Bluedot Festival 2016

22-24 July
Jodrell Bank

It’s not often you’ll see Brian Eno projecting psychedelic scenes onto a 250-foot diameter telescope, snooker loopy prog/IDM DJ Steve Davis filling and then emptying a large inflatable igloo, and Charlotte Church performing a rendition of D:ream’s ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, all in the same long weekend in a field about 10 miles outside of Macclesfield.

If that programme sounds a tad eclectic, there was a consistent theme knotting it together, whether in song, name or ethos. Performers referenced the intergalactic, the extraterrestrial and the otherworldly throughout, paying homage to the setting at Jodrell Bank while an excitable rabble of badge-wearing geeks swarmed its neighbouring fields and set about seizing the opportunity to learn about ongoing studies, covering everything from graphene to hay fever, and listen to a musical billing any sci-fi soundtrack would kill to feature.

On an opening Friday, crowds sauntered in to see a man with a foot in both music and science camps, Prof Brian Cox, co-presenting Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage’s panel of the aforementioned Church and others; Public Service Broadcasting, whose ode to Apollo 11, ‘Go’, was a festival anthem; Space Cassette’s curation of the Nebula stage evoking Sun Ra in both costume and quirks.

Saturday saw one of the few disappointments, namely the crowd-splitting schedule clash of Floating Points and Jean-Michel Jarre, but both were audio-visual tours de force. Earlier, Lonelady rigidly structured a brutalist pop wall, Beth Orton filled a ‘Galaxy Of Emptiness’ and Air watched the stars with Kelly.

By Sunday, one of the joyous highlights, Stealing Sheep, were disappearing ‘Into The Diamond Sun’, firing confetti into the flocked crowd as they left. Come mid-afternoon, there was a dearth of Bluedot merch, with every last item sold, while final farewells for 2016, including Caribou’s expanded ‘Sun’ encore and Davis’ flexed Thunder Muscle DJ alter-egoism, ensured the festival was a success that demands repeating. Indeed, the sophomore year is already pencilled in for 21-23 July, 2017.

Ian Pennington

Background image by Jody Hartley.

This review first appeared on BagThing.co.uk.

Abstract Orchestra

31 July
Festival Pavilion

Abstract Orchestra raised the roof when they headlined the last night of the Manchester Jazz Festival. The hip hop big band let rip with their combination of a fully kitted brass section and seasoned MCs.

The sheer force behind the 13 strong brass section was immense, and made for a powerful experience. Born of the Leeds music scene, the 17-piece band works with a variety of guest vocalists and MCs. Borrowing the talents of vocalist Anna Uhuru and MCs Essa, Oddball and Gary Michael Houston (Whitney's nephew), Abstract Orchestra blazed through their set.

The MCs started the party with a mixture of freestyles and written verses. Essa lent his distinctive, grainy voice to several tracks, including the lively 'Show Me What You've Got'. 'Make Me Fall' was a dramatic, dark tale of betrayal by Houston, who looked the part in a blue velvet blazer and black trilby hat.













Oddball worked nicely with the growling bass and mellow keys to deliver on point rhymes. Anna Uhuru's strong, rich vocals on her sultry song, 'Time', were a highlight for me. And even the closing songs, 'Encore' and 'Thank You' (a collaboration of all the vocalists), were ridiculously funky.

Abstract Orchestra are a force to be reckoned with, and raise the bar for live hip hop. Their blinding performance, which had people dancing in the aisles, was made all the more special by the addition of flutes to the brass section. Outstanding.

Anna Tuck

Don Broco

25 July
Gorilla

It seemed as though the audience had been waiting for the smallest excuse to “levitate, up, up” as Don Broco hurled into the opening salvo of ‘Superlove’. They certainly didn’t take much encouragement. Within minutes of the stage lights coming on, the room was already pulsating with energy. It was immediately obvious that for the next hour, Don Broco were going to be in control. Their power was proven even before the second song was over, by commanding their crowd down into a crouching position on the floor, presumably in order to “levitate” even higher come chorus time.













When frontman Rob Damiani asks “Who was here last night?” [this being the second night of two Manchester dates] the majority of the room seems to roar, making it hard to tell whether this audience is very loyal or just very excited.

The gig has all the sense of a band who are about to be discovered, but haven’t made it big quite yet. And, having recently signed a record deal with SharpTone back in June, that might just be the case. After eight years playing together, Don Broco have had plenty of practise on stage and it’s evident in the vivaciousness of their performance. Rarely was there a moment of still air, whether filled with sweat, voices or movement.

After previously supporting acts as diverse as Enter Shikari and Deaf Havana to the more recent Five Seconds of Summer, as well as having a sound that is difficult to pin down, it does seem as though they’re not yet sure of their musical identity. No doubt, though, whichever direction they do decide on, they’ll have their loyal following right behind them.

Beth Madden

This review first appeared on BagThing.co.uk.

Easy Star All-Stars

5 July
Band on the Wall

Easy Star All-Stars were a force of nature on their return to Band on The Wall. They drew a packed out crowd, even though it was a Tuesday night, and satisfied hungry appetites with tasty bites from the New York reggae scene.

After a lively warm-up from London reggae band Shanty, the All-Stars stormed the stage with their unique reggae covers. Immediately, the crowd sparked like kindling to their chilled out version of ‘Lovely Rita’, and to the cascading drums and lyrical guitar solo of ‘Beat It’.

It was a passionate, visual performance from the band, who were bopping away on stage, clearly loving it as much as the audience. Kirsty Rock on vocals was formidable. Looking like an Aztec goddess with gold body paint and huge golden earrings, she sang with her arms raised, as though she was channelling the notes. Shelton Garner on guitar delivered some amazing solos, and MC Ruff Scott kept the venue jumping, even when he was just scatting over the beat.

There were uplifting vocal harmonies, hypnotic bass lines, and tons of funk courtesy of the sax and trombone combos. Originals like ‘One Likkle Draw’ were well-received, but it was their better known Pink Floyd and Radiohead covers that drove the audience crazy.













Pink Floyd’s ‘Breathe’ and ‘Time’ were suitably powerful, as were the soulful twists on Radiohead’s ‘High and Dry’, and ‘Karma Police’. Given the profound nature of these songs, it’s clear to see why their essence still translates even in a totally different genre.

Anna Tuck

This review first appeared on BagThing.co.uk.