1 August 2018

Live Review: Brainchild Festival 2018

Brainchild Festival

Bentley Wildfowl & Motor Museum, East Sussex

Friday 13th – Sunday 15th July, 2018


    For a festival with a limit of 2,000 people, one would expect it to be small and cliquey but it was the opposite: inclusive with no VIP areas, no commercial sponsorship and using a small space to maximum advantage. Although the festival takes place on a small site, there is always something happening, including a wooded area for DJ sets, plus spaces for spoken word events and film screenings. 

    Friday’s music began with a jam session hosted by South London Music Service that highlighted the all-inclusive nature of the festival. An entertaining set by Nigerian trumpet virtuoso Etuk Ubong was followed by fellow trumpeter Axel Kaner-Lidstrom’s band, Where Pathways Meet, which channeled Sun Ra and featured some energetic playing from trombonist Rosie Turton and guitarist Mark Mollinson.

    Saturday saw Zeñel developing their unique sound of trumpet, keys and drums, followed by something that Brainchild does well: a creative and original multi-disciplinary project, this one involving dance and music featuring Mark Mollinson on guitar. In a similar vein, Emma-Jean Thackray’s Walrus mixed contemporary classical music with funk and jazz in a band that included sousaphone, keys and drums accompanying Emma-Jean’s soulful trumpet and voice. In the cool shade of the forest, Footshooter featured rapping over beats accompanied by Jack Stephenson-Oliver on keys.

    On Sunday, esoteric ensemble Alabaster de Plume combined humour and creativity with the advanced musicianship of pianist Matthew Bourne. In keeping with the festival’s ethos of exploring creativity and fostering a space for open discussion, the Skin Deep: Sonic Transmissions session saw Shabaka Hutchings performing solo and duo pieces with Theon Cross and participating in a discussion with Skin Deep magazine’s editor in chief, Anu Henriques. A continuation of a previous session held a year ago at Total Refreshment Centre, Henriques asked incisive questions on a wide range of topics including politics, identity and his circular breathing technique. The most interesting question was ‘what does the future sound like to you?’ which Shabaka responded to by questioning what we should hold sacred, and how he sees intuition as being sacred to him. He revealed that when he improvises he simply blows hard and moves his fingers about, trusting that his practice will pay off.

    Shabaka revealed himself to be an intelligent and articulate guest and this was illustrated further as Sons of Kemet performed on the main stage as the Sunday night headliners. Performing pieces from their album Your Queen Is A Lizard, Shabaka excelled at playing ever-interesting melodies and counter-melodies to an enthusiastic crowd, with the beautiful backdrop of the sun going down over the Sussex Downs accompanied by a crescent moon.

    Theon Cross played some impressive accompaniment on the tuba, together with some fluent and dynamic solos as drummers Max Hallett and Eddie Hick conversed rhythmically.

    Brainchild Festival is an intimate, unique experience that successfully combines creativity, collaboration and entertainment. The proudly independent and eco-friendly festival, run by a team of like-minded volunteers, is an excellent alternative to the large commercial festivals.


Charlie Anderson

(Photo of Sons of Kemet by Lisa Wormsley)

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