Bluedot 2018


[The first of three parts of our Bluedot Festival 2018 review, one for each day. Come back over the next 48hrs for our coverage of Saturday and Sunday’s festivities.]

“All things are artificial,” goes the famous saying of Thomas Browne, one of our country’s most acrobatic thinkers, “for nature is the art of God.” That last word may seem anathema to many at Bluedot this weekend – a four-day edification of science, space, the infinite jest of discovery, held across more than a dozen venues under the towering half-Ferris Wheel of Jodrell Bank Observatory. But God is here; or at least, the nature of art, which isn’t something you can put on a chalk board. When Browne was alive, ‘science’ and ‘learning’ were analogous, and I sense the organisers here share the same hope for a gluing of disciplines that stray from the same orbit. Poetry, music and visual miracles can make us look at the world like children again. So too can the computing power of a fuck-off-massive telescope. Take your pick. We’re about to be a fly on the wall of a shared apartment, in which science and art clean up after each other.

I miss the Thursday performance of the Blue Planet in Concert, because I am employed, and a sick day doesn’t care for the Halle Orchestra’s interpretation of what a seal is feeling as it hunts for shrimp. Subsequently, my buddy and I arrive in good time on Friday evening. We first pitch a tent, then a hard-on for the Lovell Telescope – a tremendous object that can be seen anywhere on-site, with enough energy to process 2GB of data in 30 seconds. That’s similar to my own mood in the Mission Control tent: Holly Lester is DJing. She’s one of Ireland’s best beat-meisters, beloved of Warehouse Project and Jodrell Bank; it’s her second time here. Her brand of house is clean, cool and euphoric. We dance under a suspended cube, giving my first real glimpse of Bluedot’s audience: a constellation of kids, mums, old hippies, aliens in glowing visors, 30-year-olds with their shirts off, teens, spacemen, cosplay unicorns and stoned accountants. That’s only scratching the nose of the festival’s diversity.

Wayne Coyne

But hark! The Flaming Lips are booked for 20 past 9. The Lovell Stage has been rigged for their entrance, which is to say that the AV team must be on overtime as pretty much everything is thrown at the wall, and us, during the next 90 minutes. Standard stuff for a Lips gig – they are still one of the funnest acts on the international psych scene. You get a circus, not a band. When Wayne Coyne & co. ignite the glitter cannon for the very first song, ‘Race For The Prize’, it’s a dream for a theme like this: sugar-rush travel on an interstellar songbook. All the favourites are out. With retrospective albums hitting shelves this year, perhaps the group are playing safe with what’s stood the test of three decades. So we get ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt.1’, ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’ and ‘A Spoonful Weighs A Ton’, along with an unusually faithful cover of ‘Space Oddity/Starman’.

Well, that’s just perfect, right? Just like the inflatable robot penis, zorb ball etc., in the good company of Coyne’s fondness for the festival he helped kick off back in 2011. As ever, the slower Lips moments can drag; they’re at their most glorious when the engine of their space rock is running high. 1993’s ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ smears proof in the pudding. “We don’t wanna diminish the joy you’ve created this evening,” their eye-patched frontman tells us. “Not one bit!” Rest assured, Wayne, you ain’t. A few of these dour explanations puncture the set, but maybe it’s due to how much he loves the observatory, which is washed in a trippy light show. At close to 10:45, the band bow out, and I head to the Nebulae stage for AD/KD, a Brighton duo on the fuzzier rim of techno. It’s a decent head-cave to bear. Yet we’re hankering for soul, and thus wander to Orbit at the far end of the grounds, where Andy Smith’s Reach Up Disco Wonderland is painting a few hundred ravers in gold-standard classics from Chic, Michael Jackson et al, bumping hip hop into the sinews of music we know like the back of our arse.

It’s enough for a first-night closer. To the campsite then, past the parade that calls to mind the hobgoblins of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe adaptation from 1988, along with – y’know – LED cyborgs and giant flags. Sweet dreams, supposedly . . .

Joshua Potts

Josh is a protruding thumb. He’s a hitchhiker on the freeway of life, fond of deprecation and Radiohead. Nothing frightens so much as ‘nothing’ – that is, sitting back and waiting for the world to slip away unnoticed. He has been writing for several years under a shroud of mercenary journalism, using all sorts of societal excuses to flex his pencil, which doesn’t exist because who uses pencils anymore? No-one creative. Or, if they do, he’ll find them, prepping a coffee shop essay that would make Montague blush with missed chances.He likes Stewart Lee, Stevie Nicks and lampshades. The streets have claimed him as their own at some point, but it’s likely he forgot about it en route to an Aldi for Rubicon and posh hummus. Restlessly, he prowls through the lexicon and says, “This! This here!”, and thinks that’s what life is about: choosing ways to express how beautiful we are, in front of as many minds as we can.