A stellar lineup across four days at Cheshire’s Jodrell Bank Observatory bring fantastic music, beer, food and bucketloads of rain.
The festival opens in earnest with a curated evening of classical music from composer and multi-instrumentalist, Max Richter. His arranged evening of classical is great, and hearing the strings soundtrack a gorgeous sunset is something to behold. Ritcher teams up with actor and superstar Tilda Swinton for the evening’s crescendo – with Swinton accompanied by swells of strings while reading extracts from the Declaration of Human Rights, particularly emphasising the extracts which detail the right to refuge and fair work and pay. The performance is powerful and vital; with Swinton and Ritcher sending a clear message.
Bluedot eases into Friday with Shaun Keaveny’s Community Garden radio, bringing a vibrant and chaotic energy to the Notes tent. Ever the humourist, Keaveney plays a selection of science-based tracks in keeping with the galactic theme of the occasion. Irish singer-songwriter CMAT plays a brief acoustic set on the show, and the familiar mop of a certain Charlatans member is easily spotted towards the front of the room watching the ex-6 Music presenter’s show. The next stop on the schedule is Picture Parlour, a brand new Mancunion band who have seemingly sprung up overnight: unfortunately, the rain stops play and Picture Parlour’s slot is cancelled as organisers dumped trailer after trailer of wood chippings onto the quagmire under the big canvas top.
Dance-punk duo Baba Ali play an early afternoon slot on the smaller of the three stages, and the tent hits capacity quickly for their brand of persistent funk-pop. The duo perform cuts from across their two studio albums and the full tent throws shapes in the glimmer of the sunshine. Bristolian experimentalists BEAK> deliver electronic rock stylings to the Orbit stage with huge success, before night begins to cloud around the Bluedot site and the heavens open.
Seeking refuge under the Orbit tent, Black Country, New Road conjure a serious performance against the behemoth of Rosin Murphy. Every mullet and sweater-vest in the festival have come to enjoy each second of BC,NR. The 6-piece have built a majority of their setlist from their most recent effort, Live at Bush Hall: is a collection of gorgeous and emotional compositions which drown out the nearby Deep Space Disco. It is quite something to behold, watching one of the best British bands from the last decade as the rain hammers down outside, and it makes BC,NR’s slot simply unforgettable. The band are tight, and seriously loud with drummer Charlie Wayne exercising his rhythmic skills and leading the group from the back.
Saturday starts slowly in the Notes tent. Publishers White Rabbit had a selection of talks scheduled, commencing with (2022 Bluedot headliner) Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite giving a talk and reading extracts from his recent autobiography Spaceships Over Glasgow. Druid prog rockers and Bluedot regulars, Henge bring their unique brand of batshit rock to the soggy masses. Pictish Trail are a highlight on the main stage, as are London indie outfit Sorry, armed with noise and ushankas (the Russian winter hats). Folly Group perform a hectic math rock-inspired set under cover, which is quickly followed by Divorce. The clash of the weekend is a three-way overlap between Snapped Ankles, Divorce and Dry Cleaning.
Those who opt for the latter of the trio bear witness to an utterly superb set from Dry Cleaning. Florence Shaw emerges into the gloom in sparkling gold and brings a much-needed ray of sunshine to the drizzly weekend. Mid-set, the rain goes biblical, only inspiring the waterproofed crowd to dance harder to the poetic post-punk. Dry Cleaning are without doubt a highlight of the weekend and, the appreciation from the enthusiastic, sodden punters is tangible.
The sun periodically breaks through the gloom and bathes Bluedot in warm swathes before vanishing behind a cloud. Wellied feet traverse the mud with defiant purpose – the rain is relentless, but Bluedot remains unphased. Slacker-rock giants Pavement take to the main stage on Saturday evening, accompanied by the iconic Jodrell Bank telescope projecting thematic graphics throughout the set. In spite of the pissing rain, there is an overwhelming sense of joy about Pavement’s performance; even luring a smile out of frontman Stephen Malkmus at one point. Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite makes a cameo on ‘Fin’ and the rage-fulled ‘Grounded’ makes for a phenomenally powerful moment.
The festival has an innate sense of mystery – whether its the gigantic telescope, which has an eerie habit of following you around, or the broader intergalactic theme which sees festival goers dressed as aliens, Star Wars characters and all manner of bizarre costumes: Bluedot is quite a magical place to exist. The festival has a unique penchant for unveiling things to you through twisting neon-lit walkways. As the night breaks, the mirrorball aliens covered in LEDs come out, striding the ground on stilts, come rain or not.
Sunday commences and spirits remain high despite rain persisting and mud creeping higher and higher up wellies with each attempted site crossing. Big Joanie’s fem-punk is a highlight, as is podcaster and comic writer Adam Buxton’s heartfelt, funny and sentimental tribute to David Bowie. Young Fathers are a monumental moment of the evening, playing a career-spanning set to the crowd, who – despite the relentless rain and days of drinking, eating and dancing – give absolutely everything back to the group.
Finally, Grace Jones takes to the Lovell stage with an air of stardom that is afforded to very few. Jones plays an unforgettable set, complete with hula hooping and costume changes throughout. There is a distinct sense of occasion to Sunday, with Jones’ enigmatic presence cutting through the drizzle.
Bluedot is a fabulous weekend. Festivals are about self-expression and fun, and the Cheshire gathering provides a fantastic canvas for such activities. Rain doubtlessly hampers this, forcibly substituting outlandish festival outfits for macs and wellies, but the spirit remains and Bluedot 2023 is an utter triumph.
feature image: Lucas Sinclair