Beyond the Dance: Brainchild Festival

Beyond the Dance: Brainchild Festival

JULY '17


A couple of weeks ago we went down to Brainchild festival in East Sussex and we honestly haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It’s a true rarity that after three days in a field listening to music and all the rest, you walk away feeling refreshed. Yet after Brainchild we felt genuinely energised.

Where Pathways Meet, Steez Cafe

Ahead of the festival, we did a little preview feature praising their DIY, volunteer-led ethos and picking out some of our tips. But it wasn't until we got to the festival’s site that we saw the true extent to which the Brainchild mentality is something to which all festivals should aspire. Brainchild bleeds community. From volunteers and punters to artists and musicians, everyone is on such a level. Despite celebrating its fifth year, you can really feel the festival staying true to its humble and passionate beginnings.

Brain Stage

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Brainchild founder Marina Blake spoke about the importance of keeping the festival the right size: “If it’s too big, we’ll scale it back. If it got any bigger I don’t think we’d be able to ensure the kind of experience we want people to have.” This emphasis on size and the experience is so well thought out that the three-day party-cum-workshop remains intimate and community based, while attaining a level of structural professionalism on a par with other, larger UK festivals.

A lack of VIP areas means that artists, punters and volunteers are all in the fold together. To be honest, most people there were a mix of all three anyway. Through music, film, poetry, discussions and workshops, there was a genuine, consistent message aiming to challenge everyday systems of oppression and realise active social and political change - whether that's workshops aiming to deepen understandings of the refugee or housing crises, or gal-dem reimagining traditional feminist motifs. Likewise, at the height of his set in The Shack on Saturday night, Maxwell Owin shouted out all the women DJs and called on promoters and booking agents to play their part in increasing representation. All of this together, and more, contributed to the weekend's innate sense of community and equality.

The Forum

We spent a lot of our weekend struggling to tear ourselves away from the Steez Cafe, a stage supporting emerging musicians and poets, and giving some of the finest talent a space to meet other artists and perform, sometimes for the first time. One such act amounted to one of rawest, most powerful performances of the weekend - vocal four-piece Woom. As the Sunday sun beamed down on the packed out Steez tent, the quartet performed a number of reinterpretations, including a medley of Outkast’s ‘Prototype’ and Feist / James Blake’s ‘Limit to Your Love’. Standing ovation.

Elsewhere Debtford, the product of wordsmith Cecil B and producer K3MP, also took things to another level. Born out of an old friendship between the two, intricate beats and production met powerful, heavy-hitting and heartfelt lyricism, capturing the sour taste left in mouths from gentrification and the changing surroundings of their hometown. Amongst other highlights, Kojey Radical brought raw political energy to the Brain Stage on Friday night; Slam the Poet’s new project on love worked with ambient guitar soundscapes to create something both blissful and powerful; Maxwell Owin and MC Pinty literally shut down the Silent Disco on the Friday night; and, as always, Ezra Collective brought the goods.

Eclair Fifi playing The Shack

At the end of Saturday morning’s jam session, Steez Cafe’s compere for the day, Slam the Poet, shouted out all the musicians that had graced the stage over those few hours. He talked about how it’s these jam sessions that form the beginnings of bands, leading to gigs, which then leads to getting a booking agent, putting out a record, playing the Brain Stage and other festivals, and on it goes. Slam's completely right. Brainchild offers a space for musicians, poets and artists alike to meet, collaborate, create, experiment or just hang out. These spaces are vital in supporting and nurturing the wealth of talent that passes through.

Few words will capture the amount of inspiring music and art we discovered at Brainchild, so we’ll be breaking down some of our favourites over the next few days via Ear to the Ground. More to follow!


Brainchild has been nominated for AIM's Golden Welly, Best Independent Festival award. 

Show your love and support: vote here.