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Bluedot2023 Sunday Scott M Salt Lovell Young Fathers4

Young Fathers bring the soul to Jodrell Bank Observatory for Bluedot Festival

27 July 2023, 14:41

Science and sound meet at Bluedot Festival; Charlie Ivens heads to Jodrell Bank Observatory and overcomes mud and rain for a line-up full of bold and exciting choices.

As UK festival culture returns to the near saturation point it enjoyed before the pandemic, it’s been mildly interesting to watch how each event strives to differentiate itself from the mass of options on offer - aside from variously nuanced flavours of ‘band soup’, different shapes of loo and a breadth of culinary flavour Just Eat would trade its algorithm for.

Since 2016 Bluedot has offered something truly unique, since it’s based on the Unesco World Heritage site that is Jodrell Bank Observatory, a few miles outside Macclesfield. On top of a music programme that veers consistently left-of-centre (if not fully experi-mental), Bluedot naturally excels in pushing science to the front, along with a smattering of the comedy and literature many discerning festival punters now expect as standard.

This means you can soothe your Sunday hangover with a 10am lecture about dark matter - and that’s exactly what we did. It also offers plenty of opportunities to highlight where science might meet music halfway, hence a terrific hour in the company of a room full of Delia Derbyshire nerds, forensically deconstructing the analogue tapes of the original Doctor Who theme on a copy of Logic projected onto the big screen. Mind truly blown, and a singular experience complemented by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop live scoring a series of Who scenes elsewhere that same day.

It’d be fairly easy to fill any Bluedot review with technology, maritime and space-based fare, but with a line-up like this one, we’d all end up missing out. At four days total (Max Richter played with an orchestra and bonus Tilda Swinton on the Thursday evening), it’d take a lot to detract from what’s on offer. But nature does its best, punishing all present with relentless yellow-warning rain that quickly reduces the site to (in the words of a friend) “yoghurt and muesli” thanks to the addition of endless barrows of woodchip to the swiftly rising mud. Accessibility is effectively restricted to people whose legs worked efficiently, and that leaves a cohort of less able music fans stuck in tents and vans all weekend (or heading reluctantly home).


It gets so bad that Bluedot organisers reluctantly refund Sunday day ticketholders and ask them to stay away, for the utilitarian benefit of those who choose to stay put. What might have been 20,000 attendees on Friday is down to what feels like about a third of that by the time the unstoppable Grace Jones pulls up to the bumper 30 minutes late on Sunday evening, with a surreal trot through all the hits you’d care to wish for. But the remarkable thing is the sheer joy, support and acceptance we see absolutely everywhere, despite the escalating difficulty. Staff do all they can to lighten the load, punters help one another out of the mud, kids tolerate parents and vice versa. This particular niche seems to have attracted a thoughtful, considerate crowd on both sides of the barrier.

“It’s chucking down and you’re still here,” observes Dry Cleaning singer Florence Shaw at the blistering end of their sodden Saturday set. Their spindly, compelling post-punk is both Proustian rush and also already sufficiently distinctive to be referenced elsewhere (Blur have definitely been listening in 2023), and ‘Gary Ashby’ kicks the crowd into brolly-waving jerk-dancing. They feel like part of a theme that embodies Bluedot this year. If you can be fun, why not be fun?

Bluedot Saturday Paul Whiteley Lovell drycleaning
Dry Cleaning

If you’re making thunderous electronic dance-rock, why not be fun? Madmadmad clearly concur, crashing into our lives with a gleeful crunch of irrepressible mathrock-meets-crunchy disco, like Squid playing Supergrass playing Fuck Buttons. Fun Buttons. It’s scant surprise to spot at least 2 of them on a much bigger stage later on Friday, augmenting headliner Roisin Murphy’s house-a-delic backing band, before the pre-mud party descends into darker electro territory with a moody-as-hell Leftfield clusterbomb across the way. Roisin’s exuberant ‘Overpowered’ and ‘Murphy’s Law’ unite one and all - along with her terrifically loopy outfits - but it’s the bowel-worrying bass of ‘Phat Planet’ that carries us home.

If you’re making country, why not be fun? CMAT agrees on Friday, inviting the crowd to a mass 2-step and revelling in her identically dressed band following suit. And if you’re making languid chugging electro, why not be John Grant, whose Creep Show project with Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder offers a full-on wall of sparse robo-funk - with Grant’s honeyed vocals and familiar theremin-esque synth on top - and shows there’s joy to be found in the abstract. And why not be fun with soulful deep house/trance/kitchen sink, insist London duo Nimmo, who we saw in 2019 supporting Self Esteem and who have since further blossomed into proper effing electro-emo-rave stars with Moyet vox and Becky Hill crossover potential.

Bluedot2023 Fri George Harrison Cmat 2

In the same tiny tent Spielman lights up Saturday afternoon with an absurdist half hour of straight-faced yacht rock with sardonic lyrics. He’s had the laudable idea of making The War On Drugs fun - songs crafted with love and delivered with the sort of smirk that'll one day be wiped clean off by a right hook. Mancunian post-punks Nightbus meanwhile are Deadly Serious so must have missed the meeting about cheering everyone up who’s sheltering from the increasingly apocalyptic downpour.

