It may only be in its second year but the Bluedot Festival has already established itself as one of the best small festivals in the UK. It’s also without a doubt, one of the friendliest and most well-organised events the VPME has attended in recent years. From the polite and helpful security guards to the impressive layout of the site dominated by the iconic Lovell Telescope, it was a festival were art, music and science collided to create a unique and totally immersive experience. As one Twitter user commented ‘It’s the first music festival I’ve attended where I actually left with more brain cells than on arrival ‘
Andy Von Pip( Photos) and Susie Bennett (words) were there to capture the action.Whilst Andy was snapping and being mesmerised by the likes of Post War Glamour Girls, Dream Wife, Warpaint, Josefin Ohrn and The Liberation, Juanita Stein, Meilyr Jones , Hannah Peel and Tubular Brass, Susie was on hand to provide detailed accounts of her own personal highlights
There is no need to say ‘hello’ when you’re opening with Gouge Away. The recognition that came after that initial anticipatory silence provided more of a love filled connection than any earth bound pleasantry. Twisting every nerve to the same pitch of Joey Santiago’s guitar the Alt-Rock behemoth Frank Black began, as famed, quiet at first with breathy tales of Samson’s eyes before hollering the full horrible beauty of his crepuscular vision ‘sleeping on your belly, you break my arms, you spoon my eyes, been rubbing a bad charm…with holy fingers’. Sheets of summer rain so generous you had to accept it as part of your plan upped the air-punching drama and the legendary Pixies often blurred into their coloured light show as the shifting kaleidoscopic dreamy visitors that believe in aliens – all holographic in greens and blues. They played a mix of vintage Pixies and newer material from Head Carrier. Hey, Where Is My Mind, Here Comes Your Man, La La Love You, Monkey Gone to Heaven, Ana, Crackity Jones, and Caribou were amongst the classics. Caribou opened with the most tantalising, heart-stopping live chord progression of all time – such is the power of this band; they have been around since the late 80s and can still create overwhelming, full body chills in long-standing and familiar lovers. The Pixies are musically like a first crush that will never go away, unreachable, too big, off the radar – unobtainable and Gigantic. They never say hello and they don’t say goodbye and you happily watch and wait for the connection to be made consumed by their world. And they don’t disappoint, making you wait for it is all part of the dynamic; they will tune you in via alternative means of communication, and sing and howl back in tongues. The set closed with Dave, Joey, Frank and Paz engulfed entirely in white smoke playing ‘Into the White’ invisibly from within their cloud. When the B-side had finished and the smoke had cleared the Pixies were gone; vanished, abducted by aliens no doubt from underneath the looming white Astro-grandeur of the Lovell telescope. Their unannounced absence left the feeling that we had just witnessed the myth – and we had. For a few moments thousands of twirling hands remained in the air, happily flummoxed, probing the beautiful expanse of sky at Jodrell Bank, looking for more.
A self-professed ‘cultural big bang’ Johnny Rocket (aka Lias Saoudi) and the Moonlandingz manifested their six piece star system in all its glory next to the Lovell telescope on the opening day of Bluedot. Their Interplanetary Class Classics blasted off at tea time with frontman Lias sporting his trademark hair gel of leftover food. This time it was pizza that looked a bit like sick and it didn’t come off during a particularly frenzied piece of head-banging. He made a public request for Ketamine, but there’s no way the man could be tranquilised that easily. In their first inception The Moonlandingz were described as a ‘semi-fictional outsider Ouija pop group’ and they were the bastard love child of Fat White Family and the Eccentronic Research Council as backed by Sean Lennon (Yoko Ono makes a cameo on the new record too). Since 2015, however, the semi-fictional has now become the terrestrial; the reality of their hooks trouncing any doubt that this was just a side-project. At this gig The Moonlandingz sometimes feel like the instigator down the pub that you don’t want to make eye contact with, but it’s impossible not to watch. In any case the throb of their Avant Garde jazz and rocky bassline drubbing is going to pound you happily into submission anyway. There is something glamourous about them, even in though their manifesto pushes bad taste – maybe it’s because Johnny Rocket is the glam rock star that has a bin for a wardrobe. They are chaotic and unpredictable but also too comedic to be called a menace, and it is funny until Johnny Rocket singles you out ‘Oooh he doesn’t like it’ he says to a lad in a Berghaus he’s taken a shine to in the crowd ‘you’ve got like juxtaposing colours on, orange and blue. I like it’. If Papa Lazerou had a day off from his gipsy circus he’d probably travel to the fictional Moonlandingz town of Valhalla Dale to completely lose his shit during the Strangle of Anna…that is until Johnny Rocket completely terrifies him.
The Whyte Horses Experience
The Whyte Horses Experience was the biggest serotonin rush of the weekend. In the same way that the Polyphonic Spree are joyously overwhelming due to their sheer numbers and range of instruments, The Whyte Horses Experience provide their own tapestry of sensory escapes to lift your soul. To watch them is a bit like entering The Phantom Tollbooth or some other long forgotten yet cherished childhood cartoon. Sometimes a favourite character pops up and joins in with the dancing. At Bluedot it was Badly Drawn Boy singing the dreamy ‘Elusive Mr Jimmy’ to utterly beautiful effect. It’s a psychedelic trip similar to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with your fantasy dead or alive dinner guests joining you at the table, Josephine Ohrn also stopped by. On this glorious summer Sunday the band created a collective experience that was both nostalgic, and that helped to form new nostalgias with each passing moment. It’s a bit like your life flashing before your eyes in psychedelia, tambourine, violin, guitar and drums with some amazing harmonised vocals. Snapshots of pop culture play on the big screen in the background as white painted harlequins danced in waterproof blue cagoules. The Whyte Horses Experience live shows are as rare as a unicorn, but expect that one such mythical creature may show up in the audience to nod their horn should you ever find yourself on their magic carpet ride.
