Day 1 was ruled by crowd favorites, with artists able to magnetically pull large audiences to their stages no matter the time of day.
Late in the afternoon, DPR Live took to the 88rising stage to deliver alluring hip-hop R&B numbers from across his discography. Accompanying him was DPR Ian, making his live debut and performing songs off of his newly released solo LP. The two took turns dancing up and down the stage, radiating sex appeal as they sang to backing tracks blasting through the main stage speakers. The set covered all the artists’ bases, from new DPR Ian tracks such as “So Beautiful” and “Scaredy Cat” to fan favorites such as DPR Live’s “Text Me,” “Jasmine” and “Martini Blue,” all performed with enough star power and charisma to justify the massive crowd forming at 4:30 in the afternoon.
Saweetie arrived on stage behind schedule, and with only 25 minutes left to make her mark, not a minute of her highly anticipated show was wasted. The rapper and her “joy girls” graced the main festival stage to roaring applause, running through “ICY GIRL” while handing out icy chains to a few lucky fans as the audience rapped along. During her set, she made sure to shout out her “Asian kings and queens” before diving into wild crowd-pleasers “My Type” and “Best Friend.” But her set ended as swiftly as it began, a whirlwind of enchanting, amped-up hip-hop energy gone too soon.
K-pop royalty CL emerged clad in a black bodysuit and an oversized coat, dominating the stage with one of the spiciest live sets at Head in the Clouds. The artist’s stage presence was undeniably authoritative, commanding the crowd with electrifying choreography and sleek pop vocals as she powered through audacious bangers such as “Dr. Pepper” and “Hello Bitches.” In her set’s second half, she was joined by DPR Live and DPR Ian to perform the latter’s “No Blueberries” live for the first time, taking audience excitement to new heights.
Special guest and late-addition Illenium was one of the only non-Asian acts performing at the festival, adding electronic dance music to the varied list of genres Head in the Clouds had to offer as the day turned to night. His brand of “emo-EDM” music fit right in with the festival’s musical palette, offering a set that was filled with equal parts headbangers and emotional beat drops (“Feel Good” and “Good Things Fall Apart”). Pyrotechnics dominated the DJ’s live show, along with bright-colored laser lights stretching across the festival grounds and lighting up the fresh evening sky.
At the Double Happiness stage, Japanese Breakfast embraced a smaller, more dedicated crowd of fans as the band blazed through a set that frontwoman Michelle Zauner described as essentially bangers only. Jubilee lead single “Be Sweet” kicked off the performance with ’80s grooves before transitioning into older favorites such as “Everybody Wants to Love You” and “Road Head.” Zauner and her band were one of the only acts of the day to feature live instruments — every drum hit and strum of the bass guitar resonated deeply into the night, more so than many of the sets which came before.
Near the performance’s end came a sweet surprise: The band dusted off a cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams.” Zauner explained that it was the first song that comes to mind when she thinks of Asian pride, perfect for a Wong Kar-Wai movie such as “Chungking Express.” The cover, along with set-closer “Diving Woman,” served as an ebullient end to perhaps the most underappreciated set of the festival, which found Zauner and her bandmates capturing joy in its purest form.
As all attention shifted to the 88rising stage for the night’s end, Rich Brian’s headlining set offered the most of what festival-goers were looking for: hype. From becoming the first Indonesian music artist to reach more than 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify to soundtracking Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” the rapper took every opportunity during his high-energy set to bring his excitement and lust for life to the crowd, playing plenty of the hits along the way.
The set moved smoothly between frantic-rap bangers to sweet and sentimental moments, with highlights including a live performance of his newest single “New Tooth” and a revival of “Who That Be,” which looked fondly back on the artist’s early days as an up-and-comer in the rap game. Bringing out pea-suited backup dancers for his smash hit “Edamame” at the tail end of the performance felt like the cherry on top of an already well-received live show — more a celebration than a concert.
Day 1 closed out with an 88rising finale, which found Rich Brian, Warren Hue and August 08 feeding off each others’ energy as they blazed through fan favorites off of the label compilation Head in the Clouds. The final song of the night was, expectedly, “Midsummer Madness,” driving the festival crowd into a frenzy as the artists wished everyone a good night. The set left attendees heading home wanting more in the best way possible, setting the bar high for an eventful second day.
Vincent Tran is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].