There is a field in Sussex, a small field that makes trains the size of swans and swans the size of human beings. Once a year, in the early summer months Brainchild opens its gates and erects its palaces for us to wander through in glory.
By the time the sun is on its descent, Laura Misch opens the Brain stage and her reminiscent lyrics skipped in with a looped saxophone and everyone melted, watching, into the grass with the music and smoky sun spilling over their content faces. The site looked more beautiful than ever. It had matured with age. The tendrils of lights reach further through the field than ever and every curated ornament gives you shade or a seat or a pop up stage – like walking through a lollipop neuro-transmitter forest.
Each stage had upgraded: bigger, better, more colour and room for hanging things. The largest transformation was The Shack. Tucked away in a clearing of trees down a woodland path, when it opened here last year it received endless fascination but remedial contempt. But now, the music is loud enough to dance to and its cage aesthetic is overbearingly dystopian. The Shack stands like an anti-cerebral cortex with the light and the swirling dust sifting through the canopy of trees.
With creative spaces in major cities becoming monopolised by real estate, Brainchild as a place is a playground and breathing space to let young lungs breathe from the fumigated cities. So when there is a space for us to work and play you get a surge of multimedia artworks. Music accompanied by visuals, taste and smell; an abstract video by Sam Boullierof coloured ink dancing in water to music by Elsa Hewitt in their Audio Visual Jam which transported you elsewhere.
The Steez Café had a running animation screen, which featured Marge Simpson falling continuously through a sky of clouds and eyes, and a valley changing its hue as a sun-headed body sat up, rose and called it a night on the other side of the sky leaving a moon-headed body to repeat the action and give way to the day. The artist behind the animation was David Renton (Instagram: renton_dave) who, when asked about the interaction between his art and the music, said “I was pleasantly surprised that they seemed to work with whatever genre of music was on.”
Sawa Manga had an interpretive dancer that swung legs above heads and fondled a mango in-between the crowd and a harp. The dancer then stretched himself into the crowd and fed them bananas, lychees and kumquats. When all these minds and talents combine it is so special. Sound becomes reanimated with body, movement, laughter and taste.
Brainchild functions as a congregation point, a watering hole for the hunted buffalo being ostracized from their habitat. And from its sustenance the acts and projects evolve. Bands like Ezra Collective and Kokoroco, who were blinding features at the Steez cafe last year, had been bunked up to the main stage and fulfilled it. An evolution, that will without doubt be the fate of the enigmatic Dylema Collective next year.
Everyone there is overwhelmed by how involved they feel with the festival. The acts camp with everyone else and the acts that have to leave don’t want to. A few hours after seeing Andrew Ashong do a pumping and beautiful performance I ran into him outside the forum, and after the exchanging of pleasantries, ‘hey man, I loved you show’ and ‘I love your pirate attire’, we talked for about 45 minutes about love, life, and amplification of the self. Later in the night, I was walking out from the Shack and Andrew Ashong runs across the field just to say farewell as he heads off to another gig.
Back in 2015 I wrote an article on the magic of Brainchild and the necessity of the British festival season. And two more years consecutively it has continued to be a necessity in my summer.
As this summer draws to its close and Trump declares war on North Korea via Twitter and Brexit enters a state of semantic satiation, the September rain washes away the past few months and let me look back at what has been.
Those few years ago I was in the midst of a strong transitional point in my life. This year I returned to Brainchild with my heart in another wrangle. Everything pirouettes over the looming life of a graduate.
I shared this fate with many. Expectations of the summer were massive but uncertain. And the expectations I placed on Brainchild to give me a massive epiphany on life like I had three years ago would probably be unfair. Brainchild makes no mistake in shying away from its responsibilities to reality.
There are young intellectuals, creative’s, enthusiasts and layabouts wanting to engage here. The forum hosted talks and discussions on topics such as the housing crisis, mental health, online communication, and the meaning of grime. As well as having strong input from ‘Pecs: Drag King Collective’, spoken word and various workshops. It was great to see that the Forum was rarely sparse. Thankfully, it wasn’t a hostile place but one of discussion and acceptance. I did not see anything, however, as riveting as the Brexit discussion last year.
Brainchild never has a so-what attitude. While class, politics, race, gender and sexuality matter, it is our values that truly divide and unite us. That is what Brainchild has: a uniting value for art and music, love and people.
On the Friday night I met a guy, his name was James and he considered himself a bit of an outlier at this festival. We talked, and he said he found it, “uncomfortable having a politicians name chanted on stage and a field full of people chanting back Jeremy Corbyn’s name.” James thought it was problematic and cultish, despite whether or not he supported the politician. The amount of middle-class festival-goers also troubled him as it rubbed the wrong way with the vibe and consensus of the festival.
This created a diasporic atmosphere for me. I felt so aware having just graduated from Cambridge, like I had been barged up the social ladder and now have access to this ill-begotten view where the hand-drawn lines of segregation could be seen. My interview with James made me think hard. Was I fetishizing a culture that I was once part of? And where does that leave me between two worlds that I feel I only know the surface of now? With war exploding all around the world it seems a bit trivial to get a bunch of British kids together in a field to party and talk about it. We live on a disconnected and secure island, and that gives us a privilege which enables us to tackle issues in whatever way we can. Even if it is celebrating creativity with music and a weekend in a field next to the Bentley wildfowl and motor museum (which is a must see for peacocks, flamingos, and miniature train rides).
Social media bombards us with news non-stop and this continuous bludgeoning takes its effects on our psyche. But at Brainchild there is community, something which so many large cities lack now. A community which is aware of the shit; one that will not just lie down and let the world pass them by while Netflix gives them a tummy rub. A community that want to breathe life and vividness into the greydom of the urban dystopias and the dulling synapses of an overstimulated, undulating generation. And for those that look they shall find it… in a field in Sussex!
Over the three years that I’ve attended Brainchild it manages to maintain its magic. This year, however, it threw up more scrutiny. It could be the oncoming winter blues but upon reflection it provoked many negative thoughts. These last paragraphs were written with some frustration because while some of the performers provide a positive contribution to this world the crowd express interest but seem to do little else.
Despite this, Brainchild will always be a festival of love for me; I’ve lost love, fell in love, became so deeply in love. Its vibes are ever-reaching. They flow through the poetry, the people, the art and music. One of its best qualities is its engagement, but when the world is putrid, it can conflict with our escapist sensibilities. On the other hand, to celebrate with a message can be a protest. I am still figuring out mine, and I believe Brainchild is still figuring out theirs.