Founders of Cloud X Festival; Ben Cross & David Dabieh reflect on creating the best music festival of the year.
The evolution of Cloud X from an events company to a multi-media music management and events company has set in stone the foundations of one of London’s most exciting organisations right now. After the events industry was put at a complete standstill over the Covid:19 lockdown, Cloud X returned to the summer of 2021 with a vengeance. The Cloud X festival made its debut to the young, creative and trendy community of London.
The 8th of August welcomed the crowds of London to congregate in the spirit of good vibes, good food and even better music. The iconic event featured some of London’s hottest emerging talent like Santino Le Saint, who showed up to his set with his electric guitar in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. After experiencing the best festival of the summer, I had the opportunity to meet up with co-founders; Ben Cross and David Dabieh in the after glow of the event.
Read what they had to say about their journey so far and why creative partnership has been pivotal to their success.
Cloud X is certainly not new to the London scene. However, it feels like you continue to reinvent different ways to extend your brand reach to creative communities all over the UK. What or Who is Cloud X as a community?
Ben X: Cloud X is an evolving, effervescent community of storytellers and innovators that gives a global platform to the underrepresented voices. We platform predominantly British R&B, soul, and alternative hip-hop artists across three main verticals, live shows, management, and our label. Our HQ and infrastructure are powered by a core team of 12, but we have various invaluable collaborators orbiting the team internationally.
David: We do a lot, haha! If I had to surmise it, we’re an 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.
What are the brand values of Cloud X? Have they changed since you first started?
Ben X: Collaboration. Integrity. Legacy. No, they have not changed.
How did you come up with the concept of Cloud X?
Ben X: I’ll let David have this one; I bet he uses the word “Pareidolia!”
David: We were sitting around reflecting on what it meant to be truly immersed in culture at a grassroots level. It means thinking about EVERYTHING that creates stories and conversations. Pareidolia” is the phenomenon where people look at the same clouds and see different shapes. I like the fact that for some people, Cloud X is a label; for others, I a festival, a destination for memorable parties, a curated space for art or a workplace.
Cloud represents fluidity, multiplicity, and evolution. The X means the unknown and place that we’re always comfortable venturing into. Maybe that doesn’t answer your question, but I think my point is that we didn’t come up with the idea of a “creative home”. It invented itself.
Over the years, Cloud X has had deep roots in music. From events to music management and media production. How large will the umbrella of Cloud X be in five years?
David: I believe that at the heart of everything we do is storytelling in a contemporary age. Stories shape how we see each other, how we think of ourselves, how we make decisions. That means there is no limit, so we’re driven by innovation and expanding to speak to as many people as possible.
Ben X: The pandemic showed us that the world has other plans regardless of what we’d like to do! But our goal is to be the British equivalent of Roc Nation or Motown. We are very serious about operating on a global scale. Watch this space.
Your lineup consists of London’s hottest talent across music, arts and culture. What was the decision-making process when deciding which artists to headline your festival this year?
Ben X: We wanted to reinvent what a contemporary festival looks like in the UK. Firstly, there were no headliners, we billed everyone alphabetically to ensure a true showcase, and we opted to book cult & emerging artists that we admire. We also ensured we have a 50/50 gender split lineup – something that is basic common sense, in my opinion!
David: Fundamentally, our team wanted to diversify lineups, which has seriously been lacking in the UK. A&R’s and label executives lazily say it sounds “Americanised”, so it’s under-platformed despite the incredible British talent around. At the core, R&B is about voices and writing that makes people FEEL and MOVE. The artists we chose all demonstrated this in abundance, and we witnessed the visceral rise of stars with the show-stopping charisma of Sainte, the soul-wrenching vocals of JGrrey, to the rockstar energy of Santino Le Saint.
As a collective, what makes you stand out from your peers in the events and music industry?
David: Our peers all have their own unique and carefully curated spaces and setups that we respect, collaborate with and turn up to. I’m focused on us being the best version of what we, as Cloud X, are.
It is refreshing to see a company that represents diversity in its front-facing talent and its back end. It was great to see that your team is made up of women in the creative industry. What further changes do you believe need to be made in the industry to promote inclusivity in the back end?
Ben X: A big part is starting schemes and creating spaces that allow people who have typically been excluded (directly or indirectly) due to race, sexuality, gender, class, etc. – to access the information and formal training opportunities. For example, an amazing organisation reached out to Cloud X, called Native Management, which has started a scheme to get black women into Live Music, primarily on the production side. One of whom did amazingly as a sound engineer for us!
In a post lockdown world, do you think live events and festivals will be more popular than ever? Do you feel a cultural shift in the way that people want to celebrate and enjoy music?
David: Having seen the visceral joy in people’s faces and interactions at Cloud X Festival, I realised how much people had missed human connection and the reality of music. Lockdown meant we spent a lot of time “Digesting content”. I think that festivals and live events mean that people are ready to dance and be free more than ever.
Now that we are slowly returning to live events and festival season has officially begun. What are you excited about the most?
Ben X: We’re planning a winter edition of the Cloud X Festival that is due to be a big vibe. I’m also attending two newer festivals – YAM Carnival and Alt London, which have chosen to platform two fascinating pockets of music. I look forward to seeing how they bring those together!
David: I’m excited to see the emerging parties that have been springing up from London’s subcultures. There are some amazing independent teams and cultural curators that have stepped up and provided invaluable memorable moments. These include DamnShaq’s house, Plus1Radio, BoneSoda, Bossy LDN etc. We also have a few headline shows with Santino Le Saint, Kwaku Asante and Lancey Foux.
As your company grows, how do you continue being progressive, inclusive and a space that is driven by creativity?
David: An organisation is fundamentally built up of people. The work done by our team member Aisha Kemp is an excellent example of this. Aisha led the curation of our Brixton Residency “Down South” and put together a lineup that featured Bossy LDN, Henrie, Remi Burgs. Similarly, our VP of Operations, Tao Miller, is part of an all-women photography collective that has shot many of our events and artists.
What tips would you give to someone trying to create their own space in the industry?
Ben X: Be unapologetically yourself and remember to dance!
David: 1) Find a space in the industry that makes you feel excited when you wake up 2) Don’t hold onto anything or anyone that doesn’t make you feel good. This is supposed to be fun, so enjoy it! 3) Think long term, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes!