Head Still In The Clouds: Revisiting 88rising’s 2nd Annual Festival

It’s been a little over two weeks since 88Rising‘s second annual Head in the Clouds Music & Arts Festival took place in Los Angeles, and I’m still floating on cloud nine. The LA-based media company staged what was one of the most heavenly events I’ve attended at the Los Angeles State Historic Park.

As a born Angeleno who’s attended a variety of events at the legendary park, there’s something about HITC (Head In The Clouds) that just hit differently from the rest. Originally, I was set out to interview the artists performing at the festival, but upon arriving I was given the wrong credentials. Instead of feeling defeated, I took this as a sign to shift my focus to the festival goers instead.

It ended up being a blessing in disguise.

What I learned from fellow fans allowed me to truly understand why HITC’s artistry, Asian representation, and support of the arts in Los Angeles is vital to both music lovers and the entertainment industry at large.

The Ascent: Getting To Head In The Clouds

I thought I arrived early to the event when I got there at 2pm, but as soon as my Lyft turned the corner, there was a line wrapping around the entire block of the venue with folks waiting in the hot summer heat to enter the grounds.

A fan near the front of the line illuminated the situation for me, claiming that he’d been in line since “10 am, and there were already hundreds of kids in line! I hear they’ve been here since 7 am. It’s insane, but we all want the merch.” Draped head to toe in a Sriracha button up and shorts ensemble, he didn’t seem too concerned about the lengthy wait, keeping cool as he took a sip of his ice water that his friend brought over to him. The merch he was referring to is the Guess x 88Rising Collaboration, which has had past campaigns sell out within a day of its release. For people like me who weren’t able to grab merch in time from their last drop, getting our hands on the latest collection was damn well worth the wait. 

Before doors to the festival opened, I was already getting the sense that the event had more than doubled in size since last year. One of the girls who I was chatting in line while waiting to get our passes attended the first HITC last summer, and was overwhelmed by the foot traffic. “It’s so crazy how many people are here and the event hasn’t started! Last year there was no line, and less people here. It felt smaller. Do we all even fit here?” she joked with a sarcastic laugh. “It’s nice though. It’s good to know the word is getting out about 88rising, I just hope it’s not too crazy inside.”

The festival wasn’t crazy, but it certainly was a full house. A long line extended all the way to the dance stage for the Guess x 88Rising merch tent, and the main stage was completely swarmed with fans eagerly awaiting their favorite acts. 

This year’s iteration of Head In The Clouds featured a stage devoted to dance music (the Double Happiness stage), a first for 88Rising’s festival. I decided to camp out there and do some serious research on the festival attendees until sundown. I met some cool cats who opened up the dance pit during Y2K, danced with Pikachu (who was the life of the party during Manilla Killa), and took a couple portraits of some of my favorite festival fits.

7 Minutes In Heaven: Conversations With Head In The Clouds Festival Champs

Festival Champ: Pikachu

From: Somewhere magical

I didn’t get a chance to interview Pikachu, but he definitely was the life of the party at the Double Happiness stage! He was also quite the viral Twitter sensation. So wherever you are beloved Pokemon, we love you Pikachu!

Festival Champ: Dooley

From: Gardena

What brought you to attend Head in the Clouds this year?

I was there to support the homies August08 and Barney Bones. It’s dope to see my brothers in their element, being successful. It’s inspiring. Everybody did they shit. I’m still mad I missed the [Higher] Brothers though!

Festival Champs: Asia and Jacob

From: Echo Park

What was your most memorable moment at Head in the Clouds?

Jacob: When Higher Brothers came on and they shouted “open the pit!” We rushed into the pit during “Made in China”. Everyone knew every word and it was fun jumping around and enjoying something that was my first time being exposed to their music. Their fans are dedicated. 

Asia: Moshing during the Higher Brothers was fun—I also was new to the whole experience. I remember how many people were waiting for Joji to go on, and how everyone fell silent when he took to the stage. He kind of had everyone just come together in this big emotional crying session! It was nice. Also, the sunset was really beautiful.

Festival Champ: Mike

From: Long Beach

What brought you to attend Head in the Clouds this year?

I follow Joji very closely [as well as] 88Rising so I was aware of it happening. Then one of my best friends told me she was planning on going, so it was the push I needed to commit.

This was your first time going to HITC. What was that experience like?

It was absolutely unreal. The entire festival was set up so well, and designed beautifully. It became so easy to become completely immersed in the experience. I think I sat down for three minutes the entire time I was there, but I was so excited the entire time. It was clear the focus was the artist and the music, it wasn’t cheapened by them pushing other things. The downtime between performances was minimal, and everything was on time and so polished. 

Do you have some memorable moments from that day?

Watching the Higher Brothers, Rich Brian, and Joji was absolutely unreal. All of them were rockstars in their own right and commanded such a presence on stage. Their talent was so prominent, the festival really allowed them to flex their skills and push themselves even in that moment. When Joji came on, every single person there was glued to his every move and knew every word to every song. It was absolutely magical, and it created such a vacuum in that moment for the people there. 

Festival Champ: Gino

From: The Bay Area

What brought you to attend Head in the Clouds this year?

I’ve been a big fan of 88Rising from the beginning, and I fully support what they’re doing to incorporate Asian representation in the media through music, videos, and just becoming a viral sensation in general. I’m also a big fan of Joji, Rich Brian, Niki, and honestly a majority of this year’s lineup, so I couldn’t resist committing to this. 

Was this your first HITC?

Yes! This was my first one attending, though I did watch plenty of videos from last year’s festival. Hyped from it all, I knew I had to see it for myself this year. 

 How was your overall festival experience? 

My only negative experiences at the festival really came from more technical, structural aspects. Music from one stage would bleed into the crowd at the other stage, and there were areas in the main stage where the bass drowned out all the sound and couldn’t really provide the music clearly.  The lines at the opening of the festival were too confusing. The lines looped around and even branched off a few times. It definitely could have been better orchestrated. 

You mentioned your support of 88Rising incorporating Asian representation in music and media. What was it like to see all these artists you love perform?

I had an amazing experience at this year’s festival! Already knowing that these successful musicians are launching their careers off of the 88Rising platform gives people out there, people that look like me, hope that we can achieve greatness regardless of what we look like or where we’re from. To see so many people from diverse backgrounds congregating at this festival really showed that 88Rising isn’t “by Asians, for Asians.” It’s bringing Asian culture and talent to the masses and showing that we’ve all got something worth recognizing.

I remember attending the first couple of years of Camp Flognaw, and the growing pains the festival faced throughout. In many ways 88Rising’s Head In The Clouds Festival remind me of what Flognaw created, and I can see where 88Rising is heading. With capacity virtually tripling within one year, HITC might have outgrown the Los Angeles Historic Park. However, the festival’s growth is indicative of a good thing; it shows people are watching.

Los Angeles wants more of what 88Rising has to offer, and fans are dedicated to growing with the festival. Cultivating culture and bringing different communities together to support each other was something I felt was important to 88Rising and festivalgoers, and I’m excited to see what next year brings. You can only go up from here. 

Keep shinin’, keep suprisin’ and energizin’ the generation/Keep the 88Rising, and risin’ and risin’ – RZA
“Rapapapa” – Rich Brian feat. RZA

Follow 88Rising on Twitter.

Words and Photos: Xesenia Maurice

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