Unraveling between a hot 13-15 July in the appropriately barmy location of a field next to Bentley Wildfowl and Motor Museum in East Sussex (don’t miss its miniature train), Brainchild festival embarked on it’s 6th year of proceedings. In a nutshell, Brainchild was a languid meander through an impressive range of artistic forms, wrapped up in a musical cloth of raw genius.
Comedy about the crisis of masculinity in youth welcomed smiles, as did anonymous sex stories scrawled on papers strung on a washing line – such as “ass mayo”. There was even a plate-painting workshop for crying out loud, all amongst stages sharing music, dance and theatre. The site boasted a truly enjoyable DIY aesthetic also, with a cocktail bar made of scaffolding strapped with canvas sheets. Sculptures of painted plywood and hangings made from colourful colanders and scouring brushes. But the lack of heavyweight infrastructure is part of the grassroots charm.
Whilst each year Brainchild majestically grows to meet the familiar demands of the modern festival, an undeniable feeling of community continues to preside at the heart of everything it does as devoted punters and contributors return each edition, with this year approximately one third of attendees directly supporting the sold-out 3000-capacity festival through volunteering or performance. In this spirit we invited some of the festival’s performers to put into words their own experiences. Read below their standout performances and memorable off stage moments.
Zakia‘s entire DJ set at The Shack, on the Saturday evening (5.40pm). Every song she picked seemed to perfectly soundtrack the sun-dappled woods we were all dancing in. It made me realise I actually way prefer seeing DJs in the daytime, as you can properly see everyone’s faces as they dance. It’s especially good early-evening, in a sun-lit forest. Also, it was just sick to watch a selector who was clearly enjoying every track she played so much, and couldn’t hide it. It was a refreshing change from solemn-looking guys lurking behind the decks (I’m definitely guilty of this!).
I think also it’s worth mentioning Woom – they’re an incredible 4-piece group who do 4-part vocal arrangements of a range of different tracks. They do a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’, and on the Brain Stage on the Sunday afternoon in the hot sun it completely blew my mind. I’d heard them play it before elsewhere but it was something about the setting, the heat and the pure volume of it on that stage that really hit home.
My favourite non-musical moments of the festival were definitely spent around the tree at the centre of the site. This tree has seating around and under it, and always acts as a hub both for daytime shade chillers and 6am cotchers alike. You can sit under there for hours and, because it’s at the centre of the site, you’ll see pretty much everyone you need to see pass by and say hey and some stage. My experiences there in the small hours after the music finished perfectly sum up Brainchild for me – everyone is just happily chatting, with the low vibrations of tunes coming from mini-speakers, for hours without seeming to notice the sun coming up.
Dominic Canning (Project Karnak)
Listening to Shabaka Hutchings playing solo in front of such a attentive crowd. It was incredible watching him do new things with the saxophone I haven’t seen before, it was one of a kind. It made me feel so proud to be a part of this movement that is happening in jazz.
We had done Steam Down the night before and a lot of the crew were chilling by the stage when Marina got Wayne a flapjack to celebrate his birthday. It was so nice being surrounded by all theses amazing people and their energies forcing you to become better, they all project good vibrations throughout everything they do. Steam Down for liiife.
It’s hard to pick out just one musical moment, but I think the one that stood out the most was Woom on the Sunday afternoon. It’s rare that you get to experience so many vocalists working together in such a stripped back way. Each of the singers have their own distinct sound & when they come together it’s so beautiful! Their rendition of ‘Chimacum Rain’ by Linda Perhacs gave me goosebumps, not to mention their cover of ‘Prototype’ by OutKast.
While I’m here I’d just like to shout out: Harri Pepper, Zakia, Touching Bass, 30/70, Sons Of Kemet, Emma-Jean Thackray, Cykada & the Brainchild crew (for providing my first enjoyable silent disco experience!) Just to name a few.
For my non-musical choice, I’d like to highlight the security at the festival. I guess it’s not so much one moment as a series of moments, but having security that are genuinely nice and are there to ensure everyone is having fun safely in a non-imposing way creates a level of trust that radiates through the festival.
Asoma where the one for me, they played an epic closing set Saturday night on the Brain Stage. It was their debut performance as a fully formed out fit and it was so good. They had a brilliant understanding of each other, giving a smooth flow and big sound. I loved how the energy kept building and building throughout with everyone really going for it. Lots of hypnotic acid lines with deep juicy jazz cords on top, putting me in a big trance.
Wondering around the sweet and joyful art installations at sun down was such simple touch, the light really gave them character. Peaceful and effective – this was all I needed!