On the final night of Bluedot the members of Alt J all had equal space in individual cages made of lasers to the front of the headline stage. They have somehow managed to humanise electronica rather than plunge wholeheartedly into a robotic future land with corresponding alter-egos. The sounds coming from these digerati are secondary to their souls; this is partly due to the mix of folk, choral, and sometimes echoes of memories from school assembly ‘Good Morning everyone’; the phrase uniform and unifying all at once, but here unexpected and tapped as part of the unorganised experience of memory that strikes a common narrative chord within the listener. Alt J’s eclecticism is satisfyingly disorientating in the same way a new piece of intelligence deepens understanding and alters perception. They are lyrically brilliant and deliver in a range of staccato and falsetto with the crowd singing their folktronic hymnals right back at the postmodern masters. ‘Matilda’ is the most happily received and the lead singer Joe Newman asks the crowd to sing his part; thousands respond to get the message back ‘this is from Matilda’ and I don’t think she has ever needed him so much. The light show was spectacular; each laser in Alt J’s cages responding to their slick sonic outpourings. In particular the closing song of the night ‘Breezeblocks’ projected live the bands faces in black and white moving pixels across the back wall. In terms of reference points they have a similar sensibility to Radiohead, but that is being cited only as an indication of a listener’s probable related taste rather than their vibe. Alt J have pioneered their own territory through which to bring original sounds to planet Bluedot and they don’t try to contrive an alien experience coming at us from other realms – in terrestrial terms they made the sound, the sound the sea makes, to calm you down.
Dream Wife were formed as a ‘fake girl band’ for a concept art project that was so good they became a reality. The reference points that originally made up the trio’s fictional lineage range from Sleater Kinney to the Spice Girls and this knowledge helps to decode their curious but hugely enjoyable punk-pop aesthetic at Bluedot. Incepted in 2016 Dream Wife have the luxury of completely ignoring genre prejudices in the lines of cool that their subculture predecessors had to subscribe to. During this performance the Icelandic frontwoman Rakel Mjoll gets away with singing a bit of the Spice Girls ‘Wannabe’ alongside their own FUU ‘Gonna fuck you up, Gonna cut you up’. This is a band signalling that those times and places are over, and the creation of identity has a new melting pot of expired signs with which to produce whatever image they want. Rakel stands triumphant with her leg up on the front of the stage, smiling confidently into the congregated audience; she possesses an openness and charisma that easily holds the crowd; the fascination ultimately being the feeling that this sweet fairy might bite you if she gets hungry enough. Her confidence and energy bounces off the blunt cut white bobbed goddess Alice Go on guitar; the pair’s undeniable chemistry being one of the many highlights to this all out fierce show from the millennial riot grrls. Dream Wife’s performance at Bluedot was beautiful and dangerous all at once, like watching the eye of a tornado, but for the right reasons. The refrain ‘I am not a body I am somebody’ clearly affirms their assertion to reclaim the experience of being female in today’s society while their dynamic on stage exhibited a strong camaraderie underpinned by a love and respect for their fellow women in this triple threat powerhouse.
Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends
Appearing in red lipstick, a dress and pearls, Ezra Furman is both classically beautiful and traditionally rock and roll. His position on stage celebrates the fluidity of selfhood for all its worth, leg cocked through the split in his little black dress the prolific songwriter is as cool as he is elegant and a phenomenal indie rock lyricist to boot. He thanks the ‘queers for coming’ out to see him and after a beat the ‘straight people too’ to make the audience laugh. The performance is hugely enjoyable and not least for ‘Haunted Head’ in which he sings: ‘I’m naked now, Because it doesn’t really matter, When the shades are down…From two a.m. to four I live these, Secret lives, identities that all die off, No one survives’. His knowledge that all performances of the self are temporal possesses the power to liberate and although this is a serious point it’s also what makes him loads of fun. His music sounds like the amalgamation of Jack White and Jonathan Richman, but he is coming to us with a quality of his own that we highly recommend you experience first-hand.
Post War Glamour Girls
Theresa Wayman –Warpaint
Lias Saoudi/Johnny Rocket – The Moonlandingz
Joey Santiago – Pixies
Back To The Future – De Lorean
Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation
James Smith – Post War Glamour Girls
Movie sculptor Brian Muir and David Prowse ( The Physical Darth Vader)
Hannah Peel And Tubular Brass
Laura (Whyte Horses) Howard (IWFM)
Anna Meredith band
Lias Saoudi/Johnny Rocket – The Moonlandingz
Star Wars Family
Anna Meredith band
Jenny Lindberg – Warpaint
Stella Mozgawa – Warpaint
Alice Scott -Post War Glamour Girls