By Evelyn White
Cloud X has come a long way from their humble beginnings. Founders Ben Cross and David Dabieh started the label as a group of friends hanging out and listening to music in South London parking lots. Fast forward five years, Cloud X is now an established talent roster and yet to hold their second festival this August. As we sit down to chat over Zoom, Ben tells me that the initial inspiration for the events and management organisation came from his old babysitter, who happened to be a DJ. She introduced him to XOYO on his sixteenth birthday, after which he had a clear vision that he needed to start putting on similar events. At the beginning of our zoom call, David and Ben greet me from the front seat of their car; they’re on their way to a go-karting afternoon with their management team as part of a team building afternoon. Immediately, I sense an endearing, child-like energy which permeates the story of their birth to their professional working attitude today. This sense of excitement that Ben had on his first night out has stuck with them in their journey to take Cloud X further, which is what makes the roster feel so authentic.
‘Primarily, we think of ourselves as a record label’, Ben tells me although they also host events, manage artists and release records. The ethos behind this is to create a platform for ‘diversity, inclusivity and representation’ that is not limited to one particular genre of music. The label has been running events in South London for the past five years, with an ongoing residency at the Prince of Wales, Brixton. Authenticity is incredibly important to them. As David expresses, ‘It's important for us to create a creative space where everyone feels comfortable in their own skin, like they can be themselves whatever that might look like.’ Having hosted talents including the likes of Dave, AJ Tracey and Lancey Foux, they are clearly passionate about nurturing new talent onto the roster and championing their individuality and self-expression.
What is the main goal for Cloud X? Can we expect a particular focus on the roster, events or festivals?
David: We initially started five years ago with Jamal Edwards. It was called ‘The Cookout’, with the idea at the time being to create artists who we could see didn’t have a platform and give them a like-minded, creative crowd to perform to. At one event in 2016, we had Dave, AJ and Lancey Foux perform before they were as big as they are now. They’ve now all gone on to have amazing careers.
We wanted to find people who we felt represented the culture and voice of Cloud X so it's great to see them flourishing in the industry. We really want to keep that same ethos of finding people who are relatable and interesting that we think our audience would connect with. Last year we hosted our first Cloud X festival with performances from Knucks, Lola Young and Sainte to name a few who have grown in popularity since then.
I understand the concept came about quite organically… Could you tell me a bit about this and the initial launch of the roster?
Ben: David and I wanted to have a 16th birthday party together and neither of our parents were interested in letting us do it. My old babysitter was a DJ who invited me to an opening night of XOYO before going to an afterparty in Brixton. It was my first experience of an event like that and I just thought ‘This is phenomenal’. After that night I went to David and said ‘We need to have a party here’.
Two months later we threw our first party which we thought was going to be no more than 100 people but 1,500 people ended up turning up. By the time we were 16, we were throwing parties in Brixton and all over London. Our friends would share music with us from their friends so we’d get them to put on performances. That’s how we ended up putting on Ray Blk’s first ever show, she’s now a really good friend of ours. We now have a recording studio in Brixton and from that point
How do you establish and maintain connections and relationships with artists?
Ben: When you live and exist in a community where you’re putting on events, listening to lots of new music and going to gigs you meet people very organically. From the beginning we were hanging out with artists and building relationships with them and our studio definitely helps with that. We’re essentially trying to create a space where artists have more independence. For example, we hosted Lancey Foux’s first headline show and has since performed at wireless and other big festivals. I think we’re attractive to new artists because we see something in them that bigger talent companies miss and provide them with opportunities to grow.
Tell me about some of the new talent you’re excited about.
We’ve got Santino Le Saint who’s just released his first album, Kweku Asante who’s rolling out an amazing new project not to mention Kasien who’s such a great collaborator and intellect. The list is endless. There are some really interesting characters there worth looking into.
What can we expect from Cloud X festival this summer?
David: As ever, some brilliant new artists and 50-50 gender split which is important to us to champion diversity. I’ve never seen BiigPiig live before so I’m really looking forward to that. DJ Spinall is really big in West Africa and he doesn’t do shows often so it will be great to see him live - he’s a total legend. Other than that, great food, beautiful crowds and house party vibes all day long!