Live Report: Bluedot Festival 2022

Scientific discovery and immersive sound design prevail in this family friendly festival...

How do you combine a music festival with the wonders of the universe?

This is Bluedot Festival’s winning edge, which takes over none other than the historic Jodrell Bank astronomical observatory every July.

Bluedot plays homage to its host by combining eclectic, electronic and ‘otherworldly’ music with an event centered around astrological and scientific discovery, all with the backdrop of the colossal telescope at a height of over 250 metres.

One of the most astonishing sights you encounter at Jodrell Bank is seeing the telescope not only moving to face different parts of the crowd, but even turning to face the crowd. The main headliners are not shy to use this to their advantage, and after sunset they’re able to project light and laser shows directly onto its face – used this year by headliners Mogwai and Groove Armada, who performed one of their final shows after 25 years of touring.

Live Report: Bluedot Festival 2022
The Lovell Telescope – Jody Hartley

Bluedot is also one of the most family-friendly festivals in the UK, with a host of pop-up exhibitions from Jedi training to life-size video games. Throughout the day, attendees can visit different talks and lectures held in the buildings and at the large tent Mission Control. This year standout talks were by quantum physicist Jim Al-Khalili and astronaut Tim Peake who inspired hundreds of children and adults alike. But you were just as likely to be transported in a small lecture hall with the likes of Dr Sarah Crowther teaching attendees about the wonders of asteroid sampling and the spacecraft missions to do this.

This year, the tempo was stripped back from previous years, playing host to a more calming and cerebral experience – something we’ve been sorely missing in previous years. Bubble machines were a-go across the festival, adding a playful visual component to the auditory sensory contemplation.

Live Report: Bluedot Festival 2022
Bluedot – Tom Martin

Tone-setters this year were the festival opener on Wednesday night, Hannah Peel and Paraorchestra. The orchestra is a force of disabled players on assisted instruments, who played the album ‘The Unfolding’ together with the Mercury Prize and Emmy nominee. The album is based on the themes of Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Underland’, an exploration of the world of rocks and land beneath our feet. All with its own stellar meaning at Bluedot – when you’ve listened to lectures on sampling methods of space rocks both on Earth and from the asteroid belt – it’s easy to realise just how otherworldly a simple rock can be.

Live Report: Bluedot Festival 2022
Hannah Peele by Jody Hartley

A wide expanse of different DJs and experimental musicians also played their part in this stripped-back soundscape. On Thursday, this kicked off with Peruvian house music artist Sofia Kourtesis and avant-garde techno pop musician Kelly Lee Owens who has collaborated directly with Björk and St Vincent.

Unwinding in the weekend, house and techno music was pushed increasingly into the experimental. First there was Anna Meredith, who lifted the spirits of a soggy field on a Sunday evening with her good humour and the tense pulsating brass of pieces like ‘Nautilus’.

Then Koreless – the stage name for Lewis Roberts – played his debut album ‘Agor’; its creation self-described as a “sickly obsession” attracted critical acclaim in 2021 and this year was one of his first chances to bring his textural union of light and sound to the stage. And of course Squarepusher; the closest experience to walking into a glitch. You can hear his friendship with Aphex Twin biting through his music, but his music is forward-thinking in its own direction – a breaking apart of the matrix, with music torn apart into static and flushed with colour.

There were a number of tempo pushers in different genres. One of those surprise acts was Public Service Broadcasting who unexpectedly stepped in on the Thursday to replace Spiritualized. The synthwave post-rock band blends krautrock rhythm with archival vintage footage, sharing lessons through the course of history. It would be hard to put a figure on how many people were overheard saying they should play every year.

Live Report: Bluedot Festival 2022
Metronomy by George Harrison

HENGE, the festival’s mainstayers known as the stubborn recurrence of Shellac at every edition of Primavera Festival, performed ‘Attention Earth!’ as fictional alien characters with a series of messages for the planet, before leading their pseudo-legendary trek from the Main Stage to the Disco for a four hour DJ set.

It was Mogwai who wrapped up Saturday’s festivities, the force field of their soaring post rock recharging the field. With guitarist Stuart Braithwaite’s father being Scotland’s last telescope-maker, this must have been a personally special performance for him under the gaze of the Lovell Telescope.

World-class world music

Although less present than 2019’s editions which hosted Uganda’s Nyege Nyege takeover, Bluedot still brought to Jodrell Bank, internationally acclaimed artists that have been missing in the UK over the past two years.

Colombian-Canadian musician Lido Pimienta’s album release ‘Miss Colombia’ was celebrated on the Orbit Stage, a far cry from her early days of music release, where her ex-husband produced all of her songs and refused to teach her how. Her songs are both personal recollections and searing rebukes of both Canada and Colombia. Together, Pimienta and her spectators celebrated five months since Colombia legalised abortion, joined by her Nicaraguan performing partner May Aya.

Soweto Afro-psychedelia collective BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) brought their Indigenous, ritualistic heritages to the main stage in an ancient and modern collaboration. They sing in the eleven official languages of South Africa from Sotho to Zulu to Afrikaans for a visceral performance that transports the person into a spiritual cross-cultural experience.

Live Report: Bluedot Festival 2022
Bluedot – Jody Hartley

Then Sunday night was ruled by two queens of music from their kingdoms, separated by 6000km: Mali’s Oumou Sangaré and Iceland’s very own Björk

54-year-old Grammy award-winning Oumou Sangaré dominated the Orbit stage. Performing in sensual smoke, Sangaré and her all-female chorus stood in solidarity to women’s rights and the turbulent history of her Malian homeland.

To close it was Björk who held the rapt attention of Bluedot. Accompanied by the Halle Orchestra, who in previous years have opened the festival as a lift off ceremony, this was a Björk show with a difference. The Icelandic superstar is accustomed to intricate costumes and stage productions, but at Bluedot it was a frank show, with no glitter or glamour, telescope projections or light shows – simply herself wrapped in a cocoon, performing to a crowd who gave her the same silent attention as though she was performing in a small concert hall. She adored the crowd and their respect as much as they adored her.

Words: Dannee McGuire

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