Brainchild Festival 2018

Photo by Iain Lauder

Having been fortunate enough to experience a lot of festivals over the years, Brainchild is one that comes with its own unique vibe that few can replicate. I can only liken it to the atmosphere that you feel at Glastonbury Festival, where although you are in fields with lots of people you have never met, it’s welcoming, open and relaxed. You feel totally at ease, as if it was your own backyard surrounded by people you love. A lot of this is down to the DIY ethos of the festival: Brainchild is volunteer-powered and not-for-profit. This means that the people who are behind the festival aren’t getting paid for their amazing efforts, while all the acts and artists are forgoing a big pay packet (which they’d get at other festivals) for smaller fees in order to be a part of the festival’s special idealology. 

It’s a meeting of minds – an intimate size of 2,500 people, with artists, crew and festival-goers all camping together. The idea is to connect collectives, communities and creative projects that inspire all through their live music, jam sessions, spoken word, DJ sets, talks, workshops, film, comedy, theatre and installation art.

Forgetting the long queues to initially get into the festival, three days of positivity, community and continuous sunshine at the beautiful Bentley Wildfowl & Motor Museum started with a sense of excitement and expectation. This was the first year Brainchild had sold out ahead of the event and it was bigger than it had ever been, with a large percentage of the festival goers staying loyal supporters and treating it as an annual pilgrimage. As with each year, the majority of the line-up is full of new names for musos to discover for the first time – the cosmic jazz of Where Pathways Meet and future soul meets hip-hop crew, NiNE8 Collective, both making a particular impression on the first day. The dark jazz-electronica of ARIWO held the first headline set on the Brain Stage, a super group of sorts which featured the likes of band composer Pouya Ehsaei, percussionist Hammadi Valdes and saxophonist Binker Golding. Their unique combination of afro/Cuban sounds superbly immersed a bouncing audience that fed off the almost tribal energy of ARIWO’s improvised set. The perfect dance aperitif before Shanti Celeste and Ben Hauke brought dominating sets at The Shack, the festival’s dance stage in the woods, which made sure everyone was moving their feet till the night’s end.

With the whole of Brainchild forcefully woken up early each day, with the fear of being cooked by the sun’s crazy heat on the tents, day two started early ahead of what was arguably Brainchild’s strongest day for music. Young jazz trio Zeñel were an early highlight with a mind-blowing mix of traditional jazz and modern day electronics. Brighton’s Footshooter brought his brilliant bedroom-produced sound to the live stage, with a whole host of special talents sharing the stage. The sounds of 80s new wave took the shape of the intriguing Sorority, channelling the best of art pop maestro David Byrne. One of the best sets of the festival came from South London’s Project Karnak, merging synthesised electronic sounds and bringing them into jazz territories with vivacious drumming and outrageous guitar licks. The Dylema Collective continued the high standards with another uplifting and life affirming set of provoking soul music. Oscar Jerome proved that he’s a big talent for the future, drawing a big crowd to the main stage with a performance that unbelievably keeps getting better each time I see him. Meanwhile, the much lauded Emma-Jean Thackray brought her trumpet and band to the Kite Bar with a set that more than lived up to her hype. Lots of excitement surrounded Melbourne collective 30/70 coming to the festival and, with the aid of funky jazz licks and beautiful neo-soul harmonies, the large Australian troupe gave the audience what they wanted with a gleefully groove-ridden performance. Saturday’s headline set came in the form of another supergroup, but one that had never played live before – Asoma, an electronic collaborative project featuring Ben Hayes, Maxwell Owin, Jack Long and Jack Stephenson-Oliver. Their heavy techno beats rang large, with intense waves of dance music making sure everyone was moving on the Saturday night.

The third and final day of music in Brainchild’s creative paradise came quickly, after two incredible days of artistic splendour. Hush Moss hit the nail on the head of the incredible vibe the festival conjures up – with the lead singer of the Berlin-based act jumping into the crowd to sing and dance in the basking sun like no one was watching. Their funky r’n’b-pop, in toe with a stunning retro saxophonist, was perfect for the moment and had the smiling crowd at the Brain Stage calling for an encore. The futuristic soul of Noya Rao had everyone smooth grooving, before the emphatic psychedelic jazz fusion of Cykada raised the already high bar. Highlight of last year’s festival, Penya, were rewarded with the penultimate set on the Brain Stage, using their infectious afro/Latin live sound making sure everyone was loose and limber for one final night of partying. A quick stop at the Kite Bar to see the unique adorned talent of Alabaster Deplume, who sadly clashed with the relentless genius of Shabaka Hutchings and his Sons Of Kemet. Jubilantly closing the Brain Stage, the supergroup quartet featured Shabaka on sax, Theon Cross on tuba, with Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford on drums. The band showcased why they are one of the most exciting bands in jazz, expressing supreme technical ability, otherworldly endurance and the power to get an entire field to get down to their politically-charged and thunderous sound.

Another year and another brilliant festival, one that continues to get better each time. The new additions to Brainchild more than paid off – the new camping field which, though thistly, gave breathing space to the campers, the new Lemon Lounge stage perfectly acted as an intimate dancefloor in the day and a cosy jam spot in the night, and the introduction of a wider range of music prevailed with the likes of Horsey bringing their outrageously good rock opera to the Kite Bar for a mad performance on the closing night. Brainchild is a festival that you horribly miss once it’s over, a bliss filled utopia that goes some way to restoring faith in the power of our young generations, a festival that keeps you excited for the talents to come.

Iain Lauder