Bluedot 2018


[The final of our three-part Bluedot Festival 2018 review, one for each day.]

The press office is a dark-walled structure by an ice cream van. It is inauspicious; you peer into the café when you walk up the path, at the cups, buffet and cheap tables. Within it, however, I splutter my drink. There are famous faces mingling with junket warriors like I. Richard Dawkins is three seats over, chatting to Jim Al-Khalili, his squirrelly face frowning as usual. Hold that man! I dash for my phone: a dumb, hamstrung millennial. His talk yesterday was packed to the rafters and the line defeated me. Now, now is the chance . . . for him to be ushered out, my limp fingers holding the possibility of a selfie that has thoroughly evaporated. Fucksake. Why am I predictable. Why was the phone on charge. I could’ve just spoken to him like a human, not fulfilled a stereotype, all twat-ish.

Ol’ faithful (that is, the Nebulae tent) might sooth my ills. But it doesn’t. Cruel World are on, as apt a moniker as you’ll find for their rotten, mothballed indie. Harp strings and a chunky chord announce they’re here, and that’s about it. It’s the sort of music that made you resent The Courteeners fans at school. Too sedate, too soulless. It doesn’t rock enough to be angry, nor hook an ear to joy and graceful songwriting. Charlotte Haines at least has a firm sense of her appeal at Notes, the literary kids’ corner. Her novel Heavenly Bodies will be out soon. Give it a go if you’re into tragedy recast for a pop singer and her writer husband, which – it must be said – seems a tad fossilised, at odds with how fame is engineered and maintained nowadays. Plus, when do you ever see a singer/novelist combo in the limelight? Descriptions of “a dining table that should be in a BDSM scene” do the legwork to button my quibbles.

Indeed, Sunday takes a while to warm up. JW Riley doesn’t get an enthusiastic reception till the final strains of his set, although a sax jumps in early, and ‘Jaguar Springs’ notches up his percussive flambé. His lyrics on ‘Everything (Deathless)’ aren’t bad: “You don’t trust the voices / The one you left for dead / The one you left for summer / The one stuck in your head.” His epiphanies circle around the beat of the toms and keys, granting them a hammer blow, as if he’s crooning in real-time to a lost friend.

Then, POW – Bluedot dusts off and gets raring once more, ascending on the shoulders of Acid Mothers Temple, who you absolutely have to see live. Words fail, really. They’re a psych-metal-folk-soul collective (gulp . . .) that’ve been committing sonic bastardisation since 1995. And they’re Japanese, unfailingly polite, all the better to grind a lemon into your cortex with crazy, crazy shredding solos, squalls, prog piano, a herd of galloping rhinos from drummer Okano Futoshi, capes, over-the-neck guitar sweeps, and tracks titled ‘4000000000000000 Hotel’. Yep. The audience is in pieces. We’re jacked into a spaceship, and don’t want to leave.

There’s a while to go until Little Dragon, and it’s enough to admire how the festival has grown in attendance. The families are petering, whilst young dudes are everywhere – a signal of what’s in store for the end of the night. Frank, the site’s erstwhile water supplier, is doing whatever it can to fill the beakers of British couples that’ve eaten more pizza and glitter than they probably should, crashed on the ground in twos and threes. The fresh-faced faithful are taking over. Godspeed, I say; it’s a changing of the guard that Yukimi Nagano is ready for, unleashing single ‘Sweet’ with her tambourine in hand, or zapping us with pin-sharp vocals on ‘Ritual Union’.

Few artists want to carry the mantle of the one that got away, but Little Dragon remain a group that studio creatives (Damon Albarn, Flume, De La Soul, Mac Miller) adore, while Regular Toms/Harrys/Dickheads don’t give them a look-in on a Spotify mix. That’s a shame. Or perhaps it isn’t. They’re flatter on record, whereas a stage nets their awesome qualities: Nagano’s charisma, some brilliant rhythms, tracks that skitter and clink beneath bass that’s worth a dab of MDMA. I’m won over. There’s something infectious about the band doing what they do so consistently. In the annals of the electro mainstream, Little Dragon might get their dues – or just guest on more golden album cuts, buying another crate of sunglasses every eight months.

The Chemical Brothers

Aren’t turned on quite yet? Gaze upon The Chemical Brothers, ye mighty, and tremble, for they’ve stockpiled the zenith of Bluedot’s achievements; a duo that feel as if they were born to enclose thousands of ravers in the matrix of a computer. The party starts with Junior Parker’s ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ drooling from the speakers. We’re pumped. The hay on our backs is oiled by lotion, stuck as fast as the grins that herald Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons as they walk on, wave, then blast straight into ‘Go’.

Manchester never tires of its 90s heritage, and when the tunes are this flavourful, there’s no cause not to. It’s smash after smash – ‘Believe’, ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’, a version of ‘Saturate’ that spikes a gibbering mess in the twilight. Their media projections are faultless. It’s a kind of techno opera that snags you into their aesthetic and doesn’t let go. We get, by degrees: exploding teapots; a ghoul with a crown; men with blocks for an upper body; double disco balls shattering the eyes as figures like a child’s sweet wrapper sculpture groove against formless space. On and on and on it rolls. There is tension, some sinister feedback. Mouths are agape.

To immerse oneself in science is a noble pursuit. But to broaden that mission, so anyone can get a taste of mankind’s outer limits, is even nobler. So long, Bluedot. You’re a galaxy of opportunity that begs for an annual fixture.

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.