UK-based company Cloud X has grown from a local party showcasing overlooked artists to a wide-ranged entertainment company platforming predominantly British R&B and alternative hip-hop artists. We spoke with Cloud X on the origin and mission behind the company, the story behind their name, and the recent success of their live festival, Cloud X Festival.
What’s the origin story of Cloud X? When and how was the company founded?
In the simplest terms, we started off as a very underground rave which Ben Cross and David Dabieh threw in Brixton when they were 16-years-old. The goal was simply to put on a small party with local acts that they liked, and despite only aiming to get 300 people there, 1500 people turned up!
Over the years, our friends kept finding that there were artists that we loved that were often overlooked and underappreciated, so we solved that problem by throwing our own parties for musicians and sounds that we felt were unique and progressive. Everything was DIY, with friends of ours also working on the door (some of whom now occupy senior positions at the company!), making artwork, DJing, finding new acts.
Together, we were able to take our parties across the UK and then expanded out to wider-Europe, doing parties in both Paris and Berlin. By visiting all of these different places and seeing how much enthusiasm there was for what we loved, we realised that the kind of music that we had immense appreciation for simply wasn’t getting platformed in the UK. And that was fundamentally a lot of R&B and alternative hip-hop.
After 7 years of doing events, Ben and David decided that helping artists record and release their own projects was another way that we could enable unique story-telling. The first artist Cloud X worked with was Santino Le Saint. He was 19-years-old at the time and had never released music before. We instantly saw that he could sing at an incredible range, produce, play drums, guitar and piano – just a completely unique talent. Santino and David actually wrote a song together the first time they met, called “4AM” – a rock-infused R&B record. We quickly decided to release it independently and the song did 100,000 plays within a month! This gave us the motivation to continue creating together and as a team. Ben would regularly help with the music videos.
The work that we all created with Santino naturally piqued the interest of many labels. We ended up meeting with over eight labels, including majors. Despite seeing Santino’s singing talent, many of the execs recommended he “did grime” and change his image to be “more urban”. This frustrated us, and from then on, we set out to create a home that allowed people to fundamentally take charge of their own narratives, collaborate with friends and creatives, and scale. Three years later, Santino’s independent career and Cloud X’s growth is evidence that artist and personal integrity combined with hard work can lead to pioneering success.
Tell us more about the mission behind Cloud X.
Cloud X is about representing the underrepresented voices on a global scale. We predominantly platform British R&B and alternative hip-hop, but our purpose does extend beyond those borders too. The U.K. has traditionally not supported the R&B, soul, and alternative hip-hop space as A&R’s and label executives have lazily said it sounds “Americanised” despite the incredible British talent around. At its core, R&B is about incredible voices and writing that have the ability to make people FEEL and MOVE. Rhythm and Blues
Beyond this, we are a music entertainment home that seeks to empower pioneering creatives, not just in music but those that circumvent that world – directors, live promoters, fashion designers and more.
Is there a story behind the name “Cloud X”?
“Pareidolia” is the phenomenon where people look at the same clouds and see different shapes. One person might look up and see them drawing out an arrow. Another person might look at the same clouds and see a shoe. We like the fact that for some people Cloud X is a label, for others it’s a destination for memorable parties, for some it’s a curated space for art, for some a work place – for us it’s all these things and more.
In this way, the Cloud represents multiplicity, evolution, being omnipresent and shifting shape but remaining consistent. The X part has a few meanings: X like in Malcolm X, which speaks to a deliberately marginalised and therefore lost heritage, X like latinX, which speaks to a gender neutrality/non-binary approach to language. X is also the X, the unknown, a place we are happy to venture into. In Roman numerals, it’s also 1 more than Cloud 9, we are always hoping to elevate!
How many people make up the Cloud X team? What are some qualities you look for when building out your team?
The core Cloud X team now consists of 12 people, with various invaluable collaborators orbiting the team internationally. At the root, we look for team players that match our core human values of integrity, collaboration, respect and hard work. We love curious adventour minds that are keen to push boundaries and work in innovative ways. A vital part of our ethos is inclusivity. Our workforce is very balanced and representative, enabling us to make decisions collectively that end up representing the diversity of the world we live in. Our VP of Operations, Taormina Miller is just 24-years-old and has been crucial in creating an ecosystem that allows this culture to thrive.
