Bluedot FestivalJodrell Bank
There’s a stretch of the Luminarium – Architects Of Air’s inflatable sound-and-light walkthrough psychedelic playpen, nestled in one of BLUEDOT’s outer fields – where you can peer along a corridor of disjointed caterpillaring arches and feel, if so inclined, all the stimuli of its temporary locale collapsing in on your perspective on the world. Stuff like engineering and creativity and ethics having to lock vaguely in line – they never do completely – before we’re really getting somewhere. The words “it’s no longer ‘what can we do?’ but ‘what should we do?’” are used in a discussion about data (boons of, security of, bullying with, war over) just before we wander in – and it’s all staring to make some kind of sense.
Seems there’s too much data to know what to do with, and it’s increasing exponentially. Ain’t necessarily so, mind you, for PIXIES, topping the Friday bill, because for a long stretch they had ceased producing data. They run through a Doolittle-dominated set that starts Gouge Away, Debaser, Here Comes Your Man, Monkey Gone To Heaven. Aren’t they going through the motions, ‘artistically’ and that? Or to flip it: why keep trying to split the atom if you cracked it 30 years ago? The only new aspects are 2016 tune Head Carrier and bassist Paz Lenchantin, doing a replica Kim Deal. So, do we want fresh numbers, or the most pertinent from an act who gave us art with a utilitarian brevity? Quantity or quality? Purveyors of just the hits are many; purveyors of just the hits who decline ruinous solos and enhanced drum dismounts, as Pixies do, are few. Nothing is wasted in this, one of the snappiest, most persuasive, executive summaries in the archives.
Short of introducing a brutal year-zero policy of barring past punters to keep up the churn of minds to turn on to Jodrell Bank’s pioneering work, Bluedot may face similar questions eventually. Great discoveries never get old, though, and what ties strands as different as talks about coding and the dark web and astrophysics (cosmic), ANDREW WEATHERALL (still cosmic), augmented reality (getting bleakly cosmic if you ask me), SOUNDS OF THE UFOs (analogue cosmicry), various 3D printers (cosmic three ways), MOOMINS AND THE COMET: LIVE RESCORE (quaintly cosmic), loads of Star Wars references (pass), ANDY VOTEL’s history of space rock (was/is cosmic; still cramming on this) and DELIA DERBYSHIRE DAY (the cosmicest) is the wonder that these reached into futures in their own times yet still sound way out in front of most in their fields.
Several of the aforesaid feed into ORBITAL’s time-travelling set. Near-vets the brothers Hartnoll may be, but the pummelling vitality of Chime and The Box marries old tech to the contemporary scene and modern research to the Derbyshire-arranged Doctor Who Theme, which they nail, guest-starring the late Derbyshire’s old ‘supergroup’, the RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP. The site’s mahoosive Lovell Telescope has never looked better than to their beat, in its new clothes, designed this time by DAITO MANABE – his projections generated by, yes, data. It’s later suggested in a seminar that even Bluedot quietly harvests our data – for its own probably-OK ends, but who does it partner with, people start asking – and then we feel somewhat ashamed, sitting in its manor, raging about how we came to be at this smashing event. Because if data is used to understand us better, when do we say no? When it lurks in our democratic process, say the legal, political and journalistic minds in a gripping if dispiriting debate about (further reading alert) Cambridge Analytica and its many-limbed friends.
That’s a case for illumination more generally. The counter is GOLDFRAPP. How much we see of her is not in our gift; she’s the only artist, word has it, that banned photographers in the ‘pit’. Well, good for her, because despite tonight’s on-stage warmth, it’s been her consistent part-retreat from view that, in tandem with Alpine stylings and electro-shock treatment, makes you feel like the space-foxx you came here to be. ‘Show your workings,’ I think they used to say at school. Alison Goldfrapp rejects that: here’s what she has to tell you, and you’ll never know how she arrived at it.
Compare and contrast with the eager pupils of ALT-J and their immaculate exercise-songbooks. Adept, with a commendable work ethic. Not without originality, within an overall easy compliance. Think of how a streaming service suggests what you’d like and how plenty of those roads could lead you to alt-J and you might be quite pleased. Thing is, I don’t like those platforms, for reasons to do with tech share valuations, but also because it’s about the least visceral thing to hit Earth since Jive Bunny. It feeds on? Data – naturally. If I’ve learnt anything this weekend – besides that anyone missing it is a plank, and that’s the scientific term – it’s that we and automation need to get along but not act interchangeably. There’s too much precision onstage. Alt-J play a really decent show. They’re a terrific bunch of lads with bright futures. Let’s leave it at that.
WARPAINT, warming up the brain farm just before, had been in unusually frisky mood. Still, one of their strengths remains that they don’t try too hard to bend to you. For every hit there’s a rabbit hole of an instrumental section, not some new thirst for jazz odyssey but what they always did. It’s way more alluring to scramble codes and cover your answers sometimes. Preceding Warpaint, THE WHYTE HORSES EXPERIENCE show they’ve taken their craft forward a stage from last year’s long-player Pop Or Not, and in so doing produce the most dazzling set of results, whether you think they’re an echo of pop from Derbyshire’s 60s heyday or not. There’s Josefin Öhrn and some of her Liberation, Badly Drawn Boy out of Badly Drawn Boy… and that’s as much as I detect behind a distracting line of ghoulish dancers – again, protecting us from the workings.
Can’t we wish on a duality of open access to data and knowledge except in art and performance? We’ve gotta aim high. And the last or ‘newest’ or most optimised discovery may not reach the furthest. And the boffins, the good boffins of all hues, are still miles ahead when they’re behind us, off on one, up a hill, at space telescopes, making hay and alchemising.