Bluedot is a festival not only of music but somewhere to expand your mind as Getintothis’ Lily Corke-Butters discovered.
Bluedot 2019 had a soggy start, with fairly frequent showers greeting most people on arrival.
Despite this, British humour was enough to keep morale high in the campsite, including widespread cheering and applause when the rain finished.
We also played a game of singing weather-related songs, starting with Purple Rain – which was followed up by a stranger’s voice saying “just wet rain!”.
For Bluedot veterans and newbies alike, the first exploration into the festival site must be equally exciting.
Within minutes, we had already witnessed a trio, wearing coordinated silver costumes and disco ball heads, who wandered through the crowd, musing over people in particularly sparkly outfits.
The longer we walked, the more festival-goers we saw dressed in elaborate space-themed costumes.
But this came as no surprise, considering the festival site was centred around the enormous Lovell Telescope.
Every path and area had its own beautiful decorations. One familiar ‘face’ was Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon which appeared in the Anglican Cathedral in May 2018.
While the installation could be appreciated at any time, the moon was at its most magnificent when illuminated at night.
The close-up view of the craters and shadows created the feeling that the gap between humans and space was being bridged, allowing viewers a deeper observation of the surface of the moon.
Bluedot offers a wealth of experiences, performances and activities to keep everyone entertained.
The family-friendly nature of the festival meant that many of the talks and workshops were kid-orientated.
However, that is not to say that adults and non-parents will not also enjoy indulging their inner child.
A series of model-making workshops run by Aardman Animations offered the chance to make characters and ask questions.
It’s safe to say we were gutted when the Feathers McGraw workshop was full – who wouldn’t want to make a plasticine model of a penguin criminal mastermind?
— Matt and Rob Vale (@illuminosvales) July 20, 2019
Unlike the more usual festival experience, our first stop was not music related.
Instead we came by a talk by Matthew Cobb entiltled The Rise of the Robots and the Human Brain.
Despite its ominous title, the engaging talk was actually rather reassuring for anyone worried about the rise of Artificial Intelligence. Cobb stressed that while there are similarities between computers and the brain, they work in fundamentally different ways, thus will never be able to replace each other.
After the talk, the next challenge was deciding on where to eat.
The numerous food stalls, trucks and trailers provided a variety of choice for all dietary requirements, meaning that food/choice envy is eliminated and while falafel could be found around almost every corner, it is no longer the only option for veggies and vegans.
Kate Tempest was our first, and one of our favourite musical acts of the weekend.
Her poignant words about class, capitalism and love moved many members of the crowd, including me, to tears.
The social realism of her performance was enough to make anyone feel like they have to make a change.
Tempest highlighted issues and feelings that we are all familiar with, but are too afraid to admit.
In one of her poems she remarked on the feeling of rage, at the state of the world, that she wakes up with, but that subsides throughout the day.
By highlighting this pathway to apathy, she lit a fire underneath anyone who was listening, encouraging action and self-examination. Her message was enriched by the stage invasion by socio-political protest group Extinction Rebellion.
Their banners and flags had been floating around in the crowd.
They then appeared to be leaving, towards the end of her set.
Minutes later, a small group calmly walked onto the stage, with their flags and banners saying “TELL THE TRUTH”.
Tempest accommodated them by moving over to one side, while the musicians with her continued to play aggressive and provoking beats.
— Richard Pineapple (@rpin42) July 19, 2019
Eventually, the protesters were moved off the stage by security.
The set carried some of the most meaningful messages of the entire festival and whetted our appetites for more thought-provoking experiences.
Hot Chip were Friday’s headliners.
The crowd had filled out considerably in preparation for their performance.
The audience comfortably sank into their melodic pop tunes, but were snapped out of them by a high energy cover of the Beastie Boys Sabotage.
This unexpected song choice was enough to shock the audience out of their autopiloted swaying and force them into a pop-enthused rage.
Singer Alexis Taylor joked that the song was a nice vocal warm up, following which they played the much more mellow Look at Where We Are.
— Paul H (@paulisageek) July 19, 2019
Out of the setlist that combined their new and old songs, it would be fair to say that the most memorable track was their Beastie Boys cover.
A chance encounter led us to Nebula Stage, where Otim Alpha were opening with what sounded like a standard DJ set.
However, once we were inside, it was clear that this performance would be something else.
Leo Palayeng was behind his decks with a feather headdress and beautifully patterned outfit. The set was unusual in its structure, free from the constraints of what we come to expect from a live performance.
The DJ set transitioned into a melodic acoustic performance, as Otim joined Leo Palayeng on stage.
Both men played a traditional African instrument, similar to a harp, whilst Otim sang unusual melodies over it.
The third distinctive section of the set was when Leo Palayeng began playing more electronic-infused African wedding music, known as Acholitronix.
