BUKU Music & Art Project – Setting the Bar for Festival Season 2018
Very few people travel across the country to spend only 2 days in a city. Yet, several of those attending BUKU Music & Art Project in New Orleans travel from uncanny distances for the 2-day event. Some even spent more time traveling than at the actual event (true story). Why would these people go through all that trouble? Because BUKU has mastered the craft of putting on one of the best festivals in the country. Small enough to stay local, big enough to draw travelers and huge talent, BUKU continues to create an event perfect for anyone who enjoys the arts.
This year’s BUKU got a bit of an upgrade. While some parts of the festival expanded, they got rid of a couple of other known staples. The VIP S.S. BUKU that sat in the river got ditched. Often the boat would get crowded, with large lines of people waiting to enter. It was flashy, so seeing it go was a bit of a bummer, but VIP wasn’t forgotten this year. The newly expanded Power Plant Stage had a huge viewing deck for the best view and best sound. Too BUKU attendees had their own bar and the best seat in the house. The Float Den’s crowded back alley turned into another #tooBUKU spot with its own lineup of talent.
With the expansion of the Power Plant to the other side of the tracks, the new Wharf stage took over in its spot. The large space was separated by art-filled shipping containers, with more spaces to relax and/or dance. The Wharf became a unique spot and a diverse group of acts rolled through. The stage itself looked like a found-art project, with the DJ at the top of a metal tiered tower. The ballroom remained the same as previous years, with high ceilings and a lot of indie music and hip-hop. The ballroom seemed a popular place for people to sit against a wall with a real floor rather than just the ground. The infamous Float Den yet again became a spot to rage. No one left the Float Den dry because everyone in the space was ready to throw down and the sweat dripped from the walls. Mardi Gras floats covered in plastic surrounded the perimeter of the warehouse, there was a plastic-covered face staring back from every angle. Creepy floats aside, this stage is either a love or hate situation (but we love it).
The Power Plant had much more room to move around. Previously unused, the stage moved to the other side of the train tracks adjacent to the old power plant, with the building still in view. The train tracks remained active during the weekend of the festival, so patrons had to wait for trains to pass from time to time, which was cool as well as annoying for some. The field allowed for more vendors, live art, an extra stage, and places for patrons to sit. Brightly lit star-shaped art installations in the area created light to eat as well as the perfect spot to snag a quick photo with friends. The stage itself had plenty of room, and it was utilized flawlessly.
The festival itself remained easy to navigate with its expansion. It was never difficult to move from one side of the festival to the next, and we loved that. The once crowded Back Alley became another spot for VIPs, making it much less crowded than previous years, patrons could move around with ease and bottlenecks were left for the final march out only.
The sound system and stage production at BUKU remain unmatched by many festivals. If Bassnectar is playing at the festival, the sound system needs to be a certain quality, BUKU pulls it off well. Each stage had a bit of a theme, so people with certain tastes didn’t need to move across the festival, but could still do so with ease.
The schedule at BUKU changed around a bit, with a few hiccups due to cancellations. The festival didn’t take these cancellations well, and even large passive aggressive messages took over the LED screens when a timeslot remained unfilled. However, the delays were a blessing in disguise. They allowed patrons to explore the festival, shop at a vendor, watch a dance showcase, things they otherwise might not have done.
Memorable Sets (in no particular order)
Saying Bassnectar threw down on Saturday would be an understatement. He brought most of the festival with him to the Power Plant for one of the biggest sets of the entire weekend. Each Bassnectar set is different, and this one had some special tunes we rarely hear from this veteran of bass. He surprised even the biggest bassheads with his jarring transitions and unpredictable drops. We wouldn’t expect anything less than perfection from Lorin anyway.
Sylvan Esso took over a crowded Ballroom stage in a smooth fashion on Saturday. The rain trickled in and out as people came for shelter and to see this rare duo taking over the airways. The entire hall echoed with singer Amelia’s crisp and controlled vocals as Nick’s production kept everyone dancing. Both interacted with the crowd warmly, They dropped new tracks and old favorites for a set to remember.
SZA was a favorite coming into the festival. Several people came to BUKU in high anticipation of this R&B superstar, and her demand came for a good reason. She blew us away at the Power Plant as she took the wind and sang that power right back at her audience. Her hair flowed in the breeze as she ruled the entire stage, singing each track with a voice from the heavens. We couldn’t pull away from her set as she pulled people in like a siren.
Migos had some travel difficulty before the festival and almost didn’t make it to their set. The Power Plant was rumored to have a sound ordinance that cut off the music at a strict time. This made sense with the stage’s location so close to nearby city buildings. So the later the group was, the shorter their set became. Once on stage, Migos played for less than half the time they were allotted, even going over their scheduled time. Granted, those few songs were better than expected…it was still Migos.
