Last weekend saw Jodrell Bank Observatory play host to Bluedot - a three-day festival offering everything from music and science, to arts, technology, culture, food and film.
In the shadow of the monstrous landmark of technology that is the telescope of Jodrell Bank, Bluedot mixed the musical magnetism of Pixies, Orbital and Alt-J with scholarly and comedic selections curated brilliantly by some of the Northern region’s leading arts and culture powerhouses.
Seeing the Lovell Telescope towering above the Cheshire plains as you approach the entrance to Jodrell Bank, it’s hard not to feel slightly mind-blown. Much like the famous Tor which welcomes festival-goers to Glastonbury, the 250-foot-high dish is a very British icon but one that speaks of the future rather than the past. The welcoming feel of the festival held no bounds as all age groups donned the same wide-eyed gasping face at the technological feats that were on show.
That same mystified amazement was shared by all in attendance for Leftfield, who were kicking things off on the Orbit stage as we arrived to site on Friday. As far as album anniversary shows go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one as diverse and all-encompassing as Leftfield’s run through of the ground-breaking electronic record Leftism. Celebrating its 22nd anniversary, their performance was an iconic journey and testament to an album esteemed for fusing genres and setting a benchmark for cohesion in electronic records.
From the opening bars of the dub-tinged 'Release the Pressure', there was a remarkable captivation into every element of the show, from both the performers and the crowd, made all the more powerful by impressive visuals. With crystal clear sound, the anthemic reflection of 'Melt' was another emotive highlight, as are the choppy proto-jungle churnings of Storm 3000.
Next up on the Lovell Stage were headliners, Pixies. As always, they didn't muck about, walking on stage and launching straight into anthem Gauge Away. Dispensed within the first half hour are late-'80s favourites 'Debaser' and the apocalyptic bliss of 'Where Is My Mind?'. Newer tracks, such as 'Head Carrier', came late on in the set, variously marked by frontman Black Francis' sacrilegious bark and Joey Santiago's ever magnificent guitar abuse.
In true Northern spirit, partway through the set came the downpour. It didn't seem to bother revelers though, who continued to dance their way through closing track 'Um Chagga Lagga' to end what had been an impressive start to day one of the festival.
Saturday was heavy on music, with some big names on the bill. However, there was also a host of talks and presentations which sparked the interests of many. In particular, technology journalist Geoff White’s talk on the dark web proved fascinating, and also his later appearance where he quizzed Buzzfeed’s James Ball on how to spot fake news in today’s media.
The first of many musical highlights on Saturday came from Goldfrapp on the Lovell Stage, who delivered an alluring and thoroughly entertaining set of electropop brilliance. Churning out hit after hit, including Number 1, 'Ride a White Horse', 'Ooh La La' and 'Strict Machine', predictably, the crowd went wild for them.
Another obvious highlight came from Saturday's main stage headliners, Orbital. Classics such as 'Chime', 'Satan' and 'Belfast' all featured in a barnstorming 90-minute set. Drawing the Lovell Stage to a close, Orbital rewarded ravers with a snippet of Belinda Carlisle’s 'Heaven is a Place on Earth' during Halcyon.
With the electronic duo delivering such an energetic set, we definitely weren't ready for the evening to end. Luckily, Belgian brothers Soulwax were on hand to keep the party going over on the Orbit Stage. Utilising a spectacular production, they brought new album From Dewee to life. Fan favourite 'Do You Want To Get Into Trouble?' instantly made for chaos down the front, with the intense crowd interaction worming its way throughout the entire tent until not a single person was stood still.
We couldn't leave without catching at least some of Hot Chip member Joe Goddard, who was delivering a live set over on the Nebula Stage. His set stood out as colourful and varied and thoroughly representative of many aspects of London's bass culture. His inspired use of analog synths on records from his first solo album, Electric Lines, are what give the overall soundscape its unique feel. Everyone seemed to be vibing off it, nodding in a knowing way as if to say 'it doesn't get much better than this'.
Sunday seemed to come round quickly, and the final day of the Bluedot was upon us. However, there was still an astronomical day of music ahead. Warpaint were heading up the Lovell Stage and, on the whole, they were great. Their high energy really worked the crowd. The programming, the beats, it all works. What's especially so great about them is that they love every moment of being onstage together. More so than any other group, they smile, dance and seem to be fully encased in the atmosphere of whatever festival, venue or city they’re gracing with their presence.
Last up was Sunday's headliner, Alt-J. Hot on the heels of a comeback record, they played a comforting and familiar mix of old classics alongside newer previews of fresh work. The ability of playing their highly detailed and intricate music to perfection means they cannot interact with the crowd as other artists do.
And while that is often frustrating, with Alt-J it simply doesn't matter. Their music is all-encompassing and manages to capture every person in front of the stage. The reactions that new songs such as 'In Cold Blood' really showed how the band continue to go from strength to strength. They may have shed a band member, but fewer men didn’t mean less atmosphere as the Leeds-born trio sewed the seeds of their new work to a intrigued and doting crowd.
The line-up at Bluedot was carefully curated to ensure that there was something for everyone. Certain bands were just meant to play at such an innovative festival, Orbital were a perfect headline act. Bluedot attracted people of all ages and there was a respectfulness and friendly vibe which can often be lacking at larger festivals.
Some could argue that there are already too many festivals to choose from, but in this case Bluedot provide something completely different in a spectacular location. After a second successful year, the festival is sure to keep going from strength to strength.