Over the past decade or so, music festivals have exploded into huge sites where simply navigating yourself from one stage to another can mean walking miles and honing advanced level map reading skills. There's also the increasing presence of prominent and powerful sponsors and advertisements that dominate territory traditionally intended for creativity and music. Fortunately, this time has also given rise to the DIY festival, where people are taking matters into their own hands, playing by their own rules and bringing the festival season back to its roots.
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Brainchild festival was founded by a group of students with the aim of bringing creative people together. Tucked away on a field in East Sussex, it's an entirely volunteer-led festival and an incredibly intimate affair. Now in its third year, the festival has grown each time spreading through word of mouth and this year it played host to a 1,000 strong, completely sold-out crowd - the biggest in the festival's short history so far.
The main appeal of Brainchild comes in the intimacy, modesty and originality of its set up. Brainchild knows that you don't need the biggest acts in the world right now to be headlining the main stage to have a really good and inspiring weekend. Instead, the festival encourages you to open your mind to something new and enjoy some of the best in up-and-coming talent. There is no branding, no fancy sponsors, no room for VIPs - and the acts actually camp out with the crowd. The whole focus of the three day event remains solely on the art, music and enjoying yourself.
The whole festival is brimming with creativity and activities to get involved in. Art installations are scattered across the site, and include an inflatable igloo and paddling pool installation based on the Lewes avalanche of 1836 by Central Saint Martins graduate Jacob Meyers-Belkin, as well as some giant spongey broccoli and a huge climbing frame complete with adult-size slide. In the morning, festival-goers are encouraged to participate in group yoga sessions to refresh and prepare for the day ahead, or partner taa-chi to invigorate the mind. Later on, whether its feminist Bristol-based theatre collective Tight Theatre performing PUSSY - a show that will make you re-think some Destiny's Child lyrics - or new comics doing their thing in the comedy tent or even life-drawing classes, there's something new to see and try from all corners.
And then there's the music. Showcasing the best in new talent, there is much to see as experimental jazz plays out throughout the day, yet when the sun goes down there are either live sets at the Braindome or DJ sets at the surround sound area of The Shack area, which is made up of inward facing towers that create an intense and exhilarating atmosphere. Whether it's the energetic R&B/soul/Hip-hop collective Tank and The Bangas from New Orleans, or the jazz-driven sound of Hester, the range of music is vast for such a small site. Stand out sets included a delicate and magical performance from Shivum Sharma as the sun goes down; Mokadem bringing her signature style of beat-wizardry to the Saturday night slot; and Catching Flies who stunned with his down-played and intricate beats to an excitable audience.
Brainchild is a festival that heaves with ambition and potential to become something more. It's a warm hug that embraces you and leaves you heady with joy and you come away feeling as if you learnt something new about yourself. It's rough around the edges, but for anyone who is sick and tired of corporate events dominated by the same big names and the domination of high street brands, Brainchild provides a refreshing exception to the rule.
Time For A Chat
We spoke to some of the acts at Brainchild Festival to learn a bit more about them and see what makes the festival special for them. And then we sent them running through fields so Hollie Fernando could take some beautiful photos.
Max Pope, Brighton
How would you describe your music to someone who's never heard it before?
I'd say it's got a lot of old references in it and born out of listening to a lot of '60s music and blues. I guess it's like guitar-soul music. It sort of fits into this bracket of 'neo-soul', but I don't know. I just play what I play.
Who were your main influences when you were growing up?
People like, obviously The Beatles, and Dusty Springfield and guitarists like David Graham and old players like that. Mainly, when I was younger it started off with all the blues music my Dad was playing - and my Dad plays harmonica so it was all that Sonny Terry and Brownie kind of stuff. So, mainly '60s, blues and soul.
And what is your favourite thing about Brainchild?
The intimacy, definitely. And the fact it's all volunteer-run. It doesn't seem that they have much to gain from it, apart from just having nice music in the same place and there's nobody behind it or anything.
Alex Burey, Croydon
How would you describe your music to someone who hasn't heard it before?
I would say the essence of it is mainly folk and soul music from the '70s, and then because I spend a lot of time producing it, I think that I try to give it a subtle psychedelic... Magic?
Growing up, who was your main music influence?
Really random collection actually. Aphex Twin, Scott Walker, Devendra Banhart... All over the place.
What is your favourite thing about Brainchild?
I love how intimate it is, and it's like I feel everyone knows somehow through another person.
Shivum Sharma, South London
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
I would describe it as very emotional and quite intense, but still soulful.
Growing up, what were your main musical influences?
My first CD was The Love Below by André 3000 and then my dad got me Basement Jaxx. And then as I got into music, I went through a lot of phases, so I would get very heavily into a certain artist or a certain sound. It's always been quite diverse what I listen to, and what I listen to changes based on like the weather or how I feel. It really depends what is going on in my life. At the time I might need a soul period, if you get what I mean? I'm just creating my life's own soundtrack.
What is your favourite thing about Brainchild?
My favourite thing about Brainchild is, first of all, that it is so beautiful to be at a festival where it really isn't at all about profit, because the food isn't overpriced and the drinks aren't overpriced. And I think it really feels like everyone is just helping everyone else out, and it really feels like everyone is taken as seriously as everyone else.
What is Hester and how did you come together?
Ella: We're all from London, most of us are from south London, but I'm the odd one out because I'm from west London. We've all met through doing music and mutual friends, and Luke, Arthur and Ellis used to be in another band way before all this, so everyone has been playing music together for a very long time.
How would you describe your sound?
Ella: That is a difficult question! Maybe Arthur should answer it...
Arthur: Jazz? No?
Ella: No, it's like Jazz-influenced. Funky sometimes. You can dance to it. That's the main thing.
Luke : Someone said space-blues once.
Ella: Yeah. Space-blues. Whatever you want to call it.
And what are your main musical influences?
Ella: We all come from different musical backgrounds. Ricco is definitely the man to talk to about this.
Ricco: Massive Attack.
What's your favourite thing about Brainchild?
Arthur: It's quite small, and really friendly.
Ella: There's a real community feel. And the artists camp with the crowd so that's nice.
Luke: The lack of brands.
Ella: It's all about the creative artists and the music.
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