Cloud X returned for 2023, now at Beckenham Park, with a stellar gender-split lineup which had fans excited. The festival is the product of the Cloud X record label, giving viewers a great line-up of R’n’B, soul, alt-rap, and other genres. Not only was the weather great (ironically, there was more sun than cloud), but so was the music on offer.
The day began with great blue skies on yonder high, and delicious fried chicken in Croydon. An independent label in London focusing on independent artists, Cloud X celebrates individuality and feels less corporate than other festivals. Also, for those interested, we went for Korean Fried Chicken and Buffalo Sauce Chicken, respectfully. People trickled in at first, but it became busy around the three o’clock mark.
We started the day with the extremely interesting common goldfish. They are not a band, but one guy who is taking fusion to a new level. Standing at the NOTION stage surrounded by pot plants, he stood with his bandmates. common goldfish normally performs alone, but for this festival, he teamed up with three others to bring his music to life. They were rehearsing for four weeks beforehand, and it came together on the day.
The Tottenham-based singer played his hits including ‘Neon in the Dark‘. This combines 60s psychedelic and house, making for a proper 1 a.m. dance beat. The music combines the best of old and new and reinvents it without weighing it down. The audience was easily on his side with peppy drum beats and slick guitar playing (seriously listen to the drums on ‘On the Sidelines‘), especially Peter, who leaned over to Tom during a guitar solo and whispered ‘I love this’.
The first act on the main stage we saw was Etta Bond. After joking about a potential wardrobe malfunction and highlighting how she prepared for it, she gave fans a brilliant vocal display. Bond has come a long way from guest features with Wretch 32 and Plan B in the early 2010s, with her mix of soul and R’n’B inviting you to sway along. ‘On A Beach‘ is as chilled and pleasant on the ears live as it is out of your headphones, and the Champion remix switch-up was greatly appreciated. New material like ‘A1‘ is a vibe, with her music as powerful as it is tuneful. After throwing underwear to the crowd and closing things up, she left the stage proving to be as entertaining as she is a great singer.
Kwaku Asante is a smooth and sultry R’n’B artist who took to the stage mid-afternoon. Impeccably dressed in a burgundy and navy dual-colour suit, his voice elegant and lilting over driving beats. Playing his hits such as ‘The Way That You Move‘; a modern R’n’B banger that has already reached over 8 million streams on Spotify. Alongside this, he played his throwback soul track ‘Strawberry Skies‘, to an elated audience. Strutting around the stage, it turns out this was a family affair. ‘She’s a VVIP’ he shouted to cheers as he invited his mom to the front of the stage. He is part of the Cloud X label, where he can make this nostalgic and sensual R’n’B. He overran slightly, but every minute was a gift to the audience.
Over on the main stage, there was the immense performance that was Santino Le Saint. A man dressed in a white tank top alongside slacks came on stage and started playing some of his hits. One of the festival organisers announced that he ‘had no setlist’ but he still put on an effortless show. Taking the main stage by storm and playing to a packed audience, he was a natural showman. Le Saint played ‘Bullet With My Name On It’ with a bright blue Stratocaster, and some really rhythmic guitar solos peppered through. A brilliant combination of pop and rap, reminiscent of recent The Weeknd material, he slows things down with his R’n’B-infused ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’. He is an expert guitarist as well, occasionally picking it up and giving a blaring solo partway through.
Jaz Karis returned us to the NOTION stage, proving why she is one of the dominant forces in R’n’B right now. She had the crowd singing along to her mesmerising vocals, showing the love she had garnered in the scene. Whether on the hugely popular ‘Petty Lover‘ or the smooth ‘THERAPY‘, she knew what the crowd wanted. It was an example of just how talented U.K. R’n’B stars are, and she is bound to be on the main stage next time around.
Into the early evening arrived the British Soul sensation Samm Henshaw. One of the most exciting voices in that scene, he played to a rapturous audience, played songs off his 2022 album ‘Untidy Soul‘. His sweet track ‘Take Time’, was a particular highlight, as he stood on stage, illuminated by the golden hour. In a simple black shirt and shorts, his performance was top-tier. He jumped around the stage, hyped up his bandmates, and was having fun. Furthermore, his band was excellent, taking us through the hits as the sky darkened.
Peter departed, but there was still some great music to come. BERWYN has proven to be one of the most interesting rappers to come through in recent times. Alongside a Mercury Prize nomination, he has gained a dedicated fanbase that was in full display under the tent. They sang word for word as the multifaceted talent gave an emotional performance. Not only was his singing and rapping top of the range, but his ability to perform while smoking is of particular note. He closed with ‘MIA‘ and ‘GLORY‘, which was received well by myself and the crowd. The former took an emotional toll on him, highlighting the power of his music. Apparently, he’s back in the studio soon, so we look forward to more music. But, we also hope BERWYN himself is in a good place.
Our time at the festival came to an end with Pip Millett, which saw me run to the stage after hearing ‘Ride With Me‘. Throughout this set was a shoutout to one of her guitarists, who was playing his last show. Further to this, it indicated just how important everyone on that stage is to the performance and the mental health of everyone around them. Whether from her debut album or earlier EPs, Millett’s music has soul in its sound and lyrics. She is clearly having a lot of fun, as was everyone else in that area. This marked a good close to proceedings.
After an ice cream, it was time to head home and reflect on the day. Festival season is sadly coming to an end once again, but Cloud X was certainly a good curtain call. Moreover, it showed an abundance of talent across a range of genres, showing how fortunate we are to have music in our lives. These performers were not only blessed with talent but personality as well. In conclusion, this festival allowed them to be their true selves. It was a glorious day and a reminder of the importance of these smaller events to showcase the stars of tomorrow.