- Words Niall Smith
- Photography Vicky Grout
- Fashion Clementine Beriro
- MUA Sam Lascelle @ Evolved Artists using Weleda & Glisten Cosmetics
- MUA for Clara Rose Charlie Fitzjohn
- Hair Darren Scott @ Evolved Artists using Living Proof & GHD
- Production Studio Notion & Isabella Sancinelli
- Photo Assistant Rosie Alice Wilson
- Location Cloud X HQ
- Food Nando's
Ahead of this year’s Cloud X Festival next weekend, we caught up with the initiative's founders and artist community for the cover of Notion 93.
Cloud X is the music industry’s answer to Silicon Valley: it adapts to its environment technologically and creatively speaking. Cloud X is not a shiny-suit conglomerate à la Bad Boy Records with chromatic, cheese-grater visuals and overblown budgets, nor is it a hype-centric festival driven by Instagram analytics. The Cloud X founders — David Dabieh and Ben Cross — have different goals. They’re here to terraform the music industry and remould it into a dynamic metropolis bound solely by creativity and fun.
“As kids, when we started Cloud X, we just wanted to have fun,” says Ben. “David and I grew up in south east London. We’re quite lucky because we can immerse ourselves in the layered culture around us. From grime and garage CDs to R&B and neo-soul, we loved it all and wanted to package it uniquely.”
Taking cues from 2012’s cult classic Project X, David and Ben set out to make Brixton their playground. Hosting illicit raves emulating the makeshift feel of the 1990s gangster rap movement or the early noughties pirate radio scene, David and Ben realised they had the musical Midas touch.
Since 2016, Cloud X has gone from strength to strength, splitting the brand into three distinct factions. Cloud X Records houses talent such as Santino Le Saint, Kwaku Asante and Clara Rosa. On the other hand, Cloud X Sound is an event-driven wanderlust that hosts music events, gigs and everything in between. Cloud X Festival, though, is David and Ben operating at the peak of their powers. Fusing their industry connections with talent scouting and event coordination under one neat bow, their festival is easily London’s best-kept secret.
With a sprawling line-up featuring Jaz Karis, Samm Henshaw, BERWYN and Juls, to name a few, Cloud X Festival is the next chapter of a new beginning for Cloud X. Following the reveal of their line-up, we met with David and Ben to discuss diversity in music, innovation and what Cloud X means to them.
- Bag DEPOP
- Bomber Jacket PINKO
- Jumper LACOSTE
Before we dive into the Cloud X universe, I wanna know, what are you guys listening to?
Ben: This morning, when I drove to work, I was listening to Calio by Ryan Beatty. The album is a real journey. I also listen to a lot of old music too. I’ve really been stuck on that Alessi Brothers tune, “Seabird”.
David: I’m in Bristol right now for the weekend. On the way here, I listened to Yann Tiersen, one of my favourite composers. He’s got this incredible album called ALL, which I listen to on repeat. I recommend it. Last night though, I was listening to Lancey Foux’s FIRST DEGREE again. It’s probably one of my favourite rap albums ever.
Where does your love for music start?
D: It goes back to being in church. Singing. Being in choirs. I experienced that sense of community from an early age. We saw the power of sounds in real-time in the parties and illegal raves we did from young. Bringing people together in the same room, dancing, connecting, and telling stories was a big deal. It’s like nightclub culture and raves became another kind of church for us. When we turned 16, we bought together a big crowd in the centre of Brixton and we haven’t looked back since.
B: As a kid, I had a babysitter called Serena. She was an up-and-coming DJ at the time. She played a lot of vinyl and taught me the foundational bedrock of music and my understanding of it. She played a big part in shaping my taste. I was also trained classically on the piano from a young age. In terms of working in music, though, that all came together when we organised the rave David was talking about.
What’s the Cloud X mission statement?
B: When we started Cloud X, we didn’t look up to anybody in the industry or think: ‘Let’s get rich off of music’. We put creativity, art and artistic growth first and foremost. If we make a penny or two off music, that’s cool, but I feel that should never be the sole intention and it’s the furthest thing from the Cloud X mission statement. We’re all about creation.
D: Ben and I are artists. We want to have fun with our art. Whether we talk about our record label space, the Cloud X Festival or the shows we’ve put together, I view them as small curations and art pieces that exist in their own realm. I’m a producer, and I’ve written with most of the creatives I’ve worked with. Ben’s in a band. We’re not musicians in the sense that we put out records, but we’re artists in the sense that we love creating one of one artefacts. Cloud X is an extension of this ideology with a community focus, and it’s what we’re all about.
Was it difficult transitioning from raves and underground parties to a media company? What was the turning point for you guys?
B: For me, not really. I don’t think the pivot was that hard. With our raves way back when, we had to curate the sound, music and atmosphere from scratch. Now that we’ve moved into a producer-like space, dabbled in creative direction and formed a label, the process might have evolved, but the foundations are similar.
If you could go to Woodstock ’99 with DMX, James Brown and Jamiroquai, or Coachella 2017 with Old Frank Ocean, A Tribe Called Quest and Solange — which festival are you guys picking?
D: We can answer at the same time because I know Ben and I are picking the same one [laughs].
B: It’s Woodstock, of course. The whole world was at that festival. If we were organising, it’s definitely Coachella 2017 because Woodstock looked like a real headache. But if we were attending — Woodstock ’99 all day.
If you could be a fly-on-the-wall at any of the following record labels, which one are you picking:
Top Dawg Entertainment
D: I love all the labels listed, but I’m going with Roc-A-Fella. I’d love to see how that label operates with Dame Dash at the centre of operations. It must’ve been wild — I could learn a thing or two. More importantly, Roc-A-Fella represents a true rags-to-riches story encompassing a grind and vision you rarely see.
