Before the global pandemic we didn’t see coming, Bluedot had started to develop into a really fine festival, offering a well-curated line-up of music, talks and culture, often leaning towards science and electronica, in the remarkable environs of Cheshire’s Jodrell Bank
was planned out and on sale when social distancing scuppered it. Now, three long years after the last incarnation, the festival is back – and it’s a pleasure to say that, for the most part, its charms remain intact. After all, it’s not every day you get to wake up in a tent in the shadow of a 170ft radio telescope as the Hallé Orchestra does a soundcheck nearby.
As with all the best festivals, it’s often the less heralded elements that give Bluedot its attractive identity: a talk you never intended to attend, a night-time procession that seems to come out of nowhere, part of a DJ set from the Deep Space Disco stage that draws you in.
Over this weekend, highlights included the morning-long Delia Derbyshire Day session, celebrating one of British electronica’s godmothers in a fashion that’s substantial but accessible; stand-up sets in a jam-packed tent area on the last day by Lolly Adefope and Dana Alexander; and Tim Peake, yer actual real-life astronaut from Chichester, talking about his experiences with well-drilled enthusiasm that brings to mind Buzz Lightyear made flesh (and props here to the wag in the audience who responded to a hitch in screening an introductory video by shouting “come on, it’s not rocket science!”)
A genuinely unexpected highlight is Public Service Broadcasting on the Friday night (not least because they were a last-minute substitute for Spiritualized, who sadly had Covid in their ranks). With their careful choreographed visuals, as a live experience PSB are simultaneously exhilarating and melancholy, as though Kraftwerk had made an album for the Ghost Box label earlier on the same stage. Jane Weaver’s melodic groove goes down great guns, too.
In the circumstances, this year’s line-up is a mash-up of acts carried over from the ‘lost’ 2020 festival and newer additions.
In the latter respect, it’s to Bluedot’s credit that they secured a flotilla of young, often local bands such as Yard Act, WH Lung and, perhaps most impressive of all, Todmorden’s own Working Men’s Club, who utilise elements of techno to create a powerful, hypnotic sound that entrances the whole assembled crowd.
The weekend’s not an unqualified success, though. Some of the circumstances are beyond anyone’s control. It rains quite a bit, and Sunday is particularly punishing in this respect. The festival’s pretty well geared towards dealing with this in terms of logistics, but it can’t help but dampen the old spirits.
Overall, Bluedot remains a well-organised venture, but there’s a feeling that some practical aspects were marginally better organised back before 2020. There’s also the matter of the main stage. Needless to say, the acts in question are chosen in order to get bums on seats, or at least onto damp picnic blankets. Bluedot has a good history of getting this right, but this year feels underwhelming. In their different ways, Metronomy, Groove Armada and Mogwai are both just sort of…alright, with light shows that impress far more than their performances or material.
Similarly, Sea Power, on the Sunday afternoon, come across as inoffensive but, well, bland. That’s not a word you’d tend to use in relation to Björk, whose long-awaited collaboration with the Hallé Orchestra
closes the main stage on Sunday. But somehow this just doesn’t come off either. The set-list mainly comprises slow, ethereal, less familiar material from later albums that suit the voice-and-orchestra set-up, and though no one could seriously be expecting a punch-the-air greatest hits set, this just doesn’t hit the spot for a festival crowd who are weary, unwashed and a bit soggy. They’re not engaged, and there’s a marked amount of bored chatting throughout.
Getting the programming of the main stage right must be a delicate balancing act, and if this year’s line-up falters here and there, certain moments still impress, for instance the funk double-whammy of ACR’s and Warmduscher, the latter following Public Service Broadcasting as the second band of the weekend to appear on stage all in white.
Anna Meredith appears to be having the time of her life playing euphoric math-rock (plus an unexpected tuba-led cover of Elton John’s I’m Still Standing), and the feeling is infectious. Plus unhinged Bluedot favourites HENGE appear on stage in the midst of a downpour to lift the assembled spirits with songs about Venus, malfunctioning robots and global demilitarisation.
All this and a trip to the Luminarium (think a bouncy castle you can walk inside for a quick chill-out) too. Thankfully Bluedot hasn’t lost its mojo during the break, and though this might not be an absolutely vintage year in its history, it certainly remains a treat – so [*crosses fingers*], roll on next year.
By Andy Murray
Tickets for Bluedot 2023 are on sale now: discoverthebluedot.com