Despite ‘90s slackrock heroes Pavement taking the median Saturday night headline slot with a leisurely, overlong stroll through their catalogue - one wonders if they feel a little trad on this year’s bill - the techno-coloured musical centrepiece of Bluedot, the heart of the piece, is Henge. Formation dancing robots, a Vivian Stanshall-channelling singer with a plasma lightning ball on his head, plus wiry prog, analogue electro of the Add N To (X) vein, and hearty Krautrock/rave crossover. They lead the sodden Bluedot army in a chant of "We demand/That the weapons of war/Are manufactured no more/Demilitarised" and repeat the trick with a Space March around the bits of the festival site that won’t drown anybody.

Bluedot 2023 Friday Scott M Salt Lovell Henge Parade 8

Tough to follow that, but Pictish Trail are clearly up to the task. Singer Johnny Lynch is instantly engaging, orchestrating changing tempos and pleasing melodies that linger. Far from the expected bucolic folk, this is psychedelic powerpop in a ‘90s Flaming Lips/’80s Devo vein. “I clicked and dragged a copy of the album artwork onto a pair of trousers," he admits, and indeed he did (for £16). Judging by the backdrop film - lots of silly costumes and dancing - there's not a huge amount to do on the Isle Of Eigg, where he's from. Broadly it’s Warmduscher without the hipster veneer and we’re here for it.

For all the madness of rain, mud and cancelled tickets, the overwhelming feeling onsite at Bluedot is of indefatigable “Oh well, we’ll manage” optimism. Your correspondent literally has to buy a new tent after the first night, but not only is that easy to do onsite, the horror that led to it somehow doesn’t cast any shadow over the weekend. There’s something wonderfully reassuring about being surrounded by curious scientists (as well as intrepid musicians) that emboldens the wavering and wordlessly insists on positivity. The Go! Team definitely get this memo and their glorious clattery double-drummer carnival on Saturday afternoon takes McLaren’s Duck Rock in a more wholesome, less problematic direction.


By Sunday, admittedly, even the cheeriest of funseekers might be forgiven for losing their shine, but Bluedot’s bands continue to deliver, perhaps sensing a primal need for succour rather than just entertainment. BC Camplight open the main stage after a woodchip-based delay opening the arena. Brian’s in fine form, deliberately playing more quietly rather than louder when the stage opposite threatened to drown him out. They’ve had “a bit of a hit” now, after all, with ‘I’m Desperate’, and he repeats the “6 Music is playing this every 28 seconds” joke we heard at Bexhill’s Seaview festival 2 weeks ago. His self-effacing shtick hides a sizeable ego but it’s backed up by a sackful of terrific songs, overripe with ideas. He's in full Don Johnson get-up today, fawn blazer sleeves hoiked to the elbow and an Indiana Jones hat. "Anybody here ever been into a mental hospital? This one's for you…" We’re suitably buoyed.

The remainder of Sunday feels inevitably lacklustre due to the significantly diminished crowd and yet more rain. But a few newer acts show up to chivvy the weary along (it’s remarkable given the circumstances that not one act cancelled this year). Scratchy indie-poppers Vacant Weekend bring welcome gallows humour and tense rhythmic patterns, a lil bit Mystery Jets with a touch of mathrock precision. Jessica Winter brings a knife to a gunfight with nowt but a microphone stand to accompany her on the suddenly massive tent stage. Bu-ut goodness, the tunes! The style! A blithely confident pop set full of heart and grit, all honed to pop perfection in a bedroom near you.

Skinny Pelembe’s dub-soaked rock would be well suited to a sun-drenched afternoon on a picnic rug with a few tinnies and schnacks. It’s not their fault the weather didn’t play ball, and they definitely give it all they have. Later, we arrive at west London rapper/singer Lava La Rue just in time for an enthused and abandoned, terrific cover of Angel Olsen’s ‘Shut Up, Kiss Me’. “No cheap thrills, wanna hear something frightening,” she intones on ‘Something Frightening’, and we feel that deep. She has a slight Winehouse lilt and a pleasing cockiness to match.

Bluedot2023 Sunday Scott M Salt Lovell Young Fathers3
Young Fathers

If Henge are the heart of Bluedot 2023, there’s no doubt where to find its soul. Young Fathers must be the UK’s most flat-out electrifying live act right now, they issue a challenge to the remaining hardy crowd: engage, if you dare, with a confrontational set that's almost all rhythm and texture, and virtually no melody or harmony. And yet it's unstoppable, captivating, and easily the most punk rock thing on offer this weekend. Absolutely without compromise and who knows what genre - Psych-Hop? R’n’EBM? - seven people on stage snake in and out and around one another, in glee and dogged intent.

‘In My View’ is hypnotic, beguiling, like a folk drone flung in a fire and re-wrought. Then somehow it's a country hoe-down with thundery bass. It's like a seance, a rally, a communal coming together. And they stand in a row at the end of their set chanting their own “one more tune” exhortation (a tribute to Massive Attack's ‘Light My Fire’ preamble, we fancy). Who’s close, in any measurable way? Algiers, SAULT. Nobody else. If you’re going to crack open 2,009 minds on an early evening in Cheshire, why not be fun?

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