Intergalactic sounds, in-your-face science, out-there arts, and more – the best bits of Bluedot 2023, specially selected for you

Set amid the lush greenery of Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, under the gaze of the imposing and iconic Lovell Telescope, the sixth Bluedot Festival will run from 20 to 23 July this year. Once again, it combines music of all hues with talks from leading scientists, culture, comedy, family experiences, art installations and a heck of a lot more. An incredible mix. But where to begin? Well, if you’ll allow us to be your guide, here’s our essential pick of the good stuff…

Bluedot has always been grounded in its adventurous, expertly curated music, and 2023 is no exception. There are bill-topping sets from Róisín Murphy, Leftfield, Pavement and Young Fathers, all promising their own idiosyncratic and dynamic turns.

But the first night under the stars is special, and opening proceedings on Thursday evening will be composer and pianist Max Richter with the BBC Concert Orchestra. His ‘Recomposed’ versions of Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ have a contemporary nuance that is all Richter’s own, particularly 2022’s ‘The New Four Seasons’, on which he employs a vintage Moog for essential atmospheric depth. No doubt he’ll also dip into 2004’s acclaimed work, ‘The Blue Notebooks’ – a masterclass of classical/electronic melancholy.

The inimitable Grace Jones is the one who really catches the eye, though. The serial exhibitionist certainly belies her 75 years – stylish, distinctive and energetic, her Sunday night headline slot promises much. Expect the unexpected: artful theatrics and prowling performances of ‘Love Is The Drug’, ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ and other such classics, delivered in that gloriously intimidating voice, tinged with inherent edge and menace.

As usual, there’s a panoply of other must-see acts. Always captivating, Cardiff’s Gwenno will draw on her three glorious albums to date. Singing in Welsh and Cornish, her lyrics are both personal and political, set against a heady electronic/psych/folk backdrop, all beguilingly strange and cosmic. Creep Show – John Grant with Wrangler (Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phill Winter) – make a welcome return to the stage too, on the back of their cracking new long-player, ‘Yawning Abyss’. Steeped in vintage synths and “musical experiments”, it’s noticeably more direct than 2018’s heavily treated ‘Mr Dynamite’, especially the title track, which comes on like “‘Axel F’ covered by Vangelis”. Yep, that good.

The trademark shoegaze, synthpop and crunching noise of TVAM, led by Joe Oxley, always feels more potent and powerful when played live. Fusing contemporary jazz and left-field electronics, Bristol experimental collective Ishmael Ensemble are a scintillating proposition too. Both are well worth catching in the flesh.

On Sunday, the Telescope Spectacular will be a special after-dark collaboration between Max Cooper and MESH, a creative community rooted in music, digital art, film, installation, code and architecture. Their immersive 3D/AV art piece will be projected onto the Lovell Telescope, backed by Cooper’s pulsating electronic/ambient soundtrack. It’ll be quite something – check out Cooper’s Instagram and Twitter feeds for a taster.

2manydjs

Throw in late-night sets by the likes of David Holmes and 2ManyDJs (no intros needed), the woozy, clubby interjections of south-east London producer Coby Sey, and the effervescent no wave/post-punk/disco groove of MADMADMAD, and that’s quite a sonic statement of intent.

With this year’s Bluedot theme being “Space Carnival”, the intergalactic goings-on are centred on ‘Doctor Who’. The venerable Time Lord is celebrating his 60th anniversary this year, and Sunday will be devoted to a host of ‘Who’-related performances, screenings and talks, curated by the folks at Delia Derbyshire Day alongside comedian/‘Who’ expert Toby Hadoke.

And ‘Doctor Who’ wouldn’t be the same without eccentric national treasures the Radiophonic Workshop – turn the page for our interview with RW’s Dick Mills and Peter Howell – who will present their own special ‘Who’-centric set. Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey fun for all, not to be missed.

There are also welcome nods to David Bowie. Adam Buxton’s ‘BUG’ is a special Bowie edition incorporating music videos, rare clips, cartoons and comedy. If you’ve seen his wonderful animated skit of Bowie in the studio with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti, you’ll know what to expect. And there’s a screening/talk with Brett Morgen, the director, writer and producer of 2022’s ‘Moonage Daydream’, a mind-blowing, kaleidoscopic “cinematic odyssey” snaking through the singer’s life and career.

Delving into their respective acclaimed biographies, there are sessions with Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, Lias Saoudi of Fat White Family and ex-Lush singer Miki Berenyi, whose ‘Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me From Success’ was Rough Trade’s 2022 book of the year.

Highlighting human creativity, curiosity and innovation, Bluedot’s focus on the wonders of science will no doubt be as eye-opening as ever, with engaging talks and workshops from leading experts in space exploration, technology, physics and the environment. Look out for astrophysicist Chris Lintott (‘The Sky At Night’) and musician Steve Pretty’s ‘Universe Of Music’, helping us understand the cosmos via astronomy, jazz and a drumming robot. ‘The Northern Lights: A Rough Guide’ does just what it says on the tin, while ‘Brainiac Live’ is out-and-out scientific mischief, with “exploding dustbins, combusting microwaves and live daredevil stunts”. Don’t try this at home, kids.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. With interactive, family-friendly spaces (head for the Luminarium, with its labyrinthine tunnels and domes, illuminated by radiant light and colour), visual arts, twilight processions, dancers and silent discos also in the mix, it’s shaping up to be quite the carnival – a big intergalactic riot of colour, sound and fun. Roll up, roll up!

For more, visit discoverthebluedot.com

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