the stage for a late night set straight after The Chemical Brothers. It genuinely feels an ideal way to sign off with a mass sing-along of their cult anthem ‘Demiliterise’.
Bluedot has enjoyed a third outing in 2018 that has surely cemented it as a stalwart of the UK festival scene for decades to come. While we would normally find some kind of criticism, however small, whether it relate to sound bleeding, over-zealous security or an onslaught of over-priced tat – Bluedot manages to swerve all of these stereotypes.
Although the expensive nature of almost all festivals nowadays inevitably create a rather middle class ambience, the demographic seems to be much balanced out at Bluedot since its first edition in 2016 – an impressive achievement gained by smart, eclectic and inclusive bookings that cater for a world of different tastes.
Little compares to seeing your favourite band under the gaze of the Lovell telescope. Far Out awaits next year’s delights at Jodrell Bank with near-tantalising anticipation.