As teenagers, we all go through those phases where we think we can throw the best parties. From supplying cheap Vodka in old water bottles to plugging in our Aux to revel in Giggs’ national anthem or R&B classics – we all at some point have lived out our Project X fantasies. And while we think we can make a life out of it, none have done it quite like Ben and David from Cloud X. First stepping into the game as youngsters, the duo hosted their first event in south east London for a birthday and what was originally planned for 100 people quickly grew into 1500. “It was only meant to be a small thing,” Ben candidly recalls during our afternoon Zoom. “But next thing we knew, Katy B agreed to perform and all of a sudden…boom! My older brother who was quite the entrepreneur went from charging £3 entry to £20 and at the end of the night we were left with all this money. Suddenly all these artists, labels and publishers started to get in touch so we just carried on doing parties.”
The founders sit down with us and get candid on their rise to the top and keeping that community-feel.
But what started out as raves on the underground scene, quickly grew into a 360 entertainment company spanning management, live events and festivals. Hosting their first sold-out festival this year nestled not too far from the 02, the founders championed all thing organic and homegrown with the likes of A2, Santino Le Saint and Etta Bond taking to the stage. “We really care about having a gender-balanced line-up and being representation-able,” co-founder David chimes in. “We want to build a culture around it, and also one around us, which we really care about – from visuals on the day like the installations to the visuals beforehand like the artwork and the teasers – there’s a lot to consider.”
With Cloud X Festival 2022 on their minds and the importance of representation, we sat down with the two founders discussing their growth over the years, the pressures of keeping up with the culture and how they will always keep that community-feel.
Check out the interview below now…
I only discovered Cloud X this year – I’m late to most things..I actually went to your day festival in east and it was absolutely incredible. I found out about so many talents and artists. From that, I researched you guys and saw you were doing so much more behind-the-scenes, industry-wise – you own your own record label for instance – there’s a lot going on! So what would you say you guys do?
Ben: So we actually started in live music, so it’s cool you found out about us through that way. For me and David, when we were kids, we wanted to do a birthday party, and our parents were like “Nah, you can’t.” So we decided we were going to do it ourselves. We did it in an illegal space in Brixton – we’re both from South East London – and long story short, we were meant to do it for 100 people, and about 1500 people turned up, because my older brother’s friend’s sister said that her friend Katy B would play! And then Katy B became a well-known artist. And so all of a sudden…boom! We released it as a public event and 1500 people turned up. My brother – who is quite the entrepreneur – started charging £20 for each, so obviously 1500 people, £20 each…we left with all this money. I had just turned 16 and I was just like, ‘What do I do with thousands of pounds?’ It was an inconceivable amount of money. A lot of labels, artists and publishers started getting in touch, and we just carried on doing parties. One of the artists we put on the show was Ray BLK, and even Chance the Rapper, when he was in the UK. A lot of our friend started to become more famous as well, so we continued doing shows. By the time we went to uni, we had our own studio in Brixton and we were kind like what else can we do? That’s when we launched the record label and started getting involved with more creatives.
You literally tap into anything music and culture. Your artists are so elite. What do you look for, when you’re thinking of signing or taking onboard these talents?
Ben: We look for people who have an amazing voice and culture to them. Someone who is interesting, and I also personally get along with and want to work with, and help with their creative vision. Not to be too philosophical, but someone who can contribute to society. It’s not that important, but I have to believe in who we work with. We also believe in representation – we very much want to make sure we can tell stories which are diverse – but more so, because historically lots of different types of people have been deliberately marginalised, and their stories have been deliberately silenced. It’s important that they’re heard. People want to hear them.
I’ve never cared for big stars – it’s always been about the smaller ones. There’s something so rewarding about seeing their growth into what they could be.
Ben: All the artists at our festival are amazing in different ways. They could be superstars in their own right.
How did you organise a whole festival? Like what’s the whole process?
David: It’s a real headache. At the centre of everything, obviously it’s about the artists, and getting a line-up which makes sense, where every artist is brilliant in their own sense. But for us, we really care about having a gender-balanced line-up and being representation-able. We want to build a culture around it, and also one around us, which we really care about – from visuals on the day like the installations to the visuals beforehand like the artwork and the teasers – there’s a lot to consider.
Cloud X has a community-feel to it. How would you describe your growth?
Ben: I love that. Thank you so much!
David: It was an interesting one because we always try to keep growing. The thing which lies at the centre for us is about growing with the artists and the creatives. Our first party was six years ago, and we’ve all grown up in a similar way at a similar time, as has the infrastructure of the music. We’ve kept evolving as the cultures have become more present. A lot of the people we work with now we worked with six years ago. The growth has been super organic and in line with the community we’ve created.
