music festivals

‘Head In the Clouds’ marks Manila debut with homegrown talents, Asian acts

Ysa Abad
‘Head In the Clouds’ marks Manila debut with homegrown talents, Asian acts

Martie Rosales

Boasting a total of 27 artists, the two-day festival had no shortage of well-loved acts and rising gems

Since its inception in 2018, the Head In The Clouds music and arts festival has established itself as a space to put a spotlight on Asian artists – with the same vision shining through on its highly-anticipated debut in Manila on December 9 and 10. 

Since its announcement in August, HITC Manila had the bearings to be the Philippines’ biggest spectacle of 2022 – with many fans securing tickets for the festival even before the lineup was announced. They weren’t disappointed, though, when expected 88rising artists were revealed to be part of its performers, and the excitement only doubled when more local and international acts were included in the lineup. 

Organizing a festival on such a huge scale for the first time proved to be no easy feat. Days prior to the show, organizers released the final venue layout – surprising attendees by only having one stage, as HITC is known for its multiple stages and simultaneous performances (its Jakarta edition, which happened only days prior to the Manila festival, had a secondary stage.) Many VIP ticket holders complained about the even split between VIP and general admission sections, since those who paid more aren’t guaranteed a better view. The solo stage also posed the concern of making the runtime longer as the festival boasted a total of 27 artists. 

Despite its birthing pains, the SM Festival Grounds was packed with activities and installations, with more than enough food options on the actual show dates. The two-day festival also had no shortage of well-loved acts and rising gems that attendees vibed with despite the inclement weather. 

A handful of Filipino artists also took center stage and earned some of the loudest cheers during HITC Manila.

Canada-based Filipino hip-hop/R&B duo MANILA GREY performed their hits “Island Baby (Maarte)” and “Silver Skies” before bringing Filipino rapper Al James in for their “Again and Again” collaborative stage. In between his performances, Oakland-raised rapper Guapdad 400 gave a shoutout to his lola, who was also at the festival grounds. Producer and DJ Manila Killa hyped the crowd with his electrifying set. Local R&B singer Denise Julia serenaded the attendees with her unreleased track “Butterflies.” 

Fresh from their international tour, SB19’s energy shone through as they performed back-to-back hits “WHAT,” “MAPA,” and “Bazinga,” and even treated fans to their latest single “Nyebe.” 

Perhaps one of the biggest downers for the festival was the cancellation of Filipino-Australian singer Ylona Garcia’s set. The Saturday show had to take an hour-and-a-half break due to lightning and thunder, but attendees were surprised when organizers announced that the affected artists – Ylona Garcia and rapper August 08 – would no longer be able to perform. While it’s commendable how the organizers religiously stuck to its announced set times, fans clamored for a roundabout (lessen the breaks, maybe?) so the two artists would still be given the chance to perform, especially since the HITC Manila show was supposed to be Ylona’s homecoming. 

Aside from homegrown talents, attendees were also treated to more acts from Southeast Asia including Vietnamese/Chinese-American rapper Spence Lee, Chinese singer Akini Jing, Chinese rapper Adawa, Indonesian-American musician Stephanie Poetri, Chinese rapper Jinxzhou, and Indonesian singer-rapper Warren Hue. 

Japanese girl group ATARASHI GAKKO! undeniably made a great first impression on the Filipino crowd with their intense choreographies and unique stage presence, which caught everyone’s attention from start to finish. Complete with outfit change, their “Pineapple Kryptonite” definitely served as one of the standout moments of the festival.

Thai rapper-singer Milli made her sultry set even more memorable with her sassy personality. The crowd was enchanted with her infectious energy as she performed hits “Mango Sticky Rice,” “Mirror Mirror,” and “Mind Games.” 

Coming from continuous acts with loud and energetic bangers, the set of Japanese duo YAOSOBI felt like a breath of fresh air. The atmosphere took a wistful turn as the crowd sang along to their trademark upbeat melodies and anime OST tunes. 

Korean-American rapper Jessi charmed the crowd with her outgoing personality as he performed hits “Ganji,” “Gucci,” and “Zoom.” The soloist, who just had her solo concert in the Philippines in September, had playful banter with fans, including a spontaneous lesson on Filipino profanities. But the biggest highlight of her set would be when she asked four of her fans, Jebbies, to dance “Cold Blooded” with her onstage. 

Meanwhile, Indonesian rapper Rich Brian filled his 50-minute set with a mix of hip-hop tracks (“Glow Like Dat”), mellow hits (“100 Degrees,” “Drive Safe”), and crowd favorites (“Curious” “Tokyo Drift Freestyle”). 

Japanese singer-songwriter Joji drew one of the biggest crowds for day one, as the attendees belted out the lyrics to his emotional ballads “Sanctuary,” “Slow Dancing In The Dark,” “Glimpse of Us,” and “Attention.”

Unfazed by the bad weather, Hong Kong rapper K-pop idol Jackson Wang ended the first day of the festival by bringing his Magic Man tour to Manila. Together with his back-up dancers, attendees were treated to sensual performances of “Come Alive” and “Drive It Like You Stole It.”

For day two, Korean singer BIBI was met with loud cheers as she performed tracks “BINU, “The Weekend,” and “Cigarette & Condom.” 

Korean-American singer-songwriter eaJ captivated the crowd with her amazing vocals that was evident in tracks “Car Crash,” and “typical story.” But more than his performance, his appreciation for the crowd was apparent in his spiels, especially after reading a sign that said, “Jae, you made my pandemic bearable.” The former Day6 member then opened up about his mental health, telling fans: “I wanted to leave it all. But I made it here and it was worth it. You guys made it worth it.” 

Award-winning German DJ Zedd might look out of place in the throng of Asian artists, but there’s no questioning how he was able to make the crowd dance and scream at the top of their lungs  as he perform nostalgic remixes of “Alive,” “Rude,” “Stay the Night,” and “Clarity.” 

Indonesian singer-songwriter Niki then took the attendees on an emotional rollercoaster ride to cap off the two-day festival. Accompanied by her band and complete with costume change mid-set, Niki performed hit after hit, such as “urs,” “Lose,” “Backburner,” and “High School In Jakarta,” with “low-key” and “Every Summertime” for her encore. 

While Niki’s set left the attendees on a high, many still found the festival’s end a little underwhelming as the Manila leg had no finale stage. Minutes after Niki and her band returned backstage, many of the attendees were hoping for a surprise finale stage (even though it was earlier announced that there wouldn’t be any), especially since its Jakarta edition had collaborative numbers from Jackson Wang, Stephanie Poetri, Yaosobi, Warren Hue, Rich Brien, and Niki. 

Nevertheless, the first Head In The Clouds Manila was already noteworthy on its own, and we can’t wait to see how its succeeding editions will go from here. – 

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