On November 6-7, 88rising held its third Head In The Clouds festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Postponed in 2020 as a response to the widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, this marked the first time many of the artists on the lineup and fans alike made it out to a festival of this size to pull together a shared experience filled with joy, excitement, and, for most, an emotional return to a distant version of reality than the one we have been living in the last two years.
It’s surreal to think that the last time I was anywhere near a stadium was back in 2019 for KCON LA, where the likes of ITZY, Stray Kids, and Seventeen gathered at the Staples Center to perform in front of thousands of fans. If memory serves me correctly, Yas and I were bouncing frantically from one idol interaction to another doing what we could to capture every nuance inside the Los Angeles Convention Center. That same weekend was 88rising’s Head In The Clouds festival, then in its second iteration at the Los Angeles State Historic Park. Looking back, I didn’t appreciate the level of chaos that came with covering these events. The drive itself from KCON to Head In The Clouds on the same day, while exhausting for everyone, was a pilgrimage that I would endure over if it meant sharing those moments with my crew again.
Head In The Clouds 2021 served to be as much of a reminder of that time as an indicator of what’s to come in live music, as new parameters were set in place for the safety and wellbeing of everyone. Upon arrival, we had to show proof of vaccination, a new standard along the security checkpoints, which was a relief given the size of the event. What really struck me was seeing almost everyone wear a face mask. Not just at entry, but most spectators wore them throughout the entire festival. Perhaps at this point it was out of habit. Still, it signaled a level of awareness of the bleak couple of years we have lived through and the little role we have all played in changing that for the better.
Once inside, and just like clockwork, Yas scurried off to the photo pit while I scoped out the VIP grounds for food and booze. 88rising’s specialty cocktails were, of course, astronomically priced. Their vodka and Red Bull, for example, was $17. A few dollars more and you could have a bit of razzle dazzle in a special Johnnie Walker mix. I later settled for a $12 gulp of rosé.
The first act to hit the main stage was the effervescent Japanese group, Atarashii Gakko!, whose members were in a full frenzy performing “Saishuu Jinrui” when we arrived. A lot was happening on stage, yet it all made sense. Members Mizyu, Rin, and Kanon, all dressed in schoolgirl uniforms, stood an arm’s length behind clear frontwoman Suzuka their entire set, carrying her on their shoulders at one point, and later supporting her fight against a monster on stage.
Atarashii Gakko!’s energy rippled throughout the early festival crowd with fury. When they collected themselves to perform their rendition of Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” (wearing the helmets and vests, because of course), everyone was fully on board their space odyssey through punchy raps and hard-hitting hooks.
Each performance was paired with sharp choreography and eye-catching visuals. The audience grew significantly by the end of their set, a shame to say because I believe more people should have been there to experience the group’s theatrical debut from beginning to end. This was Atarashii Gakko!’s first US performance, days before the release of their new EP, ‘Snacktime!,’ that dropped November 12.
I managed to grab tacos and horchata from one of the vendors moments before Lil Cherry and Goldbuuda erupted on stage to their viral hit, “MUKKBANG!”, a song I would hear three times at Head In The Clouds 2021. Once when the brother and sister duo hit the stage, a second time in full later in their set, and one more time during the festival’s second finale, for no apparent reason other than to brainwash me into liking the song. Whether or not they succeeded is my business.
To their credit, Lil Cherry and Goldbuuda brought heaps of energy to the stage, even if it felt like raw, uncontrolled adrenaline most of the time. When Lil Cherry cut into “G!”, the Miami native could barely keep up with her own song. But that meant very little given the seismic response from the crowd, who matched their energy at every turn. The duo’s set was the hardest to decipher. Lil Cherry and Goldbuuda’s style of rap was slurred and muddy, intersected with bursts of “AYE!” as they rushed up and down the main stage runway. It was a frenetic set that was at times too turbulent to understand.
Maybe that was their whole schtick. To give festival goers a kaleidoscope of noise so out-there and a visual so hard to forget (Lil Cherry’s ensemble was an art piece all on its own) that you would remember them long after the night was over; the words “eat, eat, eat” still echo inside my brain from time to time, and it’s been over a week since the festival ended.
Stick around for Part 2 of Day 1 of 88rising’s Head In The Clouds festival, featuring DPR Live, DPR IAN, CL, Saweetie, and more.