However, this time, Otim sang and danced with it.
They built the crowd’s energy and enthusiasm so much that those on the barrier began rhythmically stomping on the metal.
There was a real sense of exchange between the musicians and audience, each boosting the other’s energy – particularly when Otim showed off his impressive and energetic dance moves.
On our journey back to the tent we were intercepted by a parade, consisting of lanterns, puppets and light up robot dancers. The parade swept through the campsite multiple times each day, so there were plenty of chances to get embraced by the robot puppet.
The aliens descended on Saturday in the form of Henge.
With them, they brought sexy dancing mushrooms and other crazy costumes to indicate that they were not from this planet.
Their self-proclaimed ‘cosmic dross’ was played to us humans to communicate messages of love and dance.
The children in the crowd would have either found them hilariously entertaining or unnervingly peculiar. Either way, the crowd were thoroughly engaged by Henge.
One very amusing observation we made was that, at the Deep Space Disco, children could be seen dancing to Kraftwerk while adults enjoyed the Clangers DJ set. The family-orientated nature of the festival allowed unusual subversions, like this, to occur.
When milling around, it was clear that this was not just a festival for musicians and speakers to perform at, but for the attendees as well. Every other person was dressed as an astronaut or alien.
— Rebecca Masters (@RebeccaJMasters) July 18, 2019
We began to feel rather underdressed!
Mama Racho took to the Roots Stage in the afternoon.
Kitted out, or should I say knitted out, in crocheted, colourful balaclavas.
The sun was finally out by then, so the secluded stage was surrounded by people chilling on the grass and enjoying the electronic psych jazz fusion. We watched as people began to leave their seated positions and weave their way forward for a dance, as the music was almost impossible to be still to.
The Physics House Band set out to fry everyone’s brains with time signatures that even the finest musician may struggle to dance to. Their music felt very centred around drummer Dave Morgan – who has been nominated for Best New Drummer by MusicRadar / Rhythm Magazine.
Although we could appreciate how complex and skilled their music was, our brains couldn’t handle the musical mayhem.
From one head-mashing performance to a fascinating and head-bending talk about Time Travel, from Jim Al-Khalili.
Some members of the audience seemed slightly resistant to his ‘dubious’ explanations and analogies.
The audience seemed to leave the talk slightly more confused, but slightly more intrigued by the concept.
Nevertheless, the general theme of the talks and workshops confirmed that Bluedot is festival of the nerds – but in the best way possible.
The music side of the festival is enriched by the consensus that everyone is there to learn new things, whether that is how to use a lightsabre or to attempt to understand that fabric of our universe.
Speaking of nerds, Kraftwerk 3D descended from the skies to headline Saturday.
The crowd packed the field and kitted out with their 3D glasses.
We heard someone describe the visuals as “3D from the ‘80s”, which was a fair enough statement having seen the animation style.
However, they were still a spectacle, with musical notes flying out into the audience and Tron-like faces revolving. Jarvis Cocker was supposedly spotted in the crowd, reliving his youth.
— Guy Weaver (@ncfcguy61) July 20, 2019
Sons of Kemet had to compete for the crowd, but they still managed to roughly fill the Orbit tent.
Their energetic and aggressive tunes were propelled by their double drummer set up. Their unique sound drew in passing crowds, so the tent got hotter and hotter as the set progressed. This seemed appropriate as their saxophone and tuba raged over the drums.
After all the excitement of Kraftwerk and Sons of Kemet, we decided to wander back to the roots stage to see the Submergence installation by Squid Soup.
The piece consisted of rows and rows of dangling spheres of light.
They would light up in certain patterns and orders, which coincided with the atmospheric music. The beauty of this installation was how truly submerged the audience could get – we did not just observe, but we experienced it, as we walked between the lights, letting the ropes swing next to us.
Merseysides own She Drew The Gun performed with their political message to the forefront. Visuals that read “Refugees welcome” says it all.
It was very refreshing to see so many bands and musicians over the weekend use their platform to spread messages like this. We began to feel reassured that there are people doing things about current issues, and it encouraged us to want to do it ourselves.
OSHUN got the crowd riled up straight away, with their bouts of call and response and unashamed self-appreciation.
It was slightly surprising how engaged the children in the audience were with the group.
We witnessed little boys showing off some sassy dance moves, as well as a young girl who refused to leave with her mum, as she wanted to keep watching.
Their messages of self-love and self-worth were welcomed by our hungover ears, OSHUN gave us the little boost we needed on the Sunday.
Speaking of energy, The Orielles took to the stage with enough to dish out a bit to everyone. Their poppy tunes were well-received, even if the crowd was slightly lacking in liveliness.
When wandering back past the Nebular stage, we came across electronic duo Yang.