Virtual Self was more than just a musical set, it was a period piece that took his audience on an emotional and visual journey. Following an uncomfortable 20 minute silence due to technical issues, the set came to life with a vengeance. Virtual Self sat not in front of the visuals but rather immersed in all of the lights and lasers. Every song and every visual were carefully placed for to tell the story intended for his audience. He brought everyone back to the mid 90’s where trance ruled the nightclubs and everything was about love. He even dropped “Castles in the Sky.” The journey was much different than anything else played at BUKU yet, at times, too specific for some tastes.
Bishop Briggs brought her high pigtail buns and sassy attitude to the Power Plant to help open BUKU with power. It’s clear why this powerhouse has gained momentum so fast, as her live performance is much more moving in person. Briggs’ voice boomed from the stage, grabbing every attendee as they entered the gates. She did not hesitate to address the crowd, thanking them and announcing the next song, and the crowd was not afraid to talk back with a few encouraging catcalls. She demanded the entire stage and put her all into a set that will surely gather fans as she continues to tour.
Walker & Royce took the Wharf by storm. Playing their own special brand of deep house, these two had dancers battling and shuffling their entire set. Some beats can get repetitive, but these two take them and twist things up a bit. Familiar to keep us around, different to keep us guessing. We loved grooving to this set and couldn’t bring ourselves to leave to catch another.
Illenium advertised his BUKU set as his latest album Awake played live, but that wasn’t exactly what happened. While tracks from Awake did play live, Illenium made sure to show off his production and DJ skills. Several drops during his set were jarring reminders that Illenium can be more than all the feels. His huge repertoire of music knowledge translated into hard-hitting and unpredictable drops we haven’t heard before. He dropped new tracks and old favorites with heart.
If someone hadn’t heard of Emo Nite LA before BUKU, that person knew about it by the end of the festival. In between Bassnectar and Rezz’s sets, several bass lovers took a moment to chill near the river. There, they could hear their favorite songs from 2002 in the distance. The music took them to Emo Nite LA at the Wharf Stage. Announcing they were “here to remind you that you guys loved emo before you got into EDM.” With a laugh, the entire crowd sang along to the group’s special remixes of Jimmy Eat World, Sugarcult, Taking Back Sunday and more. The set was strangely cathartic, oddly entertaining, and highly recommended.
REZZ closed out the festival with a set that left everyone sore from dancing, headbanging, and pushing their way through an overwhelming crowd. Her dark, sinister sound turns bass into something straight from Hades. This combined with hypnotizing LED steampunk goggles and a cute ponytail makes Rezz a set you just have to see in person. The Float Den was overflowing with people trying to get a better glimpse of the set, even though the sound was loud enough for the entire Garden District of New Orleans. Rezz was relentless in her fast pace and heavy drops, the perfect way to end BUKU.
As with each year’s BUKU, live art is a staple of the festival. Each year, extremely talented artists created huge paintings during the festival. Attendees were able to watch the magic happen during their favorite Power Plant sets. When the Power Plant wasn’t booming with music, the small stage in front of the artists’ scaffolding took care of the music. It created the perfect atmosphere for creativity. Each piece had its own personality and no two looked alike. The artists used different mediums, creating pieces that could be in a contemporary gallery or on the side of a building. Each piece in this area was numbered for later purchase in a silent auction.
The live paintings weren’t the only reason BUKU is an art project. The famous shipping containers recognizable by any port city were back to Mardi Gras World, yet again filled with colorful graffiti. The wall adjacent to the entrance of the Float Den used to hold the previously mentioned live painters. In place of the scaffolding sat a glowing angular tree that lit in various colors. Branches would alternate lights, making the entire tree dance with its glow. In front of this tree on Saturday was a showcase spotlighting a different kind of art; dance. This crew of shufflers took up a circle of space to really throw down. Donning LED flat-brimmed hats, this squad tag-teamed the dance circle showing off their own special style.
As much as we’ve been gushing thus far, no event goes on without a few hiccups. There were only a couple frustrating parts of the festival that we feel BUKU could have done better. First, in order to ensure the safety of everyone at BUKU, the security was tight entering the festival causing long lines and a long wait. Security checkpoints felt more like airport TSA, handing over bags, keys, and emptying pockets before walking through a full metal detector. It was frustrating, but with all the violence out there it honestly made some people feel safer inside the gates. In addition to the lines at security, the free water was a bit of a hassle as well, especially on Friday when the festival was at its hottest. However, the lines for the refreshments weren’t nearly as long, so people could have just paid some money and not waited for the free stuff. Biggest beef: the bathrooms. As a female, it is extremely frustrating to travel through every stall with no hope of finding any toilet paper. It appeared as though the festival never provided it in the first place, or never had anyone replacing it. In addition, one line of bathrooms faced each other, creating lines that zippered each other, stopping anyone from moving through to more. While the security lines can’t be helped without sacrificing safety, such an amazing festival should know to provide a few extra rolls of toilet paper.
All complaints aside, toilet paper doesn’t change the fact that everything else about BUKU was done in flawless fashion. The lineup, the layout, the sound, the art, and the sense of community makes BUKU Music & Art Project unlike any other 2-day festival in the country. As the festival slowly expands, quality is never compromised. We adore this festival and hope to continue to return. Merçi, BUKU! <3