Origins

In 1994, Baltimore based DJs Bobble and LoveGrove decided that the Charm City's underground was ready for something a little different. After five years of promoting and DJing during the early days of the local rave scene, both shared a desire to dig a little deeper, to go beyond the typical dancefloor experience and expand the boundaries of a typical club going experience. They started Sonic Soul Productions, which would focus their promoting efforts on the “leftfield” sounds of clubland.

Influenced by reading about Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, the avant-happenings of Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, and the early multi-media psychedelic parties hosted by Sid Barrett’s Pink Floyd, Bobble and LoveGrove decided they wanted to put their spin on the artist loft style events that had long been part of Baltimore’s scene. Having honed their skills hosting “chillout” rooms as part of the Atomic Vibe crew for 2 years, they thought the time was right for an “all chillout” event – no dancefloor, just a space to lounge-about an become part of an immersive audio/visual experience.

They longed for a place where they could stretch out as DJs, not tied to keeping the dancefloor moving, they would be free to create an artistic soundscape that welcomed experimentation and mood manipulation; layering and live remixing by utilizing sound effect and children’s story book records, spoken word samples, acapella tracks, with classic and modern electronic music. The Orb’s popularity made the idea of the chillout room a priority of top promoters, both locally, as well as around the U.S. and Europe. Record labels emerged to support the popularity of “non-dancefloor” dance music – the time was right for a “freeform gathering”.

Bobble had the perfect name for such a concept – CloudWatch. This seemed a fitting moniker for an event centered around music that could be enjoyed passively, as more of a backdrop to an experience rather than the front and center of attention. LoveGrove loved the idea of open interpretation, that the event would take on different meaning to all those who would attend. Having thought it through as a concept and finding an appropriate and interesting space to host the event, they enlisted their longtime friend DJ Wash to join them in launching CloudWatch on March 5, 1994.

The hope for the first event was to get a small gathering of about 50 like-minded friends they had made in the rave scene. They were amazed when over 150 people not only attended but embraced the concept of a non-dancefloor driven all-nighter. It was the start of a run of Sonic Soul events that would last into the late 2000s.

First Cloudwatch Flyer Front

First Cloudwatch Flyer Front

First Cloudwatch Flyer Raer

First Cloudwatch Flyer Rear

Of Sound Mind

While the initial sound of CloudWatch was focused squarely on “ambient” music, it also embraced the burgeoning atmospheric drum & bass sound, as well as dub reggae, minimal techno, organic deep house, instrumental hip-hop (or “trip hop / acid jazz”), afro-beat, “shoe-gazer” bands, “IDM” (intelligent dance music), and the darker NYC style of “illbient”. The key was for the DJ to feel free to move in and out of styles, welcome eclectic selection, and not be tied to keeping the floor moving. Attendees were encouraged to bring blankets and pillows, since being horizontal was just as welcome as being vertical at a CloudWatch.

Multi-Sensory Approach

As important as the music presented, however, was the full multi-media art aspect of the event. Working with local artists, CloudWatch became known for bizarre décor and beautiful visual projections. The first CW was held at the infamous Kopy Kat building, in the loft space of a group of Maryland Institute art students. They helped to create a truly different experience and set the tone for how CloudWatch would look and feel for years to come.

Future Forward

CloudWatch would move from the Kopy Kat and into various locations, finding a long run at the legendary Azar Court Warehouse, but also cultural venues like Center Stage, American Visionary Arts Museum, and Johns Hopkins University’s Glass Pavilion. The CW at Elkton’s Underground Pub featured the first ever live performance of Thievery Corporation, as the recurring event began to feature some of the most influential artists of the electronic underground, including such renowned acts Autechre, Mixmaster Morris, Global Communication’s Tom Middleton, Steve Roach, and DJ Spooky.

In 1995 Bobble relocated to Georgia, where he lives to this day, and continued DJing clubs and raves throughout the U.S. while merging into the Atlanta underground scene. DJ LoveGrove continued to push Cloudwatch forward by enlisting a team of Baltimore DJs to help produce Sonic Soul events – Infinity, Fluid, Graham S, and Rhombus – who were not only “resident” DJs, but essential in executing logistics and promotional duties. The artistic décor for CloudWatch was the result of the vision and talents of Double Helix, aka Seth Foster and Meredith Wallace, who were also instrumental in the look and feel of Ultraworld events. Klip Kollective found a home with Sonic Soul Productions for their pioneering VJing, creating the video art that, along with the magical décor of Double Helix, truly forged the identity of CloudWatch. The graphic art of CloudWatch took a decided turn when Airline Industries, who were known for the amazing fliers they designed for Buzz, took over the artistic design of Sonic Soul promotional materials during the late 90s.

