Buku electrifies the New Orleans spirit with two days of art and music [Event Review]
New Orleans stands out as Louisana’s most vibrant city, boasting a colorful history of supernatural oddities, delicious Cajun eats, and a thriving live music scene. Though the annual Mardi Gras celebration draws in unrivaled tourism, the New Orleans energy radiates year-round, attracting an alternative crowd in the spring for the Buku Music + Art Project.
Since its inauguration in 2012, the two-day music festival has served as an extension of those Mardi Gras vibes by integrating top and emerging musical talent with the local art and food scene. The result is a premier music festival that gets an early head start, offering a gritty edge without the mainstream mayhem.
For their fifth year, Buku served up a finely curated lineup of electronic, dance, and hip-hop musicians, as headlined by Pretty Lights (Live Band), Nero, and Above & Beyond. The festival was held at its usual spot of Mardi Gras World, a tourist attraction that houses floats for the annual parade, sandwiched between an old powerplant and convention center, right alongside the Mississippi River.
In what was considered their biggest event to date, Buku unveiled new features and memorable performances, cementing their status as one of the most promising music festivals not only in the South, but in the United States.
Here are five reasons Buku crushed their fifth year and the beginning of festival season.
Above & Beyond act as a beacon of light at Power Plant amid unpredictable weather
The three-piece trance group took the mainstage when weather conditions were predicted as stormy. Group Therapy prevailed as the rain and thunder cleared up in time for their set, which drew a surprisingly smaller audience since their time slot rivaled that of rapper Fetty Wap. Nonetheless, the amount of room at Above & Beyond’s set proved to be incredibly ideal, allowing the crowd to dance freely to new OceanLab and music from their labs in London. The inspirational messages typed on the screen behind them read with uplifting phrases like, “You Are Free” and “Music runs through the veins of this city,” giving A&B fans a much-needed pick me up that wrapped up Day 1 on a good note.
The Back Alley elevates underground talent to the masses
One of Buku’s smallest stages drew some of the best talent of the talent, presenting a roster of DJs that specialize in underground and house sounds. Tucked behind the Float Den was the Back Alley, a stage constructed entirely of pallets that seemed akin to Lightning in a Bottle’s Woogie Stage. Adorned by mood lighting and a bumping soundsystem, the stage adopted a nightclub feel, which attracted a surprisingly packed crowd for most sets like J.Phlip b2b Kill Frenzy, SNBRN, and Claptone.
Baauer brings a barrage of bass to the Float Den
Just before dropping his highly-anticipated debut studio album, Aa, Baauer stopped by New Orleans to deliver a blazing hot set at the Float Den. The producer has made great strides to move beyond his viral “Harlem Shake” phenomenon, dropping a set that shows impressive improvements in his mixing abilities. Baauer included familiar trap tracks like TNGHT – “Acrylics” and RL Grime & What So Not – “Tell Me,” as well as his original singles like “One Touch,” “Infinite Daps,” and “Higher.” Key transitions included Kanye West – “All of the Lights” into Skrillex & A$AP Rocky – “Wild for the Night,” and Flosstradamus – “Roll Up (Baauer Remix)” into Lil Wayne – “A Milli.” In just an hour, Baauer demonstrated his ability to bring a packed house down and dancing to his orchestration of rhythmic bass.
AlunaGeorge animates the Ballroom with a ‘livetronic’ show
The Ballroom housed mostly live acts in one of the few indoor stages, with London duo Alunageorge illuminating the room with their profound performance that fused live elements atop electronic productions. Tracks like “White Noise,” “One Touch,” and “To Ü” had new life breathed into them, offering a fresh take on the popular dance tracks. AlunaGeorge are typically billed on most festivals, but something about Buku’s magic made this particular performance one of their most standout ones.
VIP S.S. Buku stays afloat with an open bar and intimate sets
Buku bumps VIP to the next level by expanding their exclusive areas to the sea. S.S. Buku is the three-level boat that’s anchored right on the Mississippi River, offering an elevated outdoor view, ample seating, air conditioning, a massage area, and multiple open bars. The boat’s bottom level hosted a small stage for private sets at an intimate level, with music from artists such as Sweater Beats, Louis the Child, and Autograf. VIP access included other special amenities like sectioned viewing areas in the front of house, yet the ship proved to be the best deciding factor for upgrading passes.
The Buku team proved that they know how to party, producing an event that allows the New Orleans spirit to transcend its classical history. Hospitality is alive and well in this vivacious city, with Buku extending the invitation to attendees, also known as the Bukrew. Together, the entire population of Buku shook up the city’s live music scene by offering a refreshing balance of big name talent with an underground aesthetic. With many North American events pushing a certain theme or scene, Buku breaks the mold as a unique festival that offers a rich experience in The Big Easy.
Photos by Adrienne Cheney