BUKU Music + Art Project Is the Coolest New Music Festival in NOLA

by Laurie Henzel

This past weekend I was lucky enough to cover the BUKU Music + Art Project at New Orleans’ own Mardi Gras World. Located between an overgrown railroad line and an abandoned power plant right on the Mississippi river, this young festival (only it’s second year) was a huge success. The majority of BUKU had an electronic dance music theme, with nearly 12,000 fans in attendance to see headliners such as Major Lazer, Flux Pavilion, Calvin Harris, Nero, Dillion Francis, and Datsik. The lineup also featured some hip-hop and rap, including the legendary Public Enemy, Kendrick Lamar, and Earl Sweatshirt, as well as indie-rock groups Passion Pit and Best Coast. Big Freedia, a New Orleans native credited with helping popularize Bounce music, and the band Gravity A brought some quintessential local flavor to the festival.

Big Freedia “Y’all Get Back Now”

The 2-day long lineup was jam-packed with some seriously skilled musicians. Unfortunately the nature of music festivals calls for some sacrifices, so I had a few tough decisions to make. Luckily the stages were close enough together that it was no hassle to get from one to the other yet far enough away that the music didn’t bleed from stage to stage. Literally everyone I saw killed it, from Lettuce, a funky jam band with great energy, to Primus, who put on the trippiest 3-D show I’ve ever seen, complete with gigantic blow up astronauts and clips of the beloved Salad Fingers. Some technical difficulties in the ballroom on Saturday switched around the schedule so I was able to catch the electro-pop trio Dragonette, who were crazy fun to watch before Major Lazer invaded our eardrums with so much awesome. My personal favorite was their remix of Damien Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock,” where shirts were lost and shit got cray. 

Dragonette “Live in This City”

The general energy at Buku had an aura of positive vibes; everyone was bumpin’ and enjoying the amazing music, because there really weren’t any bad sets. However if I were to choose some of my favorite performances it would be these guys:

Alt – J, a British quartet made up of a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist, have blown up on the music scene. Their debut album, An Awesome Wave dropped in May of 2012. Simple beats, heavy bass lines, and various polyphonic vocals give them an eclectic electronic-indie sound. Original and fresh, they sound even better live than they do on their album. During one of their hit songs, “Fitzpleasure,” they had New Orleans’s own Preservation Hall Jazz Band come play with them to add some slow harmonic brass overtones to the characteristic heavy bass of Alt – J’s music. Overall they were calming, uplifting, subtle, and beautiful; making for a perfect interlude between Kendrick Lamar and Passion Pit.

Alt-J “Breezeblocks”

Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) started in the late ‘90s in Atlanta, Georgia. Their music focuses on the overall sound and less about the individuals in the group. Solos are unusual and infrequent, while rhythm, unity, and good vibrations always protrude from the stage. They are more than well-known in the music festival circuit and have what seems to be a cult following. A man standing front row and wearing booby Mardi Gras beads and a GoPro on his forehead was more than prepared for their two sets. When asked about his GoPro, he replied that he only turns it on for STS9, and that he has seen them more times than he can count. That guy was SERIOUS!

Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus or FlyLo, is the great-nephew of the saxophonist legend John Coltrane. FlyLo released his first album in 2006, and has released a new album every two years since. He has worked with Erykah Badu and has taken R&B singer Thundercat under his wing. He DJed for Earl Sweatshirt’s entire set at Buku, and Earl made an appearance at FlyLo’s set as well. His music cannot be classified under any specific genre, so he borrows from all fields of music, visuals, and thought to create the ambience for his live shows. Playing behind a semi-transparent screen filled with fluid, vivid, and colorful visuals, he made his show more about the overall experience and less about himself as either Steven Ellison or Flying Lotus. The fans waved their arms, popped their hips, and basically moved in anyway they could to the music. When his set came to an end, the crowd applauded and went about their separate ways. But FlyLo was not quite done. Kelly Straky, a 19-year-old fan of Flying Lotus, reported not only having the opportunity to get a big ol’ bear hug from FlyLo, but she also had the opportunity to walk and talk with him on their way to see Kid Cudi play at a separate stage.  The show does not end when the music does, for Flying Lotus is as much a part of the audience as anyone else and truly cares about his fans.

Daedelus (Alfred Darlington) is a musical mad scientist.  Always sporting some form of a neo-Victorian tuxedo, he stands out. This time, he wore skintight gray pants and a burgundy jacket with a tail that hung at his knees. A common complaint about electronic music is the lack of actual performance that the DJ appears to be doing. No one would dare make this claim about Daedelus. He is constantly moving and making music on the spot with his 256-button and 64-button controllers called Monomes. His music is electrifying, radical, and better yet, improvisational. Daedelus is a breath of fresh air in the world of electronic music, and he expresses himself in a way that says, “Hey. I am me, the one and only. Love me or leave me, but while you’re here, enjoy the show.” What more could one ask for in this age of extreme self-expressionism and excessive technosis

The interactive art installations added another unique dimension to the festivities. From the huge hammock and live graffiti painting to the comedy series and amazing local food Buku served up, this is a truly epic experience that I recommend to anyone who needs another reason to come visit New Orleans. Too bad we have to wait an entire year for the  next one!

-Text and images by Olive Henzel and Ryan Suder

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