bluedot Festival offers a new meaning to ‘music festival’. Set in Jodrell Bank Observatory Centre, under the enormous structure of their historic telescope, the 4 day event celebrates a unique mixture of interstellar music twinned with cutting edge science.
This year the festival fell perfectly on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, a theme that rang true throughout the weekend with messages bounced to the moon from artists and attendees, screenings of Apollo 11 and Apollo 13, lectures on exoplanets and the relevance of still returning to the moon, and sound recordings from the historic moon landing set against the backdrop of the illuminated telescope into the early hours.
For a 20,000 capacity, the festival felt enormous. Events last from 8 AM up until the middle of the night. The circumference of the event sprawls in a lazy circle around the telescope, with several music stages on one side and a variety of lecture halls, stalls and exhibitions peppered across the other side. By day, it’s a plethora of different costumes and homages, spoken word poetry and scientific lectures scattered around; by night, it’s transformed with mini dance stages and circus acts. A yoga and vegetarian food area is tucked away near the entrance, with a world music stage settled nearby.
Then there’s the forest area, an extravaganza of magical exhibitions, 3D events, lighting rigs and fire displays. An enormous model of the moon lingers in the trees, unsettling in its realism. This area comes truly alive in the early hours, where hushed crowds gather among flickering strings of lights that change to the sound of meditative music; just a woodland trail away, attendees sit in a clearing laughing loudly at 3D simulations.
One of the unexpected sides of bluedot was its dedication to representing countries from across Africa. We explored Les Amazones d’Afrique, a world music supergroup of west African women that was formed in Mali. We delved into Ibibio Sound Machine, the London-born Nigerian singer invoking a clash of African and electronic afro-funk elements; we danced to KOKOKO!, a collective born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At midnight, we explored the hidden talents offered by Nyege Nyege Tapes, who put on shows from emerging east African artists Leo P-Layeng, Otim Alpha, and Slikback. At a festival where we journey to the moon and beyond, we are reminded we only need to explore the corners of our world to find a lifetime of surprises and wonders.
Many were there for the headliners, and they were not disappointed. Hot Chip put on a laser show to remember, with a crowd dancing all the way back to the back of the field. Kraftwerk put on a historic performance, giving out 3D glasses to experience the on-stage visuals in a new dimension. New Order rounded up the festival, with a tearful ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart Again’ in its encore harking back to its Joy Division days.
The secret headliner may have been Henge – a midday performance on the Saturday that many called their favourite of the weekend. The band, ‘coming from a galaxy far away’, presented their own mischievous blend of prog and psychedelic dance sound, with an alien playing the drums and dancing frogs and mushrooms. We don’t want to spoil all the surprises – but if they’re playing your local city, snap up a ticket and meet for yourself these space explorers to our galaxy.
By Sunday evening, we came away not just rested from the usual festival activities, but mentally stimulated, curious for more, our minds reawoken to not just the universe around but the wonders of our own natural, cultural and scientific world. This is a festival that is as unfettered and unlimited as the night sky.