If their coordinated jumpsuits and visuals weren’t enough to draw you in, their old school electrobeat music was.
The singer owned every piece of the stage that he graced with his presence. His movements were enough to convince everyone to dance.
The other member thanked the crowd and remarked that it had been the best birthday of his life. The guys were so genuine and enthusiastic that we couldn’t help but fall in love with them.
Finally, New Order played the ‘legend slot’, and legendary it was.
Their music sounded as crisp as if it had come straight off the 180g record.
Again, they had an array of psych-techno visuals which added another layer of fascination to their performance.
They closed the set with the classic Joy Division song Love Will Tear Us Apart, which went down extremely well with the admiring crowd. The band were the perfect way to bookend the festival, leaving everyone satisfied with their musical experience.
What a way to close bluedot 2019 than with a sensational return from @neworder. An epic journey through iconic tracks beneath the mighty Lovell Telescope.
📸 One Eye In pic.twitter.com/7AFIvdGqSb
— bluedot (@bluedotfestival) July 21, 2019
It is hard not to come away from the festival feeling slightly disappointed, due to the fact there are so many amazing things to do and see, we would never get around them all in the three days.
However, the redeeming fact is to remember all the amazing experiences we did have there: all the facts we learned, all the bands we saw, all the people we spoke to.
Bluedot 2019 had a clear purpose, to raise awareness in its audience.
Awareness of climate issues, science issues, social issues.
The festival was successful in this, as it utilised a combination of fun workshops, amazing bands and fascinating talks.
Bluedot is therefore perfect for anyone looking to expand their mind.
The nine best bands and artists at Bluedot 2019
Kate Tempest: Lovell Stage
Her performance stuck in our heads more than any others this festival.
Tempest did not just speak the words, but performed every last syllable, meaning they flowed seamlessly with the live hip-hop beats.
Her solidarity with Extinction Rebellion solidified her position as an activist through her art. It is certain that the majority of the crowd would have left her show feeling encouraged to change the world.
Sons of Kemet: Orbit Stage
Their untamed, but almost flawless performance was enough to steal focus from Kraftwerk 3D.
The unusual ensemble got into our heads, even when using no words. The way their brass instruments squealed over the two drummers was certainly memorable.
Yang: Nebula Stage
The boys admitted that their last gig was to about 20 people, so the transition from that to a full tent meant a lot to them.
Their sincerity came across in their smiles and enthusiasm.
One of the pair started a round of call and response with the audience, which progressed from whooping to making very strange noises.
This fresh energy rubbed off on the crowd, leaving everyone feeling like a proud parent of the duo. They are one of the bands that we would definitely like to see again.
Mama Racho: Roots Stage
The description of the band, as emerging from the Manchester’s squat party scene, was enough to draw us to see the band.
On top of this, their colourful, knitted balaclavas perpetuated their interesting but elusive image.
We came for the description, stayed for the balaclavas, but enjoyed because of the music.
Their electro psych jazz lulled everyone into a comfortable state of fascination. If we ever hear about a squat party in Manchester, that they could be playing, we will definitely be going along!
Submergence by Squid Soup
Like many features of the festival, this installation contributed to the air of calm within the people and surroundings.
Festival-goers, from children to adults, could be found wandering between the lights – many in an almost meditative state. It was features such as this that help to set the festival apart from others.
The Parade: Main Arena
This appeared every day and night, armed with wild costumes, props and music.
The beauty of the parade was its interaction with the audience. Whether it was hugs from giant robots, or dancing with people in costumes that looked like they belonged in Tron. We felt as though we were taking part, rather than watching from the side lines.
OSHUN: Lovell Stage
In keeping with the space theme, OSHUN travelled to our world in order to take us to theirs.
Although their child-populated audience was probably unfamiliar to them, the group effortlessly boosted the crowd’s energy. Their slick rapping weaved between their beautiful singing, providing a consistent variety of interplanetary inspiration.
Otim Alpha: Nebula Stage
The apparent inexperience in how to structure a live set actually boosted the level of engagement with the audience.
There was a sense of confusion between the crowd as the pair jumped from techno to acoustic.
However, this led to them being particularly memorable and relatable.
Otim certainly wins the best-dressed and best dance moves award of the weekend. He was he was kitted out in a traditional African, patterned crop top and matching pants.
His dance moves were spurred on by the audience’s wild reaction. This show was another one in which the audience felt truly connected to those who were performing.
The People: everywhere
The festival-goers were undoubtably one of the highlights of the weekend.
The multitude of costumes made them all very visually appealing.
The lines were blurred between audience and performers, as it was very hard to tell if some people were part of the festival or not!
On top of this, there was such a feeling of being welcomed. Everyone was up for a chat and a laugh, meaning that we couldn’t help but feel at home.
Images by Getintothis’ Warren Millar