Los Angeles isn’t exactly known as a hub for successful music festivals. Sure, there’s Coachella a solid two hours out of the city, but within the county lines (and neighboring Orange County), the reputation is a bit more scattershot. Events like FYF, Burgerama, and Beach Goth have all (rightfully) gone the way of the dodo after various levels of controversy, while fests like Made In America, Detour, and Festival Supreme couldn’t quite survive in the competitive atmosphere. Tyler The Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw is the class of the town, and its producer Goldenvoice has been further dabbling into more niche events in the area of late. These can make you feel old (the aughts indie-celebrating Just Like Heaven), make you feel really old (the ’80s nostalgia brandishing Cruel World), or, as over the past weekend, make you feel like a part of something bigger than yourself, at 88rising’s Head In The Clouds festival.
Head In The Clouds debuted as a single-day event in 2018 and 2019 at Los Angeles Historic State Park, drawing more than 20,000 fans and necessitating this more fully-realized version. The ethos is pretty simple yet crucial: a celebration of Asian music and culture, both from the Asian continent and from Asian-Americans. Speaking with the LA Times earlier this year, 88rising (and festival) founder Sean Miyashiro said, “We just want the best of Asian music, so we can invite anyone. The last two fests were scrappy but monumental for us. This one is literally the live interpretation of everything we stand for.”
The resulting festival felt like a revelation. For cultures that often note that they feel invisible within American society, which was only underscored by the Covid crisis that saw them the subject of violence and scorn, this couldn’t be more important, especially as the event highlighted the depth and breadth of their influence. This could feel hyperlocal, like the San Gabriel Valley homage that was the 626 Night Market, to ocean-spanning, like a massive set from K-pop legend CL. During her sunset performance, rap star Saweetie highlighted her own heritage (Black, Filipino, and Chinese) while also shining a spotlight on the “Asian kings and queens” in the audience. If the audience didn’t feel seen in their day-to-day lives, Head In The Clouds was sure that Asian people wouldn’t feel that way on the festival grounds.
It’s a concept that makes more sense as the music world becomes more global. Festivals highlighting music from Africa and Latin America are becoming more common, while micro-festivals around specific cultures are beginning to leave the shadows for the mainstream. Diversity in the major music festivals is also more common, where occurrences like Blackpink’s appearing at Coachella and J Balvin’s dominance of the festival circuit are paving the way for more like them in the future, with international music treated like less like a curiosity and more like a pillar of popular music.
The majority of the big acts at Head In The Clouds wouldn’t feel out of place at a Coachella of Lollapalooza, like Japanese Breakfast, whose “banger after banger” performance proved why Michelle Zauner is one more music’s most exciting personalities, and Saturday headliner Rich Brian, whose earnest bars come across even better live than they do on record. But for someone like CL, who despite a new album that saw a big Rolling Stone feature and an appearance on Lil Dickey’s Dave remains unknown to many outside of Asian circles, the festival provided an argument for why that needed to change asap. The training that went into her K-pop career as a member of 2NE1 was on display as she danced, sang, rapped, and gave her all in such a manner that should put all American pop stars on notice that they need to up their game, immediately.
Taking place just a day after the tragedy at Astroworld in Houston, there was a clear reaction from the festival, with waters being distributed at a frantic rate and security responding to calls for help with prompt and thorough assistance. But still, the events of the day before hung heavily on Head In The Clouds, and I imagine it will over festivals for a long time. But Head In The Clouds was a reminder that this kind of event can be so much more than the party atmosphere that many are reduced to. Festivals can be meaningful celebrations, and here’s to hoping that Head In The Clouds keeps growing and assuming its place as Los Angeles’ next great music festival.
Check out some more photos from the event below.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.