On the edge of Chinatown, about three hours into the lineup, hundreds of sweaty concert-goers continued to pour into the Los Angeles State Historic Park to catch 88rising’s second annual Head In The Clouds Music & Arts Festival. At first glance, Head In The Clouds seems like any other music festival: a periphery of food vendors, swanky VIP lounges, and Instagram-ready backdrops. But a closer look gives insight into what this production is actually here to accomplish.
Before Head In The Clouds, 88rising — the multimedia entertainment company home to artists like Joji, Rich Brian, and Niki — had tapped into all aspects of entertainment via aggressive social media strategies. From pumping out short digestible videos across its socials highlighting the various facets of Asian culture to generating polished original content for its artists that rival that of major labels; since the beginning, 88rising has gone in full-force to establish the bedrock for Asian creatives to flourish and be seen.
Now with Head In The Clouds, their effort moves to fuse all its creative branches into a highly immersive experience that spotlights Asian food, art, and music that fans can soak in with all their senses. It is the first Asian-centric music festival in the United States and it marks a huge milestone for Asian visibility in entertainment. And that’s just what this thing sounds like on paper. In person, it’s even more impressive.
In sheer volume alone, 88rising is bringing out a significant wave of fans to a music festival that is barely in its infancy. The number of attendees to Head In The Clouds leaped from 9,000 to over 20,000 in only a year, which is the type of growth that can’t go unnoticed. In 2018, Coachella, for example, drew 99,000 attendees a day to its grounds, and that’s a festival with nearly two decades of existence. At the rate that Head In The Clouds is growing, it is bound to expand to a full weekend event in the near future to accommodate its immense audience.
This year’s lineup was stacked with a wide range of artists. Pop mega-group iKON flew out from South Korea just to perform for the night. It was their first State-side appearance together since member BI withdrew from the group back in June of this year for attempting to buy drugs in 2016 (you can read more about this mess here). As expected, iKON made no mention of BI during their set and cut out chunks of his verses from their music altogether. They appeared noticeably cautious during their first couple songs, presumably to feel out the crowd’s response. And respond they did.
iKON’s fans covered the concert grounds with the group’s signature light sticks. The Head In The Clouds site was lit bright red for iKON’s set by a crowd that waited patiently to erupt in fan chants for every single song (passing out from heat exhaustion included). By “Dumb and Dumber,” the guys were fully loose and embracing the energy of the festival, often showering those closest to the stage with water. iKON seemed genuinely happy to be on stage, which should be a relief to fans following them through one of the most chaotic years in their career.
DPR Live, who also flew out from South Korea, spewed charisma at every turn. You don’t really get a full sense of how absurdly charismatic he is until you’re watching him live. He carried himself with suave confidence on the main stage, a stark difference from the slightly timid performer we saw back at South By Southwest 2018. Live’s staple anthem “To Myself” drew huge crowd engagement with its familial “DPR we gang gang” hook.
But if we’re talking about a completely enchanted audience, there really wasn’t anyone who took the attention like Indonesian singer/songwriter and 88rising R&B star Niki.
Performing on Indonesian Independence Day with a full female backing band behind her only energized Niki more. From the classic fuck-you jam “See U Never” to fresh music like “Lowkey” and “Indigo” (the first single off the ‘Head In The Clouds II’ compilation album), Niki conquered with a fulfilling set that never gave up its momentum.
“I do not take this day or this stage for granted,” Niki said about her role in representing her community. As the only female performer on the main 88rising stage of the night, it was absolutely thrilling to watch her do her thing and give the world a glimpse of the badassery that exists within her culture.
Rich Brian was also on a mission to represent himself; not just as an Indonesian rapper, but a formidable one worth taking seriously (but not too seriously. But, like, sorta seriously). He noted that he hadn’t performed in nine months, which explains why his set was so explosive.
Rich Brian ran through a slew of new music off his new album, The Sailor, with corresponding visuals playing on massive screens behind him. The rapper has grown a lot as a person since his last album Amen and it showed in dynamic performances to songs like “Yellow” and the cathartic Rick Ross-esque “Kids,” with which he closed out his set.
Finally, closing act Joji might not have been at his optimum level, given he was suffering from tonsilitis, but the dude didn’t show it. At one point he took to the sky and was literally carried on a crane above everyone, singing “Slow Dancing In The Dark” to an emotionally compromised festival crowd. The girl that had blue mascara running down her face would co-sign that statement.
At the heart of 88rising is a burning drive to foster Asian representation and its importance to both the Asian community in the United States and to the world at large. 88rising provides a space for Asian creatives to flex their talents through dope visuals, and they will be damned if you don’t notice.
“My hope is above everything else that you feel heard, you feel understood, but most of all that you feel represented,” expressed Niki during her set, “and if we can all be a small part of catalyzing that shift in culture then that is my greatest honor.”