Bluedot Festival 2017 @ Jodrell Bank, Manchester, 22-24/07/2017

Bluedot Festival 2017For a two-year-old festival sponsored by renowned unicorn murderers Amazon, Bluedot Festival 2017 at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire boasts both an extraordinarily anti-establishment lineup, that has the additional benefit of also being extraordinary. There can't be many festivals that have Leftfield as their non-headline act on their non-headline stage while the sun is still visible. But when you have Pixies, Orbital, Alt-J and Warpaint all to come and Leftfield is a late booking, you enter into the luxury position of deciding what minor position to assign to arguably the greatest live dance act of the last 30 years.

Opening on Lovell stage on Friday are psych supergroup The Moonlandingz, who haven’t been playing for more than 15 minutes before Leftfield steal over half their crowd. The Moonlandingz are philosophical about this, Saul Adamczewski admitting after a swig of some red liquid that he too would do the same thing given the chance. Adamczewski has gone casual for their gig and hasn’t lashed a single meat product to his person, relying on his own loosely packed flesh. The band looks like irregular individual musicians from other bands, somehow on stage together in organised, leathery disarray. Guitarist Mairead O'Connor does not smile. She actively grimaces, as if her feedback is all slightly out of tune. There isn’t enough energy between the crowd and the band for the spectacle to surge up into something truly weird, but there’s a mix of fear and respect governing the crowd’s responses. "Sweet Saturn Mine" is delivered with a typical mix of disinterest and surreal pomp.

Leftfield headline the Orbit stage at barely 6pm, playing Leftism in its extraordinary, eclectic entirety. To mark its original release 22 years ago, Leftism has been re-released with additional tracks. It’s sublime to hear it played live in full, like being assisted on a journey through electronic music. "Release The Pressure" and "Afro-Left" have to be one of the most blissful, life affirming opening combinations, the deep bass and descending vocal samples creating an unrelenting hypnotic texture. Neil Barnes has brought the original berimbau featured in the latter tune on tour with him, its appearance in Barnes' hand at the beginning of "Afro-Left" like the announcement of some legendary ritual among those who can see it and recognise its meaning as a portal. After the strange humour of "Space Shanty" they close with a massive version of "Open Up", taking it apart and rebuilding it, until all that you can hear is the sound of Lydon’s original gleeful call to destroy Hollywood amid the relentless bass and backing vocal chant, and somehow the marquee doesn’t collapse.

The irrepressible sadist Black Francis leads Pixies on stage, suited in the rain, to headline Friday night. Within seconds the unmistakeable, wild slide of "Gouge Away" rises and falls through the rain like an invitation to violent pleasures, and half the crowd has gone with them. The new stuff is gratefully accepted, but the anthems are irresistible. "Wave of Mutilation", "Crackity Jones" and "Broken Face" are bestial, indecipherable invitations to America’s gaudy margins,  and are gratefully accepted. The band is impassive, Black resembling ever more some sort of young America funeral director. The excitement of seeing the band play their twisted, dreamy anthems firsthand is truly special. Fight Club took "Where Is My Mind?" and allowed it to become shorthand for existential capitalist dread, but the song was arguably far more haunting prior to that, as a song that hadn’t yet characterised Edward Norton’s despair. To hear it now is to participate in a group sing along that dissolves the song’s power. They close out with "Into The White" as toiling clouds of dry ice rolls over the stage, obscuring the band as Paz Lenchantin screams the title lyric. Black and Santiago occasionally appear, wraith-like in the smoke, and then the band are gone while the smoke pours forward.

Goldfrapp are claiming to have a slightly more menacing edge to their latest album. This is belied by Alison's appearance in a silver cape made out of Ziggy Stardusts's cast-offs. They play a lovely set to what feels like a home crowd. The sultry version of "Ride A White Horse" marks Goldrapp out as one of a small number of performers that Bolan would have been happy to endorse. "Ooh La La" is an effortlessly sexy, fluid closer.

Bluedot Festival 2017 pulled off the extraordinary coup of booking Orbital, one of only a handful of live acts the band is doing this summer, and all the more surprising given Amazon's sponsorship of the festival sitting alongside Orbital's environmental stance. They stage an awesome spectacle from a stage they mount on top of the stage. The opening waves of "Lush" and "Impact" detonate through the crowd. Their set is a sonic assault. "Girl With The Sun In Her Head" is a particular highlight. They close with a huge, trance version of the Doctor Who theme, which in other hands might be a cute nod to the science theme, but is a legitimate addition to their set.

Warpaint breaks the mold on Sunday by engaging in earnest human interaction. "Enchante," breathes Emily Kokal after the heavy sadness of "Undertow" has finished. They play a floaty, beautiful set of individual songs that don't quite flow as an overall performance. "Keep It Healthy" is introduced as a song about being "happy down there." "Love Is To Die" is not given such facetious treatment, and in the midst of the song's loss and the setting sun, they feel so distant and American, so alien that you wonder how they're so happy themselves.

Headliners Alt-J have a mixed live reputation. By their own admission, only one of the trio is "technically competent" which, while not being strictly true, points at least to the difficulty of performing their music live. They are frequently accused of being experimental, usually by people who would like them to release albums containing 12 versions of "Fitzpleasure". What is truer is that for a lot of their live playing existence they looked like they would rather be in the studio, and have struggled to recreate the idiosyncratic warmth and eclectic sexiness of their albums. At Bluedot Festival 2017, it becomes clear that drummer Tom Green's solution is to hit the drums hard. Far harder than in the recordings and far harder than he used to. Green's performance is one of the standout highlights in what is a giddy, delightful experience. The band position themselves in three squares, separated by vertical light columns which enhance their isolation, but also allow you to see all three equally as they play a set that's composed of the best stuff from all three of their albums. "Deadcrush" and "Tesselate" operate as the reflection of each other, one warmly seedy and the other subtly decadent. "Taro", a song about the death of WWII photographer Robert Kappa, is moving in a way that live music so rarely accomplishes. Throughout, Green's performance is towering. So much of their improved live reputation is based around him. They close with a "good song", playing themselves out to "Breezeblocks"the crowd jerking to and twisting to all their full stops.

Interested in going next year? Bluedot Festival 2017's website is over here!


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