Last weekend saw the return of Blue Dot Festival to Jodrell Bank, celebrating fifty years since the Moon Landing with a four-day spectacular combining music, science, cosmic culture. The music programme featured Lovell Stage headline performances from Kraftwerk 3-D, New Order, Hot Chip and The Halle and an immersive audio-visual set from Grammy-nominated Jon Hopkins.
This year Blue Dot upped the ante, introducing new areas like Tranquility Base and tripling the capacity of Mission Control and Contact arenas for some of the weekend’s most popular talks. While there was a huge amount of change, the things that make Blue Dot so different to other festivals remained the same – their commitment to sustainability, their initiatives for a green festival, and their support for the scientists of tomorrow through their workshops and family programme at the festival, and their STEM partnerships throughout the year.
Jodrell Bank played a special role in tracking the Eagle lander onto the surface, making it a unique place to celebrate this important anniversary. To mark 50 years to the day since the landing the ‘DotTalks’ line-up featured a host of special speakers, with headliners including Helen Sharman – the first briton in space, and the first woman on the Mir Space station – alongside James Burke, who presented the BBC’s iconic Apollo 11 coverage in July 1969. Luke Jerram’s ‘Museum of the Moon’ an inflatable installation artwork, which had recently been in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, also hung at the entrance to the Roots stage.
We got there in time on the Saturday to see the Congolese group KOKOKO! sporting yellow boiler suits. Their African-electronic music combined with their boundless onstage energy had the crowd bouncing. A stand out track was ‘Buka Dansa’ which we had heard on BBC6 music prior to the festival.
Wondering around the numerous stalls, we couldn’t turn down what New Scientist were offering – the opportunity to smell space. Who knew the Moon smelt like burnt gun powder, Space smelt like burning metal and the Milky Way smelt like rum, raspberries and nail varnish? One of the many activities that children get involved with. Others included the change to chance to make your own solar system necklace and drive a mini Mars Rover. The science wasn’t just for the little ones though, the Mission Control stage had a selection of talks by various scientists and University professors on topics such as the Moon, the Quantum Universe and ‘Space Junk’. We found ourselves captivated by a talk by Ben Stappers on ‘The Best Clocks in the Universe’ which gave us an introduction into pulsars.
When it was time for food, Bluedotconnect, a new and unique payment method made for faster service at bars and stalls seeing the festival go fully cashless. This meant there was more to time for music! Jarvis Cocker introduced us to his new band Jarv Is… on the Lovell stage, with running commentary between songs and dance routines to follow. The former Pulp Frontman’s set culminated in a catchy song with the chorus line “C*nts* are still running the world.”
It was time for the main event. We donned our Kraftwerk 3-D glasses. The ultimate headliner for a festival such as Blue Dot, who had tried and failed to book them previously. This 3-D performance realized a long-term goal of Kraftwerk’s in creating a Gesamtkunstwerk: the fusion of all works of art. The four men stood at their synth-stations in front of a huge projector beaming 3-D visuals to fully immerse the audience in sound and light. The set lifted off with Numbers/Computer Love, with digits flying across the screen to German, Russian and Japanese robotic vocals. This theme continued with It’s More Fun to Compute / Home Computer, songs bursting with melodic genius.
During Space lab, the ‘Spacekraft’ orbited the earth, jetted across Cheshire and docked at Jodrell Bank. It was a thoughtful gesture from Kraftwerk to personalise their shows this way and it certainly garnered applause from the crowd.
When the famous blue Autobahn artwork took over the screen, we knew we were in for a long ride. We followed a Volkswagen on the German freeway, just as the group did in their early days touring their homeland. Then the Morse code intro of Geiger Counter/ Radioactivity kicked in, followed by the ionising pulse of the bass and crisp, high-hitting synths.
During ‘Robots’, images of the anachronous androids moving their arms and heads reminded us of the classic Kraftwerk futurism. Boing Boom Tschak perfected the synchronicity of graphics and crystal clear synths to emphasise every beat, buzz and chime. During the finale, Musique Non Stop, the hall resounded with cheers as each member left the stage in succession. Last to depart was the only remaining founder of the band, Ralf Hütter, who was given a well-deserved standing ovation.
From Merseyside’s own politically charged She Drew the Gun, to Oshun who spread cheers of self-appreciation and Mancunian-electronic duo, Yang, who had previously played to a crowd of twenty, there was plenty to check out musically on Sunday.
In the Luminarium, we were drenched in radiant colour and light. This unique and immersive experience elicited a sense of wonder. We wondered through labrinthine tunnels and cavernous domes, exploring a visually stunning environment of luminosity.
As the rain began to fall, Saturday’s headliners New Order hit the stage. “Are there any Joy Division fans out there?” Bernard Sumner asked, to which the crowd screamed with excitement. “Good. Because we’re not going to play any Joy Division songs… apart from these two.” He joked. This was followed by ‘Transmission’ and then a beautiful tribute of ‘Atmosphere’ with images of Ian Curtis projecting into the crowd. The telescope rippled with light alongside the twinkling of the synths.
This was their second time playing at Jodrell Bank, and their headline set featured new songs such as ‘Tutti Frutti’ from their most recent album Complete Music, along with bangers such as ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Your Silent Face’, ‘True Faith’, ‘Temptation’ and of course ‘Blue Monday’.
The moving tribute to Ian Curtis continued at the latter end of the set as ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ blared out across the audience, bringing the festival to a spectacular close. Thanks again Blue Dot 2019, we had a blast.