22nd-24th July 2016, Jodrell Bank
When has there been a music festival that fuses together science, space, music, art and camping?
Spread out between three nights, Jodrell Bank, the iconic observatory, plays hosts to an “intergalactic festival of music, science, arts, culture and the exploration of space” with music acts such as old-school dance duo Underworld, newly appointed astronauts Public Service Broadcasting and French electronic pioneers Air and Jean Michael Jarre.
The enormous Lovell Telescope dominated the skyline and awed passersby. Constructed in 1957 and still a leading landmark in the field of astronomy, the telescope moved and worked away, intercepting radio waves from space throughout the course of the festival. The dish was most spectacular at night; Brian Eno‘s stellar light installation projected across, encasing the entire structure, changing into spacey, camouflage shapes and colours, making it near-impossible to look away.
The venue comprised six main stages crammed into two fields. The Lovell Stage was overlooked by the Lovell telescope and headlined by the likes of Caribou and Jean-Michael Jarre, by far two of the best performances of the weekend. Next to that sat the Orbit Stage, a small tent which could have done with being bigger – many people found themselves queuing outside to see big acts like DJ Shadow and Mercury Rev and then having the doors shut on them completely, a disappointing trend which followed throughout the festival.
A festival highlight was the secret Roots Stage, tucked away among the gardens of the site, where intimate acoustic performances played while people sat or lied back on the grass. Mission Control and Contact were transitional stages used for discussions about space and science during the day and electro-dance music during the night.
One of the star attractions was the KATENA Luminarium; an immersive, inflatable sculpture where one could relax away from the busy festival atmosphere and meditate on the lights and colours in its adjoining, geometric-shaped pods. If you’ve got time, and are willing to wait in line, this popular visitor spot won’t disappoint and will hopefully be there to enjoy next year.
The festival operated a strict no cans or bottles policy outside of the campsite. No matter, though, as a microbrewery served real ales that were genuine crowdpleasers, including a delicious Lancaster strawberry cider and Bluedot’s own blonde ale.
The Restaurant at the End of The Universe situated under the Lovell Telescope provided a fancy, fine-dining experience of culinary delights, serving a Stargazer’s Feast or Sunday roast – pricey yet delicious if you can afford this festival escape. If you’re looking for something cheaper, there were food stalls galore with vegan-friendly Indian food, fresh wood-fired pizza, paella, fish and chips, pies, gourmet burger vans, the works…
As the weekend rolled on, it became apparent that Bluedot was quite the middle-class, family-friendly event, with each night finishing at the underwhelming time of 2am. This made it feel more like three day festivals than a three-day festival proper. If you had arrived expecting each night to evolve into mad, spacey raves, you may have been disappointed to see so many people leaving the site in the early evening.
Despite these teething problems, Bluedot’s concept of bringing together science and music is interesting. It attracts the new-age festival goer who is rarely seen in today’s more commercial scene. If you’re looking for something different, check out Bluedot and try to go in without expectations. As with the inception of all first-time festivals, there’s always room for improvement and one should really cut them a little slack; we can only look forward to seeing what else they may include or improve upon next year. After all, the festival looked stunning for its insane light shows both onstage and off from the Lovell Telescope. If Bluedot can top that next year with even more, they’re on to a winner.