REVIEW: Bluedot 2019, Jodrell Bank, Cheshire

Kraftwerk at Bluedot. Photo by Lucas Sinclair
Kraftwerk at Bluedot. Photo by Lucas Sinclair

There’s not many places you can smell Mars, take a virtual reality trip to Kenya, make slime, eat Tibetan food, meet The Clangers and watch Kraftwerk wearing 3D glasses - all under the shadow of one of the planet’s largest space telescopes.

All of that, and much more - including the sound of clashing light sabres via a slinky spring - is possible at Bluedot festival, which went off with an intergalactic whomp at Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre in Cheshire at the weekend.

Zoe and Will at the Luminarium

Zoe and Will at the Luminarium

Coinciding beautifully with the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, the festival’s centrepiece - The Lovell Telescope - looked stunning at night, lit up with colourful projections by Illuminos, and on Saturday, featured Lunar Loops - beaming out some of the 19,000 hours of audio ‘loops’ between mission control and the lunar module recording in 1969.

That singular radio noise, a kind of high pitched bleep that conjures up inky black space images, is still pulsing through my brain even now.

It chucked it down on the Friday afternoon, just as we were arriving on the site.

It’s a fair old walk from the car park to the campsite too, so it took us - my wife, two children and I - some time to get settled in and chill out after what felt like a fast stomp up Ingleborough and back, carting our stuff through swampy mud.

The Lovell Telescope at Bluedot. Photo by Lucas Sinclair.

The Lovell Telescope at Bluedot. Photo by Lucas Sinclair.

There was little anyone could do but grin and bear it - but the kids had a slightly different take on it!

As a result, we just made it to the Lovell Stage in time to catch the second half of Mercury prize nominated performance poet and artist Kate Tempest.

As expected, she was on point, viciously accurate and hugely talented, with an electronic music backing that added further urgency to her message.

This year, Bluedot went completely cashless across all bars, food stalls and shops.

Henge at Bluedot. Photo by Lucas Sinclair.

Henge at Bluedot. Photo by Lucas Sinclair.

Plenty of blue top up points across the site allowed you to add currency to the chip inside your wristband using a credit or debit card, creating a complete record of what you spend, and where you spend it, and, as advertised, reducing the queues at the bar.

My 11-year-old son particularly liked getting his wristband topped up and having full autonomy over his sweet shop spending.

We thought it worked well, although I’m still £8.55 in credit and need to arrange a refund.

There was so much going on at Bluedot it was hard to know where to start.

The Nebula Stage, Orbit Stage, Contact Stage, The Luminarium, Mission Control, The Big Bang Stage, Deep Space Disco, and the Roots Stage, all offered something different and unusual, and there were also talks from Britain’s first astronaut Helen Sharman, astrophysicist Tim O’Brien, physicist, author and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili and author and TV presenter Dallas Campbell to take name but a few.

We decided to hang around The Lovell Stage - the festival’s main stage - to watch Hot Chip and then the Global Grooves Night Parade featuring dancing robots, a giant astronaut, and a mobile digital light show.

I then hung on for Jon Hopkins, who was performing late on the Orbit Stage.

Crunching, off-step techno, piano solos, haunting vocals, and lashings of psychedelia offered a thoughtful end to Friday night.

Saturday started dry and promising weather wise, and we got into the main arena early, determined to find some science and wonder.

You don’t have to look far for that at Bluedot!

Kraftwerk, by J Tully Photography

Kraftwerk, by J Tully Photography

The University of Manchester’s Physics Outreach team, New Scientist, Extinction Rebellion, Manchester Girl Geeks, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and many others were on hand with fantastic workshops, demonstrations and experiments all weekend.

Under the shadow of the awesome Lovell telescope, we made slime, smelt the composites of Mars, the moon, space itself and The Milky Way, listened to vulcanologists, took a virtual reality tour of a water charity project in Kenya, made stomp rockets, 3D printed bags, and built bacteria.

A highlight for me was the sound created by a slinky spring, attached to two pieces of string that you hold while putting your fingers in your ears.

When the spring is dropped to the ground it creates the sound of a huge space battle. Well worth a go!

We also found delicious vodka cocktails at the Russian Standard area, where you could create your own cocktail at its mule market.

I went for grapefruit, sage and blueberry. Very refreshing. As was the Purity Brewing Co cask beer in the real ale bar.

On the main stage, Henge eschewed the virtues of water and demanded an end to the production of the weapons of war, calling for the colonisation of space instead, all the while getting everyone’s dance on and providing some whole crowd laugh out loud moments.

For us, Saturday also featured Easy Star All Stars performing their dub version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the Moustrap Balloon Show, a bit of Omar Souleyman, and then the two Saturday headliners Jarvis Cocker Introducing Jarv Is, and German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, in 3D.

Both of these were excellent.

The four members of Kraftwerk built a set that pulled everybody together and you could feel the electricity in the air.

Jarvis Cocker played new material, including the single Evolve. He’d lost none of his style and charisma, and was well talked about in our group all weekend. ‘Had he still got it?’ was the question. ‘Yes, yes, yes’ was the answer.

His closing song lyrics are best left to the imagination, or those that were there.

A Sunday afternoon highlight was Chris Lintott’s (It’s Never) Aliens! on the main stage - a look at some of the weird and wonderful on and off planet events that have taken place over the last fifty years - the point being - it’s never aliens.

Playful boos emenated from the crowd whenever something wasn’t aliens, which was in fact, all the time.

Something’s got to be aliens hasn’t it?!

DJ Food’s O Is for Orange set on the Orbit Stage was great, as were Golden Dawn Arkesta afterwards.

John Grant was also brilliant, and then before we knew it, New Order came on to close the Lovell Stage.

Starting off a little slowly, they soon got into the swing of things, and the rain, which was not in the forecast, did little to dampen spirits.

But we finally left the site to the sounds of True Faith and then Blue Monday as the kids had nothing left to give and we conceded on finally making tracks.

I covered 33km/20.5 miles over the course of the weekend according to my health app!

It was great to spend time with friends in such a wonderful setting, and give the kids the freedom to explore the boundaries of their imagination via music, culture, art, science, technology and good old fashioned camping.

Bluedot is a feast for the senses, a celebration of truth and possibility, for dreamers and realists, where the human spirit collides with the energy of the universe in a small corner of a little island on this blue dot we call home.