The Observer JULY 10, 2016 - by Kit Buchan


This month, a new festival will boldly go beyond the same old weekend lineups with a boundary-breaking blend of science, music, technology and comedy.

With the vast Lovell telescope as its backdrop, the first ever Bluedot festival will take place later this month, in and around the Jodrell Bank observatory in Cheshire. The three-day event will combine a weekend music festival with an interdisciplinary scientific symposium, scheduling big-name musicians alongside prominent scientists and technologists. Taking its name from the Pale Blue Dot photograph of Earth made famous by Carl Sagan, Bluedot's unusual programme hopes to inspire the sense of curiosity and wonderment suggested by its surroundings. "Bluedot offers an experience unlike any other," says festival director Ben Robinson, "with over three hundred cutting-edge artists pushing the boundaries of live performance."

The festival will be divided into several different areas, each one programmed according to different themes. The Nebula stage, "where new stars are born", is the arena for up-and-coming musicians; the Roots stage, situated in nearby woodland, covers folky and acoustic acts; and the Lovell stage, directly behind the famous telescope, will host the headliners, all of whom have a certain scientific flavour. These include French electro-pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre, famed for his majestic, hi-tech concerts; the shape-shifting Canadian innovator Caribou; and the brainy, maths-flecked Manchester rockers Everything Everything.

Music aside, Bluedot will assemble dozens of individual experts and speakers. "Arts and culture, space, science and technology," says Robinson, "all with the same appreciation for innovation, creativity and exploration". Professor Brian Cox and Robin Ince will be bringing their science radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage to the Lovell stage, with physics enthusiast Charlotte Church as a guest panellist, while the neurologists Professor Vaughan Bell and Dr Tiffany Watt-Smith will grace the Close Encounters venue nearby. Many of the leading astronomers who work at Jodrell Bank will be giving talks at the dedicated Space Pavilion, and there will even be late-night stargazing demonstrations from astrophysicist Tim O'Brien and TV astronomer Pete Lawrence. The cosmic atmosphere extends even to the festival's food and drink. At the theatrical Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, Michelin-decorated chef Aiden Byrne has created a menu inspired by "astronomy, the cosmos and futurism". Elsewhere, the creatively named G'astronomy Village offers space-age street food and irreverent lectures on culinary science.

At the Mission Control area, an exhibition will be devoted to the astronaut Tim Peake's recent mission to the International Space Station, with discussions and workshops, while a digital artwork commissioned from Brian Eno will be projected on to the face of the Lovell telescope at night. Meanwhile, in a venue known as Contact, speakers including Helen Keen and Tim Burgess will approach the space theme with more levity and the famously reclusive fantasy author Alan Garner has agreed to conduct a book-signing. An admirer of Jodrell Bank, Garner set sections of his 2000 novel, Boneland, at the observatory.

As part of the festival, the Observer has been invited to programme a series of talks at the Close Encounters stage on Sunday, July 24. The lineup, which focuses on alternative, grassroots approaches to science and communication, is detailed below, and we are also offering a pair of VIP tickets to the entire weekend, including luxury camping, a "galactic banquet" and a unique tour of the Lovell telescope's control room.