JARED SIVILA WRITES — After such a long break from large crowds, the record label 88rising and its many talented artists took to the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA from November 6-7 for the annual Head in the Clouds festival. Having had to move online last year by streaming a remote concert, 88rising was prepared this year to come back with everything it had to offer.
What makes 88rising so significant is its ability to propel Asian artists to new heights in the music industry. The label encapsulates a flurry of artists from all over Asia, including Joji from Japan, Rich Brian and NIKI from Indonesia, The Higher Brothers from China, and Jackson Wang from South Korea. More notably and recently, 88rising produced the official motion picture soundtrack for the record-breaking Marvel movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
88rising’s involvement in every corner of Asia was extremely apparent at this enthralling blend of cultures attended by some 30,000 people on both days. Fans elevated the spectacle of the overwhelming crowd by wearing cultural garments with tasteful, modern twists.
The flashy outfits combined with the excited yelps of the crowd indicated that a lot of people in attendance were overjoyed with the opportunity to not only express themselves, but to reunite and form new bonds within their communities.
The main area for the festival was a vast, open field, decorated with giant displays of clouds and dragons, colorful lanterns, country flags, and promotional banners of the performing artists. Deeper in the field was the 626 night market, a classic Californian food festival where vendors set up to serve dishes inspired by the cuisine of the open-air alleys and bazaars of Asia. These restaurants take classic, beloved dishes and fuse them with different elements from other cultures. Norigami served up sushi tacos made with seaweed taco shells, while Bopomofo Café crafted honey walnut shrimp burgers and vegan Mapo Tofu tater tots.
The night market and the decorative field were not the main attractions, but complements to the main stage where the headlining artists would perform. To support the musical talent of the lineup, the stage was decorated with the iconic 88rising symbol and a cute mascot peaking over a large cloud and the many speakers and screens.
These artists covered a variety of genres, attracting hundreds of thousands of listeners to come and see them live. Korean R&B artists, such as DPR Ian, SEORI and Jae Park set a slower, moody tone, while upbeat pop singers such as CL, Saweetie, and NIKI performed infectiously catchy songs that had fans dancing. WALLICE performed electric indie-rock songs and Stephanie Poetri sang slow, indie songs to calm the crowd down.
Performers with like features, inflections, and language tend to generate strong connections and cultural pride. At the same time, the performances served up by each artist were good enough to transcend cultural and language differences.
Every night ended with an ensemble with all the headlining artists. 88rising’s most popular collaborative song, “Midsummer Madness,” was performed on the final night of the festival and had fans in the crowd sing along with the featured artists onstage as lights and fireworks lit up to signal the end of a fantastic weekend.
The enthusiastic crowd, the food festival, and the performing artists exemplified the pride and soul of Asia and Asian American culture. The 88 in 88rising comes from the Chinese character “囍,” which means “double happiness.” No doubt the euphoric crowds that attended these two nights felt that the label had well earned its title.