Rotating instability (RI) occurs at off-design conditions in axial compressors, predominantly in rotor configurations with large tip clearances. Characteristic spectral signatures with side-by-side peaks below the blade passing frequency (BPF) are typically referred to RI located in the clearance region next to the leading edge (LE). Each peak can be assigned to a dominant circumferential mode. RI is the source of the clearance noise (CN) and an indicator for critical operating conditions. Earlier studies at an annular cascade pointed out that RI modes of different circumferential orders occur stochastically distributed in time and independently from each other, which is contradictory to existing explanations of RI. Purpose of the present study is to verify this generally with regard to axial rotor configurations. Experiments were conducted on a laboratory axial fan stage mainly using unsteady pressure measurements in a sensor ring near the rotor LE. A mode decomposition based on cross spectral matrices was used to analyze the spectral and modal RI patterns upstream of the rotor. Additionally, a time-resolved analysis based on a spatial discrete-Fourier-transform (DFT) was applied to clarify the temporal characteristics of the RI modes and their potential interrelations. The results and a comparison with the previous findings on the annular cascade corroborate a new hypothesis about the basic RI mechanism. This hypothesis implies that instability waves of different wavelengths are generated stochastically in a shear layer resulting from a backflow in the tip clearance region.