Music

88Rising’s Head In The Clouds Festival Is A Diverse Celebration Of Asian Representation In Music

New music festivals pop up all the time, especially in California. One of the most promising to emerge over the past few years, though, is Head In The Clouds. 88Rising, the beloved record label and management company that is home to Asian and Asian-American artists, has hosted the event since 2018. After taking 2020 off for obvious reasons, the fest is returning this year, on November 6 and 7. While the event previously went down at Los Angeles State Historic Park, it now has a new home at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

With the new venue comes a hell of a lineup; Joji, Rich Brian, Niki, Saweetie, CL, Beabadoobee, Guapdad 4000, Japanese Breakfast, The Linda Lindas, and others highlight the bill. That’s quite the group of high achievers who have dominated the music landscape in their own ways recently: Saweetie is currently promoting her own McDonald’s meal, Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner is both a music favorite and a best-selling author, and Beabadoobee is one of the biggest rising heroes of indie rock (and the latest Uproxx cover star).

Aside from the level of success on the bill, the stylistic diversity of its artists is noteworthy. Ollie Zhang, 88Rising’s Chief Of Staff, tells Uproxx that this was very much intentional.

“I think that’s always been 88Rising’s mission from since the start, ever since we were just shooting videos and putting them up on YouTube,” he said. “The goal was always to highlight all different types of music. Asian music is so broad and diverse. Everyone’s coming from a different place and we want to be able to represent that on the stage as well. To have such a broad range of artists all sharing the same stage or same festival, I think, is totally an unprecedented thing anywhere in the world, not just in America.”

Even beyond Head In The Clouds, Zhang says that while “there’s still so much road to cover” when it comes to Asian representation in the music landscape, he’s pleased with where things stand now: “I think that what this festival is now probably wouldn’t have existed and couldn’t have existed six years ago when we started the company.”

He continued, “You’ll be able to find an amazing artist who is Asian-American or from Asia that can speak to you and resonate with you, no matter what type of music that you’re into. I think that’s always been the case no matter what point of time you’ve been in, but I think that we’ve definitely been a part of the changing landscape and pushing those artists forward. I’m excited to see where everything goes in the next couple of years.”

Speaking of the near future and the potential thereof, Toronto multi-instrumentalist Luna Li is one of the up-and-comers on this year’s lineup Zhang is looking forward to seeing more. “When we first come across her, it was just her doing bedroom jams with harps and violin and all these different types of instruments,” he said. “I feel like she’s just a really cutting-edge artist that I’m excited to kind of watch her growth over the next couple of years.”

He also shouted out The Linda Lindas: “I think they’re just full of raucous energy and they obviously had a bit of a viral moment earlier in the year. Excited just to see the energy that they bring to the stage.”

While Head In The Clouds had to leave the stage in 2020, 88Rising thrived in the livestream space. Virtual events like the “Asia Rising Forever” festival (a benefit for Asian Americans Advancing Justice — AAJC) and Joji’s “The Extravaganza” were “some of the best experiences that 88Rising ever produced,” Zhang said. While noting that in-person events and livestreams are “still pretty distinct mediums,” Zhang believes there are elements from the latter that can translate to the former, suggesting that the online stream of this year’s Head In The Clouds can be more than “just simply broadcasting the camera feed.”

While in-person concerts are coming back, though, it sounds like Zhang still sees the value in livestreams: “I think what we’ve learned is that the livestream concert has a ton of value and can be a really great way to present an artist that can be really different from what an in-person show is.”

Whether or not livestreams are a thing of the past for 88Rising, Head In The Clouds has become a big part of its future. The esteem the label has built for itself over the past few years has allowed this year’s lineup to be a truly exceptional showcase of both the best of 88Rising and of Asian music more broadly.

“I think that the lineup this year is really great and representative of the platform that 88Rising has become,” Zhang proclaimed. “I think it’s our best lineup yet and I’m excited to see it all take place.”

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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