Brainchild Festival 2015: DIY festival proves future of British art is in safe hands

Painstaking curation saves festival from pretension

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The Independent Culture

The usually peaceful grounds of the Bentley Motor Museum in rural East Sussex - complete with a serene wildfowl park and a miniature railway - have been invaded. Enormous pairs of eyes are staring from the tree at its centre from which a gargantuan bird’s nest has fallen. The sounds of horns and singing float through the air.

Don’t worry, though, the Home Counties aren’t under alien attack. Rather, Brainchild Festival has arrived for the weekend, and 1,000 mainly art students and recent graduates have been unleashed.

Young artists taking over a field to showcase work exploring the themes of body, space, power, and change, could have easily turned into a pretentious, self-indulgent mess. But the painstaking curation that has gone into the volunteer-run festival is clear. 

The result is an impressively broad, yet inspiringly high-quality, programme featuring music, visual art, spoken word, and theatre across five stages, that will leave festival-goers intellectually stimulated but entertained into the wee hours.

If Brainchild represents the future of the British art scene, it’s in safe hands.

A marker of the millennials the festival caters for, DJs at The Shack stage and the Steez Cafe play sets ranging from jungle to Latin until 3am, and aching bodies can be soothed at 10am yoga sessions. But Brainchild is far from becoming the new Latitude, and sustenance each morning comes in the form of wonderful greasy-spoon-style fry ups, without a kale smoothie in sight.

Giving visual art as much prominence as music and performance, the five stages are encircled by sculptures spanning a range of genres, creating a striking and unusual space to explore.

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A woman dances at the main stage (Image: Lily Bonesso)

At the centre of the festival is a large tree from which arresting pop-art-esque facial feature sculptures by Josie Tucker stare out. Underneath, pieces of reclaimed furniture and Els Maple’s hand-made, structured wooden bird’s nest - complete with speckled egg pillows - offer a welcome respite from the blazing sun.

Certainly the most hands-on sculpture, Josh Murr’s almost psychedelic multi-coloured wooden slide is a playground in the day, and a sheltered spot to gather inside by night.

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People dance at Brainchild (Image: Lily Bonesso)

Encompassing the blurring between audience and performer that is at the heart of Brainchild, passersby strolling from stage to stage add to the curvaceous sculpture by Bloomberg New Contemporary Emily Motto, which is comprised of found objects including metal grids, plumbing pipes and fabric. By the end of the weekend, wool connects a wooden chair to the mass of metal.

Dispelling the myth that young people are disengaged, The Forum – which is dedicated to spoken word and talks – draws as much of a crowd as the music on the main stage. The buzz surrounding Maria Ferguson’s Fat Girls Don’t Dance leaves crowds struggling to pass under the tent's purpose-built wooden entrance by Kristi Minchin – complete with cogs and pullies which hint at the intellectuality inside.

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Kristi Minchin's entrance to The Forum tent (Image: Lily Bonesso)

Read more: Brainchild 2015: DIY festival showcasing the work of the UK's most exciting young creatives returns for third year

In an extremely touching yet deeply witty piece, Ferguson inspires laughter and tears in equal measure as she explores her tumultuous relationship with food in parallel with her development as a dancer. Eager to see more, the audience arrives for Ferguson, and stays for the spoken word artists which follow her.

Half tent, half bar, half jamming session, the Steez Cafe is an eclectic smorgasbord of acts glued together by members of the acclaimed South London music collective from where it gets its name. Here, mind-bendingly talented MCs riff over live improvised instrumentals with performers they have met just minutes before. Come back an hour later, and a dance class may have taken over, before a new jam starts. By night, DJs keep the throng dancing. It is here that poet and musician James Messiah masterfully wraps up the weekend with a DJ set dipping into House, R&B, and Grime.

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Tank of 'Tank and the Bangas' sits on a giant broccoli

Then there’s the main stage, where young musicians lay bare their raw talent all weekend. But it’s Tank and the Bangas who make the biggest impression. Having travelled 6,000 from New Orleans – and not forgetting to pack their multi-coloured outfits – the R&B and funk band makes it impossible for the crowd to sit down. Lead singer Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball radiates charisma, and as she sings, dances and recites her self-penned spoken word it’s hard to see what she can’t do. At the height of the set she screams at the crowd “this is the most awesome festival I’ve ever been to!” and, captivated by the atmosphere, they simply scream back in agreement.

To support Brainchild's Kickstarter to fund a storage facility for artists' work, click here.

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