Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the inaugural Bluedot festival is that nobody thought to stage it sooner. The iconic Jodrell Bank observatory has long played host to live music. Flaming Lips, Sigur Rós and Elbow have all put in memorable performances in the shadow of the handsome 76-metre-in-diameter Lovell radio telescope. But this bespoke, immersive, science-themed weekender offers something unique and (with apologies for the pun) out of this world.
Boutique, cerebral festivals might be all the rage, but few events could lay claim to chime quite so well with their surroundings as the package offered at Bluedot. As well as the music, Professor Brian Cox (plus a cavalcade of less rave-ready physicists) are on hand to reveal the secrets of the great beyond in a comprehensive series of panels and lectures; cute pink aliens the Clangers are out in live-action force for kids of all ages; Michelin-starred chef Aiden Byrne offers foodies a cosmos-themed tasting menu at “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”; Brian Eno projects interactive artworks on to the telescope and, as night falls, opportunities for real-life stargazing offer respite from the plentiful rave options.
Here’s the unique charm of what Bluedot achieves: while minds are expanded in wholesome ways everywhere you look, it’s also stomping ground for both discerning new music fans and a certain breed of ageing Manc raver who will never entirely give up as long as Underworld are still in business.
Of the crop of new talent, teen synthy sisters Let’s Eat Grandma have crowds spilling out of their small tent, but as a live proposition aren’t quite there yet. Leeds psychobilly punks Cowtown have the opposite problem, but number among the most promising newbies of the weekend.
But Bluedot proves as much in thrall to heritage as it does to the wonders of the universe. Air run out their vintage Moon Safari material, which might be achingly familiar by now, but is no less hypnotic for that. But, taking the Franco-disco stylings of Saturday night to their logical conclusion, the evening somewhat inevitably belongs to Jean-Michel Jarre. The pioneer’s latest Electronica series might boast collaborators ranging from Gary Numan to Little Boots, but here he’s a noble lone warrior, taking the whole crowd as willing disciples as he fires off righteous synth classicism in broad strokes; one man taking on the universe with a laser harp.
To an outsider, Jarre might still have something of a cheesy reputation, but here is a stargazer once again living up to legend status. Like the most profound headline sets, Jarre makes the field feel like it is his universe for us to simply live in. Retro-futurism can feel naff in the wrong hands, but Jarre knows that looking to the future from firmly in the past is the vantage point from which the finest science-fiction comes.