More Saturday turns at our favourite festival
You may have heard about the balmy weather at Bluedot. But all it really means is that the ES team is getting savvy to all the most modern rain-related tech out there. Ponchos? Check. Galoshes? Sounds delicious. Salopettes? May contain nuts. Indeed, hunger is settling in, but there’s music to hear, sights to see, and telescopes to take shelter under…
First up on the Orbit stage is Foxtrap, a duo producing a seductive brand of bucolic electronica. Singer Helen Morrisson walks out dressed in a silver body suit, looking like an Olympic gymnast ready to whirl. And whirl she does. Her epic vocal range recalls Kate Bush, while the dramatic beats backing her builds a destructive tension, often unfolding into ethereal techno. At their peak, Foxtrap are devastating, particularly when the sweeping emotions of ‘Alone’ arrives, backed by eerie drone footage of Chernobyl. If Foxtrap are a new name for you, there’s little doubt you’ll be hearing from them again.
After a quick game of stuck in the mud, we hurry over to the Lovell Stage where Manchester demi-Gods HENGE are leading a minor revolution. Their venerable leader? Matthew Whitaker, aka Zpor, who is dressed head-to-toe in spacey pagan clobber – a long robe, a large hat, and with black lines drawn all over his bearded face. Their high-energy set brings electronic madness (or what HENGE call “cosmic dross”), but the best moment actually comes after they’ve departed the stage, when Whitaker unexpectedly makes his way down to the crowd, chanting the chorus from ‘Demilitarise’, as a 20-strong brass band appears from nowhere, along with schools of golden-clad dancers, and several giant puppets shaking their way across the muddy field. “We demand that the weapons of war / Are manufactured no more / Demilitarise…”, goes the chant, as it sucks up everyone in its path for one of the truly surprising highlights of the weekend.
Back at the Orbit, there’s clearly a lot of TVAM fans when they take to the stage on Saturday afternoon, judging by the roar they’re greeted with. This Wigan trio produce muscular psych-gaze that rouses a strong crew of afternoon swayers, as their top-buttoned lead songwriter Joe Oxley moans into the mic, riding arpeggiating synth lines and discordant reverberating guitars. ‘High Art Lite’ and ‘These Are Not Your Memories’ are two sure-fire highlights, sounding like Tame Impala had they grown up in the shadows of decommissioned coal mines. Rusty, discordant and stifling – TVAM are the real deal.
While mooching around the Orbit tent, we overhear a man giving some advice to his son, who can’t be more than six years old.
“Just like people, some Jedis are better than others,” he says wisely.
And just like Jedis, some bands are better than others, like East London trio Snapped Ankles, who appear sporting shamanistic costumes resembling ghillie suits, and producing a hyperactive concoction of post-punk kosmische.
“Has anyone eaten any mushrooms yet?” asks the lead singer. And commemorations to anyone who has, because Snapped Ankles’ are a psyche-freak-out drama on their own. They launch headfirst into’ Rechargeable’, with the lead vocalist gliding on relentless motorik beats and offering up ritualistic politicising stabs somewhere in the realm of Mark E Smith (“we need we need we need a pulse”). The visuals behind the band show scenes of eerie forests, but Snapped Ankles’ sound is a very English kind of bucolic reverie that goes deeper than glistening meadows towards the sticky undergrowth among writhing worms and dank ooze.
It’s a strong juxtaposition with Tinariwen, who appear on the Lovell Stage as Saturday evening gets under way. This Tuareg collective has long been a familiar name of European festival line ups, but at Bluedot they still stand out among a roster overflowing with catatonic electronic fayre. With an all-acoustic set up, featuring three guitars, a bass, and a tende (hand drum) player, the robed members saunter on stage. They are seemingly unbothered about the usual main stage tradition of performative antics. And while there probably aren’t a huge number of Tamasheq speakers in the audience, the message is clear as day: let go of your ego and be together. ‘Kek Alghalm’ is a sonic delight of jangling guitar lines and purring vocals, and each musician takes turn singing on the microphone, swapping instruments after almost every song. They receive an immense ovation when they depart, and smiles are abound despite the looming weather forecast.
Anyone in need of a pick me up? No one? Well The Go! Team are going to give you one anyway. They play to a rammed Orbit tent – with many simply sheltering from the now apocalyptic scenes outside – but this now two-decade old Brighton group are intent on initiating every last one of us into their happy cult. Fizzy cola bottles for all and party bags for anyone who stays until the end. Backed by a joyful brass section, lead vocalist Ninja chats to the front row like they’re old pals, with an energy that is utterly and undeniably contagious. In fact, she doesn’t even mention the rain, like it’s an unnecessary footnote you can just skip over if you so choose. Ninja and the team hurtle through classics old and new, including the retro soul/hip hop mash that is ‘Ladyflash’ (from 2004’s ‘Thunder, Lightning, Strike’, and ‘Mayday’ (2018’s ‘Semicircle’), sounding like a rocked out version of De La Soul if they’d formed in cosy pubs by the pebbled beaches of East Sussex. The Go! Team are sugar sweet and might lead to fillings – but you just can’t help but drink them up.