Cloud X covers a lot of ground across the industry: recording, live performance, artist services. What is the structure of Cloud X? Can you tell us about the various services you offer to your artists?
At present, we are split into three divisions: Live shows, record label and artist development. We want to give artists a chance to organically refine who they are and their vision, be able to perform their material and use Cloud X as a platform to grow their career and connection with fans.
The first-ever Cloud X Festival took place this August! Tell us more about the festival. Will this be an annual event?
Cloud X festival journey began in 2015 as a celebration of Hip Hop and R&B in London with artists such as Ray BLK, who went on to win BBC Sound of 2017 and featured special guests like Chance the Rapper.
The following year Cloud X teamed up with SBTV owner Jamal Edwards and together curated ‘The Cookout’ as well as a lineup with artists who have since gone on to be some of the most pioneering and influential artists around including Dave, AJ Tracey, Bree Runway, Lancey Foux and more.
Cloud X Festival 2021 is a fresh-out-of-the-pandemic approach that we developed to celebrate London’s changemakers and British culture within the R&B and Hip-hop scene. The artists we’ve chosen all have these abilities, from the grittiness of Scuti, the mesmerizing vocals of JGrrey, to the rockstar energy of Santino Le Saint.
Creating a festival that is based around community, creativity, representation and a space that is inclusive has been crucial to us but was also something that came completely naturally. Working with Native Soundsystem was a pleasure, they have similarly been providing a space for marginalized voices, in particular platforming amazing music and talent coming out of Africa.
Cloud X Festival will absolutely become an annual event. By next year, we aim to have upscale to a 10,000 capacity event, the artists we put on this year will have tripled in size and we cannot wait to see the growth and expansion of it.
We also have plans of building a base in Ghana, and are greatly looking forward to seeing what can be done globally with Cloud X Festival!
How are you approaching the live space after a very difficult year for the live music sector?
We started by thinking ahead, by focusing on life in the future. In the middle of lockdown, we worked closely with venues and teams that we had established great relationships with over many years and planned dates that we could execute once things had opened up again. Consequently since lockdown ended, just over 3 weeks ago we’ve already had 4 shows and our first Cloud X Festival. We have completely embraced the freedom whilst ensuring that the events are carried out in the safest possible way for our community – encouraging guests to take tests prior to attendance, ensuring sanitizer and masks are available by working closely with venue owners and staff.
We also expanded with more collaborations across the summer, for example, our weekly Brixton-based “Down South” residency curated by the inimitable Aisha Kemp from our team includes collaborations with Bossy Ldn, Henrie, Remi Burgz, Prestige Pak, and more. The pandemic also gave us a chance to evaluate how we wanted to contribute further to the very nature of the live music sector and diversifying line-ups as well as back-end infrastructure was a big part of the team conversation. For example, ensuring we had a 50-50 gender split on Cloud X Festival, seemed not only obvious but necessary given the state of some larger festivals. We also had an all POC sound and artist liaison team on the day.
Tell us about some of the artists on your roster. Are there any releases coming in in the next few months that people should be aware of?
This year already we have released EP’s, Albums, first releases, music videos with Emmy-award-winning directors; incredible things have already happened so the next few months are even more promising.
We have Cloud X co-founder, multi-instrumentalist, and just all-round phenomenal artist Santino Le Saint’s debut album dropping, neo-Soul pioneer Kwaku Asante has just released his Sophomore EP Ode and will be following it up with a summer pack “Blue Solstice Volume 1” in early September before his sold-out headline show at Jazz Cafe.
We’ve also recently partnered up with the artist Kasien who has an incredibly melodic and lyrically progressive project that will be released in the winter of this year. We’ve also been quietly developing some incredible new talent that we can’t wait to share with the world. Everything is completely unique.
What’s the best way for people to stay updated on Cloud X updates and ventures?
Follow @Cloudx on Instagram and subscribe to our mailing list at www.cloudxworld.com