Back in May, when L.A. teen punks the Linda Lindas went ultra-viral after their set at the Cypress Park branch of the L.A. Public Library, Sean Miyashiro felt a warm twinge of nostalgia.
"I grew up on emo and rock and loving things with that energy, so I was so stoked for them," said Miyashiro, 40, the founder of 88 Rising, a record label and digital hub for ambitious pan-Asian rap, electronic and indie music. "It reminded me of being a really young company and just putting something out and then watching it blow up."
The Linda Lindas are one of the must-see acts at 88 Rising's Head in the Clouds festival, Brookside at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 6 and 7. The fest, produced by Coachella promoter Goldenvoice, debuted in L.A. in 2018 as a showcase for the label's flagship artists like Indonesian rapper Rich Brian and Japan-born singer Joji (each are headliners this year). 88 Rising helped make them stars in hip-hop and R&B, and defined a new era of cutting-edge Asian music along the way.
The fest's 2021 return pulls even wider — headliners include the part-Filipina rapper Saweetie, former 2NE1 rapper and K-pop singer CL and Indonesian singer-songwriter Niki (who opened for Taylor Swift as a 15-year-old in Jakarta). Indie rock acts like Japanese Breakfast (the band of bestselling Asian American author Michelle Zauner) and the UK's Beabadoobee nod to new genre terrain.
"We just want the best of Asian music, so we can invite anyone," Miyashiro said. 2019's one-day event drew 22,500 fans; this year it will take place over two days. "The last two fests were scrappy but monumental for us. This one is literally the live interpretation of everything we stand for."
88 Rising's diverse Gen Z and millennial audience is comfortably assertive about identity, so much so that its own fans pushed back on a clumsy post after a gunman killed eight people, mostly Asian women, around Atlanta-area spas; the label later hosted a benefit for the Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay and immigrant food network MAMA Los Angeles.
For the tens of thousands of fans expected at the fest, a more complex conversation about Asian music and advocacy shows how fast things have changed in 88 Rising's scene.
"That's something I've been reflecting on quite a bit, that for younger Asian people, all of this is normal," Miyashiro said. "We were part of the tip of the spear, and I'm just happy it finally happened."