Last September, Head in the Clouds Music & Arts Festival made its debut with an almost entirely Asian and Asian American lineup, an unprecedented undertaking that got a lot of fanfare. This weekend, the fest is back at State Historic Park, with some slight adjustments and new additions, but the same dedication to bringing representation to the festival stage.
In Los Angeles County, the Asian American community makes up roughly 14 percent of the population, and is one of the fastest growing demographics. While 88rising, the NYC-based media company behind the festival has a global fan base, it makes sense that they’d place the festival in L.A.
“It’s kinda funny, people are calling it ‘the Asian Coachella,’” 88rising founder Sean Miyashiro says.
Miyashiro is a California native, hailing from San Francisco, but when he set out to launch a fest, he looked south. “It wasn’t even a discussion,” he says. “There was no other consideration. I was like, yeah, I want to do a festival in L.A.”
Miyashiro became intimately familiar with L.A.’s neighborhoods during his time at Vice, where he created the now-defunct electronic music vertical Thump. He says he was inspired by the richness and authenticity of L.A.’s Asian American communities—from the vibrant nightlife of Koreatown to the Vietnamese strip malls scattered throughout Garden Grove.
“My fondest memories of being an Asian American always happened in L.A.,” he says.
Many of 88rising’s in-house artists became similarly enraptured with L.A., packing up their lives and venturing west to shatter expectations and break into the mainstream. Indonesian rapper Rich Brian, who was only 16 when he shook up the scene with viral video “Dat $tick,” has since released two albums and left his hometown Jakarta for L.A. Pop singer-songwriter NIKI and emo-tinged, lo-fi musician Deb Never are also in the mix as L.A.-based artists with rapidly growing followings.
After the inaugural Head in the Clouds festival drew around 10,000 people—“We had no expectations or understandings of what [Head in the Clouds] would be going into that day,” Miyashiro says—88rising embarked on a full-blown U.S. tour. Miyashiro ended up feeling like it “cannibalized” the festival in a way, but feedback from fans in the Asian American community was good. “People probably waited over an hour just to buy a T-shirt,” Miyashiro recalls, “and it’s not about buying a T-shirt—it’s about the excitement of people wanting to represent us.”
For Miyashiro, the fan fervor is a testament to a previous lack of representation for Asian Americans, particularly millennials and Gen-Zers who may still switch tongues when chatting with their parents, but are fluent in memes and internet jargon, and struggle with the lack of diversity in pop culture.
Last year saw mainstream artists like Anderson .Paak, whose mother is half-black and half-Korean, and biracial electronica singer-songwriter Toro y Moi, who is Black and Filipino, join the lineup and embrace their roots. This year, Miyashiro feels like there’s even more awareness around 88rising’s mission to bring forth the very best of Asian America culture, including food, for which they’ve partnered with 626 Night Market.
Artists are also a big part of the Head in the Clouds experience, including Japanese illustrator Hajime Sorayama, who recently collaborated with Dior for their Fall 2019 collection. Miyashiro couldn’t divulge details about Sorayama’s project, but promised it wouldn’t disappoint. 88rising also recently announced fresh additions to the bill that include K-Pop boy band iKON, as well as a second stage to best showcase a full rotation of artists.
It’s a big undertaking, but the response has made it worthwhile, Miyashiro says: “Especially from Asian Americans—how thankful and proud they are to now have a festival in America that represents them.”
As 88rising makes moves globally—they’re bringing Head in the Clouds to Chengdu, Jakarta, and Kuala Lumpur—their biggest move is still to come. “We’re actually going to be moving our office and our headquarters to L.A., fully. That’s how much we love L.A.”
Head in the Clouds Music & Arts Festival, Sat., August 17, L.A. State Historic Park, Chinatown.