7-9 July, East Sussex

It’ll take more than two consecutive AIM Awards for Best Independent Festival to impress me! I’m a cynical marketing type who suspects industry awards are an excuse for someone to charge £100 a ticket to a black-tie award show.

Much more impressive is how Brainchild overcame pausing the festival one year, keeping their momentum with a series of UK events and winning funding from the Arts Council, PRS and Lottery Fund to ensure their existence. This is the kind of backroom financial street-fighting that gets Creative Director Marina Blake featured in the Financial Times.

This is fantastic for punters because it means there is no sponsorship, no branding, no affinity partnerships. Brainchild would not go better with Coke, because the festival will not be televised, brother. Being free from the grimey clutches of the Man is key to Brainchild’s appeal, joyous energy and critical success. It’s also the only festival I’ve been to and not seen a single can of Carling so that is quite something.

On the ground, the festival is wonderfully compact, meaning less walking and more dancing. It’s full of things you really love, but don’t let yourself enjoy often enough – a bit like an artisanal deli. There’s art installations, poetry, forum discussions, comedy and theatre, and it’s all refreshingly good. Artists of all types are encouraged to bring the tools of their trade and create on-site. This creates a trademark blurring of stage and crowd that makes Brainchild special.

The site itself is just outside of Brighton, straddling a wildfowl reserve (i.e. exotic birds) and a miniature steam railway. Both of these attractions should be enjoyed alongside the offerings of the festival itself, especially the railway, which actually steams through the campsite and choo-choo’d its way into campers’ hearts.

On the stages, Ross from Friends’ sunset slot was a highlight, and hearing Talk To Me, You’ll Understand as the dusk thickened was a standout moment. Brainchild’s whole dance-music offering was strong, and happily not dominated by DJ dudes, with radio favios like Jossy Mitsu, Boko! Boko!, Resis’Dance & many more setting an uplifting tone in the evenings.

There was a strong jazzy contingent, too, with Laura Misch, Vels Trio and Project Karnak catching eyes and displaying some serious chops. At the bandier end of the music spectrum, Horsey commanded much excitement. They are a mad mutation of a band, whose performances are performances: costumes, gurning and hints of surrealism.

Shivum Sharma played a personal, emotive evening set with an all-star band including Max Pope and Alex Burey. They managed to throw in a great Cardigans cover. I’m glad someone else is also listening to them in 2017.

The whole show appeared hitch-free. There was enough of everything. Everything worked. People were happy, relaxed and enjoying the absence of Jagermeister promoters. There was also a lot of work to reduce the festival’s environmental impact, and it was all performed with a smile by the festival’s lifeblood volunteers. Never have people seemed so happy to sort through different density plastics on their own time.

The cliche small festival sign-off is “I just hope it doesn’t grow too big and lose what makes it great”. Well don’t worry, this one won’t. The artists are too underground, the punters too small a demographic. It is 100% true that anyone is welcome at Brainchild, but in practice, it is thoroughly off the radar (though not off limits) for all except a close group of Southern arty types, hippy children and youthful yogis. This is what makes it, and it won’t be changing soon.


Header image by Jerome Toole. Main images by Jordan Matyka.