“The whole point is to create a platform within this culture…and to see the community we work in thrive,” – In Talks With: The Founders of Cloud X
3 Nov 2021
Earlier this year festival season made a strong return; with summer 2021 becoming ‘the moment’ as crowds gathered together for the first time – in what had been a long time – all in the name of the art which brought them together: music.
Stepping forward to create a live experience that powered up South-East London on a heated Sunday in August, was Cloud X, as many faces from across the scene were united. Whether it was performers, tastemakers, or general multi-genre lovers – the return of this experience was one for the books.
Much like ‘X’ in its name, this culturally fuelled hub made its mark, so Mixtape Madness caught up with the creators, Ben and David, for an In Talks.
Can you start off by introducing yourselves and what it is that you do for Cloud X?
David and I co-founded Cloud X a few years ago, and we started in live events when we were kids. I had a babysitter when I was young, who was a DJ and then I became a DJ. By the time I was fifteen, we stayed friends and she invited me to a party, which was the opening of the club that everyone now knows as XOYO. She was playing as a part of this all-female, women of colour DJ collective, and I was just behind the decks. It was absolutely amazing. We went to this after-party in Brixton, which was close to where I live, as I’m from South-East London, as is David, and I was thinking “this is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve got to throw a party here.” Later that week I met with David and said, “David we’ve got to throw a party here,” and long story short, two months later we’d organised a party which we thought was going to be one hundred and fifty people, but it turned into one thousand five hundred, to two thousand people. That was the first event we did together. Over our teenage years, we did more events, touring, working with artists around the UK and EU; we were putting on our friends on their first shows and they’ve become very successful since. We also started helping artists release their records and managing them. Cloud X was formally born a few years ago, but we’ve been working in the field for a while now, and I personally work with a lot of the creatives. I find that the storytelling and culture that goes into it outside of the music is very important to me. – Ben
My position is managing director and executive producer. I essentially work with a lot of the marketing and strategy for Cloud; various projects and partnerships we have at a business level, and also overseeing a lot of these projects and looking into how we can keep expanding. I’m also just trying to see how we can add value to what we see as the cultural space of London, and take what we’ve been influenced by, what we love, and seeing how we can grow it abroad. So yeah, there’s a lot of overlap between what me and Ben do, as I get involved in the strategies and campaign side of things too. Obviously, we co-founded Cloud X, but there are a lot of important players that are so key to what Cloud X is. They’re characters who’ve really defined who we are as a team and as a company. – David
You recently hosted your festival this summer, how does it feel to get your first formal show review?
I feel amazing about it! What was nice to see from everyone who wrote about it – whether it was formally through websites like yours, or through print media, or even on Instagram posts, or small YouTube videos where they spoke about it – it meant a lot to the people who attended and even to those who didn’t attend and just saw photos and videos. It felt like a cultural merge and all along, it was never our intention to make a festival that was about booking very famous, prominent artists – but much more so about curating something that felt true to the culture that we believe in, and emerging artists that will in our eyes go on to have amazing careers. We made sure there was a gender-balanced line-up that was diverse, and I think those are things people picked up on, so thank you very much for writing the review, we appreciate it very much. – Ben
Having the gender-balanced line-up is so important, especially with how male-dominated some of the more established festivals happen to be
I completely agree, and I think when you’re creating a festival – you should be able to look around the landscape of all the other festivals going on in Britain, and what has happened historically. It’s a shame that all of the political movements outside of festivals and music – as well as inside – aren’t being paid attention to by many big festivals. Not to throw shade! But I feel like, we are people who run festivals and work in the music industry. Both me, David and yourself, need to push for and stand for this that we believe in, otherwise, there won’t be any change. We’re both in influential positions in different regards, so I think it’s super important and I’m glad that you agree. – Ben
The festival was such a lovely moment for us coming straight out of the pandemic and I was definitely walking around feeling that same sense of connection, and community and it was such a beautiful thing to be a part of. Our team feels that the festival works because there are young people from different backgrounds, that really love music and have a clear identity and soul. So that’s why it’s organically become what it has. We work in an office where the team are queer, Black, White, Asian, and women. That’s just our team, so just from that, we’ve produced a community that has always been natural. In my position as a managing director, something that I’ve advised others is that if you want to create cultural change, then actually have people in the organisation and positions of power, that are what you’re looking for. – David
From observation, a lot of the Alternative and Underground artists come from either South-East or West London. What part of London would you say carries this part of the scene?