B: I’d probably say TDE. They’ve moved in a way that’s holistically their own, and they’ve made superstars out of pure ambition. Top Dawg has created a modern-day Motown for hip-hop and R&B.
What separates Cloud X from other platforms?
D: When you mention those massive records above — Epic, Roc-A-Fella, OVO — they all represent homes of some kind. I feel like before Cloud X, the UK didn’t have creative homes like that attached to music with a mythology or face you could buy into. What separates us from other platforms is how we provide infrastructure across different vertical fronts. Since 2016, we’ve worked with Lancey Foux, Bree Runway, Sam Wise and Knucks way before they were household names.
What does diversity mean to you?
B: At Cloud X, we don’t actively seek tokenistic diversity. That’s disingenuous and corporate. It all falls apart when you actively look at a roster and say you want a person from X background with Y attributes. I guess when you’re looking at music in a sprawling manner, the diversity occurs naturally. It’s imperative to us, though: I’m queer and Jewish, and Dave is African, so we naturally have diversity coded to our vision.
Tell me about the creative process of putting this year’s Cloud X Festival together.
B: It’s been super rewarding. Dave and I are super proud of how everything is shaping up. I feel the line-up has so much musical diversity across the board. We bought back some Cloud X alumni from previous years, like Jaz Karis and Etta Bond, but we’ve also taken a lot more risks creatively this time around.
D: It’s the biggest thing we’ve done regarding size and artistic range so far. We have the incredible Palestinian-French-Algerian-Serbian musician Saint Levant, our first international booking at the festival. In our eyes, it’s not just about big American names with lots of star power: Saint Levant is a world citizen. He embodies the nature of the Cloud X Festival.
What’s next for Cloud X?
D: Taking Cloud X to the world stage. We have our eyes on Ghana, Japan and France. Specifically with Ghana, we’re looking to build a foundation and start distributing records in Ghana. It’s my home, and I think planting a seed in Ghana will bring things full circle.
- Dress PINKO
I AM: Tash LC.
I PLAY MUSIC THAT SOUNDS LIKE: global riddims from across the world.
I’M INSPIRED BY: drums, sound system culture, the foundations of club music, rethinking the ideas of what Black music is.
LISTEN TO: DJ Katapila.
WATCH: Dancehall Queen.
THIS SUMMER, I WILL: embrace every moment.
YOU SHOULD: embrace every moment.
- Jumper FIORUCCI
I AM: Santino Le Saint.
I MAKE MUSIC THAT SOUNDS LIKE: The Weeknd / Brent Faiyaz / PARTYNEXTDOOR had a baby with Slash & Jeff Buckley. ‘Toxic’ R&B meets electric guitar.
I’M INSPIRED BY: my dad.
THIS SUMMER, I WILL: continue documenting the Cloud X Basketball team’s journey, following us over summer and onto next season (creating a series called Off Season).
YOU SHOULD: care more and care less.
I AM: resident energy inducer and vibe selector.
I PLAY MUSIC THAT SOUNDS LIKE: summer (anywhere but the UK), adventure, energy, life & heat.
I’M INSPIRED BY: London — the city I’ve grown up in — and the many cultures it’s home to.
THIS SUMMER, I WILL: have gun fingers out at every opportunity.
WATCH: how we turn up Beckenham Place Park in August.
CLOUD X IS: one of the most supportive networks in music. That’s family.
I’M MANIFESTING: my debut Boiler Room, a world tour and a wife.
- T-Shirt DAILY PAPER
AM: Kwaku Asante.
I MAKE MUSIC THAT SOUNDS LIKE: soulful R&B / pop.
THIS SUMMER, I WILL: be outside!
YOU SHOULD: read All About Love by Bell Hooks.
LISTEN TO: D’angelo, Lauryn Hill, Radiohead & Drake.
WATCH: The Truman Show.
I’M MANIFESTING: more 0s in my bank account.
LOOK OUT FOR: Blue Solstice Vol.2.
- Knit DEPOP
I AM: a tapestry woven with threads from diverse cultures, embracing my individuality, and authentically representing the rich mosaic of my roots.
THE MUSIC I PLAY SOUNDS LIKE: a blend of global rhythms wrapped in a nostalgic embrace.
I’M INSPIRED BY: the vibrant scenes of London’s streets where my Filipino roots intertwine with other diverse cultures, shaping an eclectic and enriching upbringing that fuels my creative spirit.
YOU SHOULD: stay relentlessly yourself and take that leap towards your ambitions.
WATCH: In the Mood for Love, directed by Wong Kar-Wai. I love the soundtracks and the overall cinematography.
CLOUD X IS: a collective that serves as a catalyst for creative transformation, uniting people together through the love of art and music.
I AM: a presenter on Capital FM, DJ and human from south London.
I’M INSPIRED BY: seeing others do great and win. That motivates me to also try and do the same.
LISTEN TO: Jayda G, legends like EZ, and new DJs like Uncle Waffles and Sky Jetta.
WATCH: your water intake?
CLOUD X IS: doing the most incredible things with artists and now a festival.
I’M MANIFESTING: health, longevity in this crazy industry and happiness.
LOOK OUT FOR: my resting b*tch face while playing. I promise I’m having fun!
- Jumper DEPOP
I AM: Scuti, or Skoowup baby.
THIS SUMMER, I WILL: run it up!
YOU SHOULD: always love on and believe in yourself.
LISTEN TO: “Real Back In Style” by Potter Payper.
CLOUD X IS: the greatest to ever do it, you can go check if you don’t believe me.
I’M MANIFESTING: internal peace for me and my loved ones.
- Kwayu Asante wears: Knit MIYUKI ZOKU
- David Dabieh wears: Full Set DAILY PAPER
- Scuti wears: Full Set DAILY PAPER