14 Jun 2017
A truly unique and enchanting experience from start to finish.
Held at the charming grounds of the Bentley Wildfowl and Motor Museum, completely independent, award-winning and volunteer-run festival, Brainchild, returned for its 5th year this July (7th-9th) and, from start to finish, treated all of its attendees to a truly unique and enchanting experience. From musical headliners to captivating art installations, in usual Brainchild style, there really was something for everyone and never a dull moment the whole weekend through.
When I arrived at the festival, on the Friday evening, and first set foot into the grounds, my eyes were immediately drawn to a large tree, covered in glittering tinsel and giant rubber ducks and surrounded by several welcoming sofas. This image, for me, perfectly encapsulated what Brainchild is about. As I glanced around some more, I was met with the sight of a vibrant yellow pineapple-shelter, and then, just beyond, “The Brain Stage” – the primary stage of the festival – which had been adorned with brightly coloured geometric shapes and shimmering tassels.
The music at the festival was diverse, interesting and beautifully curated, with mostly unsigned and emerging artists showcasing their talent. During the day there were live bands like the virtuosic Vels Trio, with their experimental brand of jazz, and the outstanding Dylema Collective whose stunning blend of neo-soul, funk, jazz and spoken-word had everyone at the Steez Café beaming from ear to ear. A number of spirited and lively jam sessions also went down at the Steez Café where, in the true spirit of Brainchild, a plethora of highly-skilled artists hopped effortlessly on and off the stage and treated their audiences to the fruits of their impromptu collaborations.
Fast forward to the evenings and most of the action transpired at the Brain Stage where artists like Andrew Ashong, Ross From Friends and the SE Dub Collective wooed the excitable. Regardless of who took centre stage here, the atmosphere was always electric and there was not a single awkward shuffle in sight as everyone felt continuously compelled to move their feet and let the music take them. Nestled in the woods, the other evening spot was the Shack, the festival’s charming and lively DJ stage. Home to three gargantuan jellyfish structures, complete with AV installations in their interiors, this stage saw the likes of Brighton-based Gardenn, Dego from 4Hero and all-female techno collective Siren DJs (a particular highlight for me) take to the decks.
Once the music had ended at both the Shack and the Brain Stage, most people headed over to the silent disco, to don some headphones, cut some shapes and continue the party into the night. Here, the wonderful boys from Gorilla Sounds and Vibe Library treated us to some much needed late-night disco, funk, hip-hop and garage – the perfect way to see out the night!
One of the most wonderful things about Brainchild though, is that it is by no means just about the music – although the music really is phenomenal. Particularly during the daytimes, there was a hugely diverse roster of things to entertain ourselves with and help us to recuperate from the previous night's activities. From refreshing yoga in the mornings, to embroidery workshops (the perfect hangover cure!), inspirational talks about politics to an enthralling performance by drag-king collective, 'Pecs', there was always so much going on.
What really struck me about this year’s festival is that even since last year, so many improvements had been made. New stages had been added and old stages revamped, even more impressive art installations had been set up and around 2000 festival-goers were in attendance – up by at least 300 since 2016. Whilst impressive in themselves these improvements are made all the more remarkable when both the humble origins and the inner workings of the festival are appreciated. It’s hard to believe at this point, that Brainchild started out its life as a gathering of no more than 200 friends in a field that had been set up by the festival’s then 19-year old founders, Marina Blake, Jerome Toole and Joey Valiunas.
Despite its incredible growth since then, the festival has managed to maintain its rawness and has never lost touch with its collaborative, DIY ethos. It remains, as it started, almost entirely run by volunteers – all of whom seem so dedicated to the cause and delighted to be part of something so magical. It has stayed intimate too, regardless of gaining so many more attendees, as everyone camps together (in especially close proximity this year) - artists, staff and festival goers alike - meaning no VIP treatment and just one, big, Brainchild family, all mucking in together!
If you missed out this year, I whole-heartedly urge you to get yourself there next time. Its intimacy and uniqueness, collaborative spirit and unpretentious charm, make it hands down my favourite festival and you won’t find anything else like it on the rest of the festival-scene.