I’m biased, so I’m going to say South- East London – Ben
Everyone knows it’s South-East. – David
How was the name ‘Cloud X’, born?
We were sitting down one day, having a conversation. It was for the first-ever show, and we really wanted to platform Hip-Hop and RnB artists from London that found on Soundcloud, and the line-up ended up being the likes of Ray BLK and A2. This was in central, in twenty fifteen. We were playing them out of an envelope, so it was mostly informal, and a lot of these artists didn’t have management or whatever. We were wondering before the show, you know “what does it mean to be in a community?” and being in a community for us, means being able to change, or respond to change, and being able to get people from one space to another space – so the idea of a ‘cloud’ made sense because they keep moving, and I guess that’s where the Cloud came from. As for the X, in Roman numerals it’s one more than nine, it represents elevation – but X is also to do with the idea of the unknown; areas where people haven’t ventured into before and trying to create something new and interesting and not being afraid to go into those spaces. There’s also a lot of heritage with the word X, like LatinX, Malcolm X. All of these faces that are about under-representation. All of those combined together was kind of our thought process behind the name. – David
There’s a real vision with the algebraic form, where ‘X’ is the unknown and you should expect the unexpected
Yeah, exactly – David
X also marks the spot, you can’t forget that one! – Ben
On your IG, there was a vote on the winter festival. Can we expect something?
We’re working on something that we’re due to announce in a couple of weeks. I’ll leave that there. – David
We’ll keep you in the loop, but we can’t give you the full scoop quite yet. – Ben
Finally, can you talk about the future of Cloud X – whether it’s the label, festival or organisation as a whole – would you want it to be a thing that just caters to artists that are about to blow up, or do you see it going mainstream and reaching the scale of these bigger festivals such as, Wireless and Glastonbury?
I mean for me, one hundred per cent in terms of scale, but I also think that the contemporary culture is so much more different compared to what it was five years ago, let alone ten. What I mean by that, is artists that are mainstream and accessible, who are massive – don’t necessarily need to be mainstream in this commercialised manner. Someone like SZA, Tyler The Creator, Frank Ocean; these artists are internationally famous and renowned, but simultaneously they’re not artists that take on a traditional radio approach of “can I put bangers on mainstream, daytime radio whether that’s in the UK or US” etc. etc. because part of it, with the change of technology and ability of artists to self-distribute through various forms of social media – the opening up of musical culture in those ways – has also allowed for different types of artists to exist, and that extends to festivals and other cultural aspects that we work in. The point is not for us to take a culture that is quite nascent and then say “right we’re only working with you if you stay small,” – absolutely not, the whole point is to create a platform within this culture and to help creatives to grow, and to see the community we work in thrive. – Ben
I would like to add, that I’d want to see the festival become this live version of COLORS you know? Find talent that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, give it a platform and help people reach a new audience. I know artists that people may have necessarily not heard of before, that come and perform and end up leaving with a lot of fans – and that was their first-ever live show. I like to see our live events as a space where you’re going to come and find your new favourite artist. It could be a person that you’ve seen before or never heard of before, and they’ve got like two hundred followers – it doesn’t really matter, they’re supposed to be that X, that unknown. It doesn’t have to be about who’s gonna blow, who’s gonna be the biggest,” it’s about a chance to discover someone who you might have never seen or heard before. – David