With the success of the CW recurring events came the opportunity to add the CW experience to larger one-off events. Sonic Soul partnered with Buzz in DC to host CloudWatch areas at their Super Sting events and with Ultraworld for their large raves at the DC Armory and the Starscape Festival. These events afforded Sonic Soul the chance to feature acts like Mr Scruff, Bonobo, Amon Tobin, Nightmares on Wax, A Man Called Adam, and Tim “Love” Lee.

Sonic Soul launched Retina fanzine to support the growing underground music scene, focusing on artist features, interviews, record reviews, and event previews. A free publication that was distributed via record distributors, Sonic Soul’s Retina reached electronic music lovers around the U.S. and the U.K., with a reach of nearly 100,000 readers at peak. The zine focused on those artists that were not getting the attention of glossy DJ magazines like Urb, DJ, and Mixmag – the type of act you would find at a Sonic Soul event.

In addition, Sonic Soul launched a record label that released two CloudWatch compilation CDs. The first one mixed by DJ LoveGrove, the second a straight compilation, the CW CDs featured exclusive tracks from artists that had appeared at CloudWatch, receiving critical acclaim from magazines on both sides of the Atlantic.

As the late 90s became the early 2000s, electronic dance music was experiencing its first taste of mainstream success. Sonic Soul Retina couldn’t compete for ad dollars with the likes of Rolling Stone and Spin, as small indie dance labels began to take their limited resources to try to reach a larger demographic. Hosting all-night chillout events became problematic, as authorities had begun to target unlicensed warehouses and legit venues alike. Sonic Soul events at Johns Hopkins and The MD Science Center were cancelled after pressure came from the police, as they clearly did not understand or respect the artistic nature of our freeform gathering

The sound of the underground was changing, as well, as the acceptance of “trip hop” and “acid jazz” had created a home for DJs with lounges and bars. The leftfield sound had gained greater acceptance, thanks to the likes of Massive Attack, Portishead, Mo Wax!, and Ninja Tune. In addition, clubs with smaller dancefloors and outdoor patios were a perfect fit for the organic deep house sound and Broken Beat / Nu-Jazz.

As producers began to find success, they began touring the U.S. the same way rock bands do – booking agents were far more comfortable working with concert promoters than those working on the fringes. Sonic Soul forged a partnership with IMP to help promote these artists, acts that would have normally played a CloudWatch were now doing shows at Fletcher’s and the 9:30 Club. Sonic Soul would co-promote shows with IMP for the likes of Coldcut, DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist, Tricky, St Germain, Roots Manuva, and Saint Etienne.

Heady Comedowns

Without a regular home for CloudWatch, the concept has been dormant since 2000. DJ LoveGrove found himself playing less and less in a “chillout” setting, focusing more on the lounge sounds of downtempo and deep house. He would partner with Lonnie Fisher of Ultraworld to open Sonar in 2001, only to leave not long after Sonar relocated from the Canton neighborhood to the larger warehouse space on Saratoga Street. After leaving Sonar, with most of his Sonic Soul crew no longer calling Baltimore home, LG brought in DJ Adam Auburn for the next chapter of Sonic Soul, which was now mostly focused on promoting deep house events at lounge venues like GoodLove and Red Maple, finally moving to a residency at Mosaic, from 2004 – 2007. In 2008, LoveGrove retired from promoting and dissolved Sonic Soul, however he has continued on DJing, occasionally playing “CloudWatch” style sets at various events. In 2014, he hosted a 20th Anniversary CloudWatch, in conjunction with 88 Productions and their Forward Festival. Most recently, as part of the 2-night Fever reunion in 2016, CloudWatch was resurrected in the outdoor courtyard of The Paradox, with Bobble and LoveGrove DJing together for the first time in many years, leading to the idea of a 25th anniversary event for 2019.

Communication Continuation

For the 25th Anniversary of CloudWatch, we are proud to reunite and feature the original DJ line-up of the very first CW. In addition, we bring back décor artists Double Helix and Klip Kollective’s VJ Nico, to provide the multi-media ambiance. We hope this event will recapture the magic and positive energy that made those freeform gatherings of the 1990s so memorable, allowing veteran CloudWatchers a chance to chill down memory lane, and to expose those new to the concept, allowing them a chance to experience the beauty they otherwise might have missed. “What were the skies like when you were young?”
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