Music company 88rising was barely in its third year when founder Sean Miyashiro announced in 2018 that in addition to all of his other jobs – running a record label, producing videos, managing and marketing artists – it would launch also a festival.
“It’s always been part of the roadmap, and you know we’ve always been very ambitious with what we’re aiming for,” says Ollie Zhang, chief of staff at 88rising, who joined the company in 2016, a year after its creation.
“I think that’s part of the nature of how we got to where we are,” he says. “I just got high, worked really hard to get there.”
After passing out in 2020 for obvious reasons, the Head In The Clouds festival returns for its third installment on Saturday and Sunday, November 6 and 7. After two years at Los Angeles State Historic Park, he moved this year to Brookside at the Rose Bowl.
The lineup represents some of the biggest stars and most promising newcomers to Asian and Asian American music, with headliners including Joji, Saweetie, Rich Brian, NIKI and CL, as well as rising stars. such as Japanese Breakfast, Beabadoobee, Audrey Nuna and Luna. Li.
For 88rising, the success and growth of Head In The Clouds is proof that the bet made by Miyashiro and the rest of the 88ers – that the United States and the world was ready for an Asian music and entertainment boom – has bearing fruit. .
A movement rises
It is easy to forget today how much has changed in a few years. K-pop boy group BTS is one of the biggest bands on the planet. The South Korean Netflix series “Squid Game” is the TV show of the fall. Marvel’s “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was a hit at the end of the summer, and in 2020, the South Korean film “Parasite” won the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director.
“From the start, Sean, his vision was to create a true platform for Asian creativity, culture and expression of Asian youth, and to bridge this gap between East and West,” said Zhang. “He felt there was a really big space for something that covered and showcased Asian culture, so he decided to build 88 as a platform.”
Compared to his teenage years at the Diamond Bar, Zhang, 31, says it’s surprising how much that has changed.
“In high school, I liked music, but I liked Swedish melodic death metal and, like classic rock,” he says. “Music that was certainly not Asian American, or especially not Asian. “
When Asian American musical artists with similar backgrounds to his surfaced, such as rapper MC Jin or hip-hop group Far East Movement, it was exciting even if they felt like outliers in the world. world of music at large.
“They are amazing artists and trailblazers, but it felt more like a phenomenon than a wave of artists who were building community with each other, nurturing each other, and propelling different themes across the world.” Zhang explains. “It was more disconnected.”
In the middle of the last decade, however, Zhang says things have changed.
South Korean rapper-singer G-Dragon, an artist so beloved he’s widely known as the King of K-Pop, found solo fame outside of boy group Big Bang who first made of him a star. A few years later, rapper-singer CL followed the same path, leaving K-pop girl group 2NE1 to become the first female Korean solo artist to appear on the Billboard 100 in 2016.
“You really felt that they were crossing over in a way that was unprecedented at the time,” says Zhang. “It was like they were on the cusp of something really big.”
At 88rising, Miyashiro & Co. began working with more recent artists who had not been launched on the K-pop springboard, rappers such as South Korean Keith Ape and Dumbfoundead, an Argentinian American from Korean origin.
At this point, Zhang says, the diversity of the scene – glamorous K-pop solo artists, serious hip-hop artists, and possibly independent and pop artists as well – signaled some sort of critical mass in the scene. asian pop culture.
“I think there are so many other artists that you can nominate now,” he says. “No matter where you might be, where you might have grown up, and what kind of music you like, you can find an Asian or Asian American artist who can talk to you.”
At the festival
Head In The Clouds lineup includes a mix of established and rising stars. And if you’ve seen “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” you’ve heard at least nine of these musicians, thanks to their contributions to the soundtrack produced by 88rising.
The performers come from all over the world. NIKI and Rich Brian, two of the biggest bands, are both Indonesians. Joji is Australian Japanese while CL is Korean. Saweetie was born in California to a Filipino Chinese mother and an African American father.
These are stars who already have many followers, says Zhang, and strong relationships with their fan bases.
“Joji is already a living legend in terms of the music he plays that connects with fans in a way that transcends race and ethnicity,” he says. “(Rich) Brian, a very different artist than Joji, but he’s a complete artist that fans really love and cherish.”
Also on view are artists such as British Filipino indie rocker Beabadoobee, who toured with The 1975 and was chosen as a breakthrough act in a BBC poll of music critics, and Japanese Breakfast, the stage name. by singer-guitarist Michelle Zauner, whose memoir, “Crying in H Mart,” was a critical and commercial success earlier this year.
Less familiar but just as exciting for fans looking for new music, festival artists such as Korean Canadian Luna Li, who recently opened for Japanese Breakfast, and Atarashii Gakko !, whose music and style performance should woo fans in their debut in the United States, says Zhang.
“I think she’s an artist you can’t miss,” he says of Atarashii Gakko’s four Japanese women! “It will be a spectacle. The music is so loud, and it has a Beastie Boys energy that I find so fascinating and just completely unique.
Head In The Clouds 2021 is expected to be the biggest yet, he says, and after pivoting to live streaming in 2020 during the pandemic, will give 88rising a chance to showcase the best of Asian and American music from Asian origin to fans in person.
“There is just something irreplaceable about the energy of music and bringing people together, especially in a festival where it takes place over a long period of time,” says Zhang. “It is an irreplaceable thing.”