Bluedot festival review – Björk shines brightest of all the stars at the observatory

‘We love science!” exclaims Jane Weaver during her Friday set, as the crowd whoops as heartily as they do to any music all weekend. It captures the tone of Bluedot: a unique festival in which science and music go hand-in-hand, and where homemade spacesuits are as plentiful as band T-shirts.

Weaver’s cosmic disco pop pulses gently through the early evening air before Nuha Ruby Ra offers up a set of intense industrial pop, screaming into two microphones she has tightly clasped in each hand. The evening belongs to Kelly Lee Owens however, whose spirited performance sees her elevate her melodic techno into thundering and explosive territory.

The Lovell radio telescope housed here is never less than a spectacular sight all weekend: after undergoing repairs the organisers can now project directly on to its surface, and it comes to life during Mogwai’s Saturday set. After a squelchy performance by Working Men’s Club, whose continuing evolution into a live acid electro outfit is a welcome one, Mogwai play at a volume that feels like it could be heard from space. The undulating projections on the 250ft-high dish add to the magnitude as they shift from interlocking whispering melodies to eruptive bursts that visibly make people jump upon detonation.

Despite recently ditching it from their name there’s something quintessentially British about Sea Power’s midday performance on the Sunday, as rain hammers down relentlessly. However, despite the onslaught there’s still joy to be found, as a gentle unified singalong to pro-immigration anthem Waving Flags sweeps through the soggy onlookers.

Sunday feels centred on Björk’s performance with the Hallé symphony orchestra, with the singer arriving dressed like some kind of space slug. It’s a slow, almost sombre beginning, heavy on restraint and powerful on emotion. Black Lake still feels palpably heartbreaking and is elevated to torturous levels with the swell of the strings plunging us deeper into its icy waters. Hunter is exquisite, containing all the tension and release of an entire film score condensed into one song.

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No electronics or beats are heard whatsoever – normally such a vital part of her work – and it feels questionable whether the format will fully sustain itself as an outdoor headline set but the heights are plentiful. Jóga and Hyperballad are almost overwhelming, with Björk pushing her voice as far as it will go after just getting over Covid.

What remains striking throughout the set is how much tenderness and delicacy shines through. Despite having such firepower behind her, rarely is she lost amid a swirl of engulfing strings screeching at jet plane volume; instead they gently encircle her, often allowing a potent silence to ring out. It only cements what a unique set it has been from such a deeply idiosyncratic performer. As you gaze up once again at the moon-like telescope that shines above, it feels like a suitably unique setting.