Those left behind on Sunday evening (the jobless punters with no reason to be anywhere all week let alone Monday morning) lie strewn on the grass, basking in Allysha Joy’s woozy set, as Brainchild 2019’s ‘Brain Stage’ glows with the weekend’s last beats of sunlight. Traditionally, it gets cold when the sun goes down, and I’m sat in the shorts and t-shirt I’ve worn throughout this muggy last day. At any other festival, this would demand a strategically timed operation: leave now, miss Joy’s enchanting set but hopefully catch most of Pheobe Alice Lou’s headline slot upon return. At Brainchild though, I can drowsily stroll across the grounds of the Bentley Wildfowl and Motor Museum, grab a jumper from my tent, and refill my reusable plastic cup with an overpriced pint on the way back; I’ll have barely missed one song.
It is a tribute to the festival’s charming appeal that, across the weekend, I barely met one person like myself for whom this visit was their first. “Nowhere else,” slurred one intoxicated field-stumbler to his friend, “can you listen to poetry, move to a new tent and… fucking… you’re learnin’ how to Vogue!” Brainchild’s impression is certainly enigmatic. The only constant is a reminder from almost every performer that their audience is in a ‘safe space’, where acceptance reigns and division is left at the gates along with the confiscated glass bottles. Nothing could have captured this better than Dylema Collective’s Saturday afternoon neo-soul spoken word showing. “What if a black girl knew, that in order for there to be a black female president, there has to be a black girl who dreams of it?” asked the extraordinary Dylema Amadi, the intensity of her poetic delivery swelling with the passionate solidarity of her crowd.
Friday saw Leeds’ very own George Riley kick the evening into gear at the Kite Bar stage. With a minimal set-up – alongside Riley and her mic stand was only her DJ and producer Ollie Palfreyman – the performance was met by an eager crowd who were on their feet within the first song. She is an endearing stage presence, and can command the space with a relaxed ease; she’d clearly have been just as comfortable in front of triple our number, or none of us. The undoubted highlight came with her snarling rendition of ‘Competition’, an original played last year on Radio 1 Xtra. Once it had come to a close, she smiled warmly at her growing crowd: “If you didn’t catch that, that song was about Instagram, the devil.”
The weekend’s standout performance, though, came from New York’s unassuming yet vocally ferocious Duendita. In fact, Duendita’s voice is extraordinary. It oscillates with mind-bending control between Nina Simone depths and breathy soprano heights, a technique that is at once beautiful and unsettling. Perhaps this is because conflict is at the core of her art: her songs recount tales of painful discord, while her style appears to vie with itself for a dominant position on the stage. She’ll laugh with us after every track, adding: “I hope that was OK,” then introduce the next by spitting fierily: “This song is a promise to misogynists everywhere, I’m gunna get you.” I think everyone in the captivated audience believed her.
Truly, Brainchild deserves all the praise it gets (and if reviews are anything to go by, it gets a lot). Gentle and raucous in equal measure, very few festivals spread themselves so far across genres and mediums with this level of success. So enchanting, exhilarating and impressive were the performances that I barely had time to circumnavigate the ground on the site’s tiny train. I found time though, and can safely say it’s the best model train I’ve ever been on at an arts festival.
Photos by Tatyana Rutherston