I enter Brainchild 2017 with high hopes, having attended last year and been wowed by the impressiveness of the independent festival’s atmosphere. Now in its 5th year of existence, creativity floods through Brainchild more so than ever – and attracts the kind of crowd that truly seem to immerse themselves in the radiance of each unique performance. No iPhones clutched in extended arms, no lads searching for someone named Allen, and, most importantly, no negative vibes.
Organised by a collective of young creatives from the UK and beyond, Brainchild runs sponsor-free and is entirely powered by volunteers. The unique festival is becoming renowned for showcasing a fabulously diverse range of entertainment that includes live music, DJ sets, film, theatre, poetry and more.
The main stage (or Brainstage) kicks off its live performances on Friday with Laura Misch, who, having joined Alpha Mist and Barney Artist on the Brainstage last year, is this time around accompanied by the swinging melodies of Amphibian. Misch, whose music has been played on the likes of Radio 1 & 1Xtra, wows the crowd with her saxophone abilities and soulful vocals in her opening track ‘Flow’. The jazzy vibes have the crowd hooked from the outset, with Misch’s vocals comparable to that of London Grammar’s front woman Hannah Reid. The set journeys though tribal-inspired bongo rhythms and slow powerful melodies, eventually closing with Amphibian’s ‘The One That Lives in Both’.
Early evening highlights include Project Karnack bringing their own brand of funk and jazz to the Steez Café,, as well as Wovaka Gentle’s beautifully unique twist on traditional folk music back at the Brainstage. Over at the Forum, Sam Ward performs an adaptation of his play 5 Encounters On A Site Called Craigslist which combines laugh-out-loud moments with touching commentary. More laughter follows during the Comedy Showcase which sees a host of comedians present some truly original stand-up.
The festival’s electronic dance stage, tucked away in the woods and dubbed The Shack, hosts a range of impressive DJs including the Siren collective, known for their promotion of female and non-binary artists. Birmingham’s Jossy Mitsu impresses with her bassy selection and Sonido Tropico affiliate ElPeche closes the night with his Brazilian-influenced beats.
The evening’s unmissable act, however, is Hew Bennett Presents: Suso, which combines traditional Gambian influences with modern electronic synths to create infectious rhythms that have the whole crowd grooving. Following Suso is Kojey Radical who, after leading chants of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!” and impressing with his inimitable flows, closes the Friday’s Brainstage with a bang.
Saturday hosts a range of impressive offerings including a talk on feminism from members of creative collective behind the publication Gal-dem, which, as a whole, comprises of over 70 women and non-binary people of colour. Later, Jeffrey Boakye, author of Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime, gives a talk on a selection of significant grime tracks and discussed their cultural context. Innovatively, this was presented over headphones as Boakye was unable to physically attend. More Saturday highlights include the award-winning jazz band Ezra Collective, who armed with their influences of Afro Beat, Hip Hop and Reggae, make for one of the weekend’s best and most energetic performances.
Sunday lives up to the expectations of the preceding days, with highlights including Brixton-based Elisa Imperilee and Srigala’s hip-shaking set, multi-instrumentalist Cosmo Pyke being joined onstage by Holly Wellington of Feelgood Experiment and Ishmael Ensemble, and the stunning vocals of Alice Phoebe Lou. The latter, descending from South Africa, awakens the sleepy Sunday crowd with her powerfully moody vocals in tracks like ‘Little Spark’: “I wrote this when I was really stoned” she laughs. The genre-defying Dego, head of the explorative imprint 2000 Black, has onlookers in awe throughout his fantastically funky set at The Shack on Sunday evening. Earlier in the day, Dego hosts an open Q&A, and I ask what he considers the best thing about Brainchild to be. “I’m quite surprised by a lot of it!” He tells me. “It’s great that all the people here are volunteering. I heard that it came from really small beginnings and has grown to this size in just five years, so that deserves to be applauded! It’s really different. I like where it’s coming from and where it’s going.” The room nods in agreement.
Having earned their (rightful) place on The Guardian’s ’10 of the UK’S best boutique festivals’ list, Brainchild Festival is set to go from strength to strength in the forthcoming years, with no signs of losing its creative and political intent. Accurately describing themselves as a “meeting of minds”, I have no doubts that Brainchild 2018 will be yet another truly unmissable event. I hope to see you there.