88 RISING’S 2024 HEAD IN THE CLOUDS FESTIVAL WAS BOTH “LIT AND SAD”

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Words / Jennalynn Fung

Photos / Lindsey Blane, Esther Kim, Dillon Matthew, Jennalynn Fung

What best describes the crowd experience in 88rising’s Head In The Clouds in New York in 2024? As Warren Hue said during his set last summer in Los Angeles, “sad and lit.” Those words rang true this weekend, too.

Joji, Photo: Jennalynn Fung

Although seemingly contradictory, no two adjectives better encapsulate the weekend-long music festival that celebrates Asian artists in Queens’ Forest Hills Stadium. Given the fact that two of the biggest acts on Sunday were BIBI and Joji, who both boast a discography characterized by moody beats, somewhat violent or distraught visuals, and lyrics filled with desire, heartache, or revenge, it initially seemed counterintuitive that they brought so much energy into their performance on stage. Yet the stadium was filled to the brim with energy from opening to close – from the existential sets of Juliet Ivy, to the sweet sorrow of the band wave to earth, to the broken-hearted love songs of Lyn Lapid, the crowd’s excitement for every musician throughout the weekend was palpable. 

Photo: Lindsey Blane

This is the second time 88rising’s Head in the Clouds has been held in New York City, and for many of these musicians, this is their first time performing in the Big Apple. The stadium is relatively easy to access – about a 7 minute walk from the Forest Hills MTA station, and is nestled in the middle of a beautiful Tudor Revival, English-cottage-esque village. The Forest Hills Stadium itself was built in 1923 for the U.S. Open tennis tournament, then hosted concerts throughout the 60s and 70s for artists like Frank Sintra, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. For the last two years, HITC has called the storied stadium home.  

The lineup on Saturday boasted internationally recognized artists like the brand new K-pop group YOUNG POSSE, and the genre-defying alternative group Balming Tiger. One of the most popular acts was the back-to-back acts of DJs Illenium and Dabin, as well as the esteemed K-pop girl group, (G)-IDLE, who closed the festival on Saturday night with stunning choreography and powerful live vocals. 

G-IDLE, Photo: Esther Kim

Lyn Lapid, Photo: Lindsey Blane

Sunday morning was filled with clouds, but by the time Spence Lee took the stage (with special guest Jxmmi), the sun was beginning to break through. Warren Hue’s set was filled with songs from his last album, BOY OF THE YEAR, to his newest single: “SPLIT,” with most of his music composed and DJed live by producer Chasu. Awich brought the heat with her old school, Okinawan-influenced rap. Lyn Lapi, who had experienced various technical difficulties at her debut with HITC last summer, sang beautifully and flawlessly this time around. ATARASHII GAKKO!’s set was met with almost-inhumane enthusiasm. Multiple people in the crowd came dressed in costumes akin to the ones the Japanese girl group wears, and at one point, SUZUKA stood balanced precariously on a railing, supported by the audience. 

ATARASHII GAKKO! Photo: Lindsey Blane

BIBI’s performance was one of the most highly anticipated, as this performance was her debut in NYC. She noticeably struggled with jet lag, however, as Korea is 13 hours ahead, and many times was unable to speak in English while performing. At one point, she revealed her song “MotoSpeed 24” was not about balls, but lips, as though a reference to one of her first SoundCloud songs: “lesbihonest”. Her fans didn’t care about the language barriers, though, satisfied simply by her undeniable stage presence and impressive dance routine. 

 

However, Sunday’s finale was canceled, leading to disappointment and disbelief among many of the attendees. The reasons for the cancellation remained undisclosed, but some speculated that there just wasn’t enough enthusiasm for a final act – or that the weather wasn’t warm enough. Perhaps the performers at the event weren’t so crucial and instrumental in the creation of 88Rising – with the exception of Joji – leading to the lack of a finale. Though a sad conclusion to the festival, Joji’s set was still as “lit” as it could be, complete with battle cries of “NEW YORK!”, a sky lit up by phone flashlights, and pool floats and noodles thrown into a crowd that gleefully counted down how long it would take for Joji to take a piss before returning to stage. Joji’s remarkable band was composed of the pianist Gator, his guitarist Josh, and his hype man SavageRealm, who kept the crowd alive while Joji went up and down the stage stairs at various points in his performance. 

Awich, Photo: Lindsey Blane

For those thinking of attending next year, here’s what to know: schedules ran accordingly, with most sets finishing on time or even earlier than designated— a pro or con depending on who you ask. The crew, staff, and musicians maintained a safe and clean environment, and the festival provided many resources like water stations and areas to sit. 

88Rising’s 2024 Head in the Clouds in New York was a worthwhile experience that showcased the best in music by Asian artists everywhere. There was just enough variety in genre, many different vendors, and plenty of surprising moments during performances to keep everyone entertained and on their feet in the stadium. 

BIBI, Photo: Esther Kim


BIBI, Photo: Jennalynn Fung

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