On Sunday eve as the sun was setting in the woods, Shy One stepped up to start playing. There were probably about three people “vaguely” dancing by the time she started; however as the sun shone through the trees and it slowly began to darken, the crowd became more energetic and her selection slowly gathered tempo. There were still a few spaces in the crowd but this was actually perfect for that moment. She really played exactly what the time, crowd and atmosphere needed, no ego there. It was a great moment, loads of room to dance and it was nice to watch the time of day and weather correlate so well with the music.
I would answer but I don’t think it would be appropriate for this article…nah I joke! I had a good time at the cocktail bar one afternoon, just drinking and you know what…feeling very comfortable and enjoying the shade with a load of different mates.
A musical memorable moment was seeing Footshooter and friends on the main stage. I’m friends with all the members and a fan of all of them individually. To see six different musicians connect like they did on stage and truly give off the energy of a family for me epitomises what Brainchild has been built off and grown from. Two mcs (Slam The Poet and Brother Portrait) two singers (And Is Phi and Izzy Risk) keys player (Jack Stephenson-Oliver) and production and orchestration from Footshooter himself. All with they’re own projects, styles and practices. A lot of the big bands doing well now were built off of that exact same energy the sharing of space and skill to create something bigger than just one its parts. The balance of space was perfect, with written rehearsed songs to improvised jams, it was a joy from beginning to end.
Asoma. It made me feel like dancing. I remember it being pretty out and they were taking lots of risks. I like watching acts that push sonic boundaries.
The sun setting through the trees in the forest over an open field. It was this beautiful golden light; always makes me stop in my tracks.
One festival highlight for me would be Emma-Jean Thackray, I think her composition style, sonic textures, grooves and rhythms are really unique. Her choice of pedals for her trumpet and uses of samples combined with unconventional melodic contours were really refreshing for me. Obviously my boys Project Karnak always do it for me, electronic high energy, soulful anime, jazz influenced riders that all ways move my spirit. There were so many moments to mention but these were my highlights.
Giving my talk with Zakia on the role of music in community and society was really fun. After being incredibly spaced out and relaxed from the blistering sun I was surprised at how many people were attentive and also my unanticipated coherence after the night before. It was a very fluid and natural conversation where I got speak about Steam Down and how it was created, ideas on how to create community with in a city and how we can develop a deeper relationship to music outside of entertainment. I also really enjoyed Zakia’s talk on Big Drum music from Carriacou and her experience reconnecting with the music and her family out there.
Mafalda in the Shack. She was bringing so much Brazilian heat. I’d just arrived at the festival, and my brain was fully locked into logistical-organisational mode, and when she dropped Trio Ternura – A Gira, everything melted away and I felt like I’d arrived at Brainchild.
I tried to walk from one side of the field to the other, and it took about 40 minutes, because every few steps there’d be another friendly face from the last 6 years. Friends, collaborators, people I know from their work, people I met at Brainchild, people I never expected to see there. I felt like part of a big extended family.
Tony Nwachukwu (CDR)
Awaking to the sounds of Maxwell Owin b2b with Emma-Jean Thackray. I’d had a very relaxed morning walking around half asleep taking in the morning atmosphere. I grabbed some food sat down and from the opening atmospheric intro (underpinned by lots of DJ mixer FX!!) I was taken on a refreshing journey of discovery, content in my thoughts and feelings.
A great sense of community, common sensibility across programming, talent, stall holders and festival goers.
My favourite musical moment actually came from my partner, Alex Rita, during our set at The Kite Bar on the Saturday. About half way through the two hours and after a section of high tempo, danceable jazz, we were thinking about ways to slither into something slower. I remember that we’d settled on hip-hop initially and as a version of “Favourite Things” petered out, I was expecting to be rocked by some Dilla or similar. Instead, she segued into Outkast’s version of the same track; the one that everyone forgets on The Love Below. I was as bowled over as everyone in the audience and there’s a video where you audibly hear me shout out ‘gwaaaan!’. The beautiful spontaneity of a DJ b2b with someone you trust.
The weekend’s weather was incredibly sticky and I spent a lot of my Brainchild experience either basking in it or hopscotching between different forms of shelter. By the time 30/70 were closing out their set on the Brainstage, the weather was slightly cooler and I’d just crept out of The Kite Bar to catch them for the first time. I remember bumping into some of the Steam Down family and deciding to perch stage left, parallel with the sound guys at FOH. In front of me, sprawled out on the floor (for whatever reason) were three guys bundled on top of each other and just laughing, embracing each other in this beautifully candid expression of male friendship and emotion. I’d literally just run out of camera film and my explanation might never do it justice, but it really stuck with me.
Thanks to Thomas Cox for words
Photo credit: Jordan Matyka