Head In The Clouds: 88rising Continues Pushing Artistic Boundaries

AtarashiiGakko 21May2023 Photoby@jamesbaxter 4
ATARASHII GAKKO! performs at Day 2 of Head In The Clouds New York (Photo by James Baxter)

Hundreds of ponchos bobbed through Forest Hills Stadium on May 20. Fans did their best to take cover as rain poured through New York City, their clear-coated coverings allowing them to stay in the crowd without being completely soaked through during 88rising’s inaugural Head in the Clouds New York festival.

The music and media company’s team wasn’t concerned about the weather. Instead, they were running to pull this event off just days before announcing the lineup for their flagship Los Angeles festival, which takes place Aug. 5- 6 with Jackson Wang, NIKI, Rich Brian, Rina Sawayama, XG, ATARASHII GAKKO!, ISOxo, Knock2 and more. Head In The Clouds Los Angeles will once again feature 626 Night Market as food curator, which is inspired by the open-air bazaars of Asia.

When speaking with Pollstar in August 2020, 88rising’s founder Sean Miyashiro said he hoped they could become the largest and most influential Asian music company in history. Since being founded in New York City in 2015 by Miyashiro and Jaeson Ma, its record label and artist management side have represented artists including NIKI, Warren Hue, Jackson Wang and more.

The inaugural Head in the Clouds festival took place at Los Angeles State Historic Park in 2018, with 88rising moving their headquarters to the city in 2020.

In 2022, Head In The Clouds expanded its reach across the globe with the debut of festivals in Manila, Philippines, and Jakarta, Indonesia, in December. Despite all of their accomplishments in just eight years, the 88rising team still feels there’s a lot more they can do.

“I don’t think it’s a goal that can ever be fully realized,” 88rising’s Chief of Staff, Ollie Zhang, tells Pollstar. “There’s always more we can continue to strive for. There’s always more work to be done. I think we exist in a landscape with a ton of amazing artists, companies that represent them. We’re just happy to be a player within this ecosystem.”

Head in the Clouds Los Angeles will return to Brookside by the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, where it’s taken place since 2021, in partnership with Goldenvoice. The festival is also headed back to Jakarta in 2023, the dates and lineup still yet to be announced.

Eventually, the company hopes to bring the festival to more cities, promising details will come “sooner than later.”

A major part of 88rising’s undeniable success is its refusal to stick to one genre. Instead, it highlights the cultural aspect of the community, bringing all backgrounds both onstage and behind the scenes.

“The intention of the festival has always been to showcase the breadth of Asian music and artists around the world,” Zhang says. “Whether that’s dance music or singer-songwriters, R&B or hip-hop, pop and K-pop. It was really about not only building the community in the front-facing fan experience, but behind the stage. Where artists from around the world are able to gather together in such a unique setting they aren’t able to find in any other festival around the world.

“The behind-the-scenes backstage experience is just as crucial to us in fostering that artistic community between all these different artists. Head in the Clouds has always been a platform for us to spotlight and launch artists as well as give a platform to showcase all their talents.”

88rising’s livestreams have also managed to build community. Zhang says he’s seen how their artists have grown on social media platforms like TikTok and connected with their fanbase across the globe. It makes him excited for the company’s future, showing there is massive demand for them to continue to grow.

The most important factor of 88rising’s ethos is to present ample opportunities to those of Asian descent in the music industry, paving the way for more representation. Discourse over the past few decades has highlighted the small percentage of Asian and Asian American artists across the entertainment industry, both as artists and behind-the-scenes. The company works to open those doors for the younger generation aspiring to one day join the live music industry themselves.

“There’s more opportunities and more platforms for those voices to be heard,” Zhang says. “There’s definitely been a push to broaden the types of stories that we’re able to tell. What’s important to 88 is this is something we do every day. Every month of the year, every week. This new support and opportunity is amazing, but it’s about doing it on a consistent basis.

“We hope to continue to expand that and provide even more opportunities to tell stories from across Asia and Asian America,” Zhang says. “We want to be part of the greater push for that.”

Zhang got his own start while still an undergrad at University of California San Diego. He joined the student activities committee there, where many of his classmates were also Asian American. That made a difference, inspiring him to continue on with his path and join 88rising since they launched in 2015.

“A lot of it is to do with the types of artists you’re booking, but also thinking about the staff you’re hiring,” Zhang says. “There’s a lot to consider in terms of who’s part of the conversation on both sides of the equation. I got my start in the industry in college booking concerts as part of a student committee. Within that I was really lucky to have met so many other young people that are aspiring young professionals that were also Asian American.”

By providing those opportunities, 88rising hopes to see more representation not just within their own organization, but in the fans choosing to attend their events.

“If we’re able to create more opportunities for those aspiring Asian American professionals in the music industry, that’s going to help further the type of artists we show on stage, the type of music we get to share with the world, types of stories that audiences get to hear. That will reflect in who attends the shows, as well,” Zhang says.

With the New York festival behind them, Zhang shares some of the acts that stood out to him the most and have him excited about both 88rising and Asian and Asian American representation’s future in the music industry.

He shouted out ATARASHII GAKKO!’s set as one of the most thrilling of the weekend as the Japanese four-piece band’s electric performance incorporated elaborate choreography. Zhang, a fan of dance music, also says he found Knock2 and ISOxo’s sets unforgettable, claiming that over his 10 years in that genre’s world, he had yet to experience a crowd with that high of energy.

“I think this is really going to shape the future of that genre,” Zhang say. “I’m really excited for what’s to come from them.”

On the second day of New York’s inaugural Head in the Clouds festival, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. That day, many of Zhang’s favorites took the stage, and he described the vibe as immaculate. The sun shone, nearly all the rain dried up as though it had never been pouring down.