Do you feel a pressure to constantly keep up with the culture?
David: We’re interested in new music, artists, innovations and people doing new things. It feels like second nature to how we make decisions. That’s how I look at it anyway.
Ben: We are the people who are changing the culture. So it’s not a pressure to keep up. Your interviews with certain artists are also changing the culture. For us, it’s about deliberating, leading it and pushing the boundaries. I don’t feel the pressure to keep up [laughs].
What needs to be the biggest change?
Ben: It’s the same sort of change which needs to happen in all industries and the Western world. People in positions of power tend to be white guys with privilege – they tend to run everything. That, in itself, doesn’t even make sense. Its about perpetuation of power and privilege, rather than democracy. Society would be more successful if it was different people from different backgrounds in charge – it would be a more democratic society. And that needs to happen in music.
David: I’ll go one step further and talk about ownership. We should focus on the positive rises of companies – my friends in Peckham have started their own, and their office is completely representative of what it means to be raised in SE London. There’s a lot of tokenistic behaviour – maybe I should be more diplomatic, but I ain’t that guy – and it’s about giving people ownership of the places they’ve helped create. We should pay more entrepreneurs and more career-people, especially to typically excluded people. Then it will all come naturally.
In the music industry, a lot of artists get heat for contracts. How do you navigate that opinion of artists being signed as a bad thing?
Ben: Firstly, what does independence mean? One should interrogate that. Independent of what? If you sign to an independent label, does that make you independent? There are artists who are signed to major labels who want to be independent – but what’s the business network behind independence? Are they big in Britain, and their label might be signed to a major label? I also think the idea of independence versus dependence is about who you’re dependent on. I work with David, and we are dependent on our extended team, which is something we talk about as a community. The truth is, I enjoy that. I’m not a sole ranger, and I’m part of a community which I really like. There are just as many major label artists who are frustrated with their teams as there are thriving, wildly successful, and happy that they’re dependent on a very large team who can help them realise their artistic visions. There’s no right solution, and people should interrogate the things which they say.
David: I agree. There’s a lot of fear around signing, labels and management. But I think that should be swayed by further research and understanding. What we always try to do is provide as much information as what it means to be on a team to new artists – whether it means directing them to lawyers or recommending them good books. It’s about providing enough information to make good decisions. In my life, independence means having the ability to move freely and making the right decisions for me – as Ben said, we run a company together, but I feel independent to make decisions. It’s about finding the right team and people to move in that fashion. There is a lot of bad information being put out there – a lot of artists call themselves independent – but when you look behind the curtain, they’ve got massive distribution details. You have to get the facts before you read the headlines. We instill that in everyone and in ourselves. There’s almost no examples of groups which haven’t been successful without patronage. People seem to think independence means making the music yourself and seeing what happens. That is one strategy – but probably not the best one. It’s about building an infrastructure around a team, finding the right resources, and creating an ecosystem which allows you to thrive.
For Cloud X, what is your biggest core belief in supporting an artist?
Ben: Before we work with anyone, we want to understand what their vision is. At the end of the day, it’s their music, their face, their name, and they’re the ones who have to get on stage and perform. We don’t want to create the vision for them – it makes sense for artists to have their own vision which we can add value to. We also find artists who are culturally progressive and push artistic boundaries – once we have those things, it’s really a case of seeing where they need value. It’s not a one-size fits all – some might need more help with creative direction, or others with creating their records. In a nut-shell, it’s about adding value which makes sense to each artist. The most important thing is to see how we can adapt to make their vision make sense.
David: Magazine? [laughs]. We need to focus on the things we’re doing well. We have global ambitions, and we want to create some of the biggest talents and shows in the UK.
Ben: It’s about honing in on all the things we do, and making them better. It’s about scaling up. The artists I work with all want to be well-known, and we want to make a well-known festival. That’s not to say they should all be sell-outs, but they should be big cultural entities.
What are you most excited for?
Ben: Santino has got his new album. Theres lots of things happening, there’s a lot of momentum behind our artists and Cloud X, and I’m excited to see how the landscape grows over the next 5 years. A massive change is happening in the music industry. Cloud X will become so game-changing in Britain that it will change the landscape of our music and our culture.
David: Yeah, what he said. I’m excited for Cloud X festival 2022. And all the artists who are going to take off, as well as the other collectives and magazines. I’m excited to see what happens in 2022.