Bluedot 2018


[The second of three parts of our Bluedot Festival 2018 review, one for each day. Come back over the next 24hrs for our coverage of Sunday’s festivities.]

The morning is hotter than the fear of parasitic death. Sorry, but that’s the frame of thought I’m in after listening to Mark Taylor. His 10AM spiel on tropical leg worms makes me wanna wear stilts over every puddle, creek, bog or paddling pool in the ensuing scope of my life. Climate change is making one species of worm more temperate around the world. “Deepest, darkest Lancashire,” as he calls it, hosted them a few years ago. I shudder, stepping from the Star Pavilion, a black building that’s housing some of the weekend’s finest lectures. Bluedot isn’t just about live music. You can grab a bubble blower, watch a comedy show and take a tour of the observatory, before pinning your ears back for a physics or biology masterclass.

Suzie Imber, for instance, explains what it takes to be an astronaut. She spent three months in Svalbard completing a PhD, was subsequently hired by NASA, and now spends her time analysing the mutual forces between our sun and Mercury, all whilst training as an elite rower. Kevin Warwick delivers a stunning lecture on bio-hacking – that is, how a pair of rat’s brain cells interlinked when they were separated, sprouting tentacles and communicative pathways. In two weeks, these cells had interlocked, forming a new, living brain tissue. When Warwick’s researchers placed them in a robot host, they began to learn how to navigate a room, on their own, via sensors. Strengthening synaptic channels in such a way may be the future of treating Parkinson’s disease.

I could go on and on – but this is, foremost, a music review; let’s return to the Bluedot soundscape. Cosmic Strip are winning fans at Nebulae, setting us off with ghostly tremolo guitar, and prove to be a Froth-meets-Air amalgamate that’s hard to shake as a great find out of nowhere. Vocals coast by without risking nebulosity. Band leader Camella turns up the distortion when she wants to, avoiding the rut that some psych-pop can fall into, i.e. refusing to get interesting in a hurry. ‘Echo Chamber’ comes third, priming us for the release of Heavenly, their debut EP. Devotees of Bird, MBVT and Post Animal have a lot to sink their maw into.

Little Cub, on the other hand, don’t need as much horn-tooting, because they’re already on the muso-list for Possibly Another Semi Big Thing To Come From The Indie Backwaters. Debut album Still Life is a deft, lyrical stab at dance rock, the moody sort that’s made for dark bedrooms with a friend and a bottle of Talisker, so they’re certainly easy to swoon to. The problem is their placement on the bill: a main stage doesn’t suit them in the early afternoon. Toddlers are tumbling around, grasping the bulleted texture of the barriers at the front as dads try to stop them from harming themselves. Amidst the frantic parenthood, Little Cub just don’t work that well. It’s not their fault, as songs like ‘October’ are a treat when you’re paying attention.

Thankfully, the field is packed for Baloji, he of ‘L’hiver Indien’ from the FIFA 2018 soundtrack. It’s a welcome break from blips, drum machines and messy haircuts; there’s a Congolese rhythm taking no prisoners, least of all the over-50s in the audience, who shimmy gamely in the sun. Bluedot’s Roots line-up is catering for this sort of thing in the woods by the carpark, but we’re getting a dose of differentiation for a mainstream billing – and what a show it is, hurtling through funk, trap and rumba, Baloji himself barely pausing to pat his sweat-soaked suit. His guitarist, Dizzy Mandjeku, is a marvel. There are so many cool slide riffs and tinkling notes at the top of the neck that its hard to keep up with him. Dizzy might agree, considering he’s sitting down for most of the gig. Baloji gets him up, stands on the chair so he can’t recover, and gets our venerable string wizard to lead a hand wave en masse. I get the impression it leaves him cream crackered.

What else? Well, there’s a punishingly loud show from FEHM, which collects the aural FX of a dystopian chase, wasting no time getting loose with frontman Paul Riddle in the role of post-punk saboteur. Bliss drips in fits on the synth, and they’re a storm when ‘Human Age’ gets an airing. Later, Hookworms prove again why they’re so coveted as a live prospect – drummer Jonathan Nash puts a kick in motorik, ensuring the band don’t trip up on the intensity that made their name. Fresh material from Microshift blends into classics such as ‘Radio Tokyo’ and ‘On Leaving’. If you can sift through the scuzz, Hookworms have a bunch of great melodies, although it’s also a matter of a rattle in the skull when you need a pick-me-up.

Gary Numan

Most people, however, will remember Gary Numan as Saturday’s king. Praise has been lavished on his recent work, in some corners, by those who’ve intrepidly followed the man’s career into the furnace of industrial rock. 2017’s Savage was a plea to a bleak and broken world; appropriate, you may quip, for the way he fell off the 80s radar once ‘Cars’ came and sped to the cultural history books.

But that’s a goddamn disservice to what he’s been cooking up in the meantime. Of course, the biggest cheers are for set ender ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and its ilk – pure adrenaline mashed in the grip of a black leather glove – yet other, more recent songs stand confidently beside them. ‘A Prayer For The Unborn’ plugs us into a keyboard that skips along a handful of notes, Numan’s body warping with the beat, before ‘My Name Is Ruin’ greets his daughter Persia onstage, adding her howl to the crunch of the amplifiers. It’s a touching moment from a guy who holds music very dear, in several guises, while he noodles about in a stylish mummy outfit. Christ, you wouldn’t believe he’s 60. Cue a roar of applause from every voice on the grass.

Due to a search for tobacco in a car’s glovebox two thousand miles away (figuratively), I miss Future Islands’ headline slot. It’s a bitter pill that tastes fouler as I turn up for Look Mum No Computer, an annoying as shit electro kid in a white boiler outfit. He twiddles a circuit board and does something that may be called singing if you live in a porcelain bathroom with a door that cannot open, and a Lucozade addict is punching your sleeve, and you’re screaming, and he is screaming, and the light darkens as the police don’t come. Oh, with lame humour too: “Who was your favourite band today? Elvis Presley? ‘COURSE NOT, HE’S DEAD!!!” Urgh. Cassetteboy is rammed, or else I’d have been on the pink cloud of a YouTube sensation, far from hell.

As it transpires, the night flips to the strangest gear imaginable with Age of Glass. Trust me when I say that nothing will prepare you for the opening half an hour of this. If you catch it – a touring madhouse-cum-cosmic-musical – there’s a reason to buy a ticket, because you’ll be laughing till your pint spills over your ankles. A sentence or two won’t do. Let me list what happens:

  • Robo-women boogie and stay in character during soundcheck.
  • The protagonists are a pair of ravers who tumble into a wormhole. They peer around like disaster movie extras trying to spot Bruce Willis.
  • An actual, full robot costume joins the opening act. Then he is bundled off to a shed labelled ‘Radioactive’ and never seen again.
  • The villain has a pair of caramel thighs for antennae. In the centre rests a furry ball. She has a vagina head.
    A bearded man leads the ragtag procession. His vocals are high and almost gorgeous, but he plays an acoustic guitar that is never heard. We can’t hear the lyrics that well either, which means the narrative could literally be anything. Brexit metaphor? Go for it.

That final point is the clincher: after I wee myself with delight, the novelty fades. So does my stamina. It’s a weird finish, stretched nicely by my trip to the Outer Space zone where steampunks launch coconuts at things and flames leap from DIY chimneys. G’night, I guess.

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.