BUKU…?  How About Not Enough!

Words by Charlie Spooner

Photos by OwlEyesOnYou Photography

On the banks of the Mississippi lies the largest float designing and building facility in the world.  It is there that the spirit of Mardi Gras is imbued within the colossal dragons, gators, jesters, etc., that roll through the French Quarter of New Orleans at the end of every winter.  It was also there that numerous musical genres collided in an eargasmic explosion of sound calling itself Buku Music & Arts Festival, where for two days The Big Easy was transformed into a vivid assemblage of hippies, bassheads, beat freaks and more underneath the shining sun and a pair of neon nights.  Our anticipation over the lineup and scenery was completely justified and all of our expectations were surpassed by this fourth year festival.

As we walked through the gate for the first time on Friday we were greeted by the bass drum and snare beat of a roving marching band who we deemed to be tapping out the cadence of the day.  Clad in sunflower yellow, they embodied the bright spirit of the festival by keeping a steady rhythm and beaming smiles from beginning to end. Then we looked all around and took in the scenery, from the paddleboat to the power plant and then from the ballroom to the bridge, and knew right then and there that this festival would be different from all the rest.

Drawing musical acts both local and foreign that spanned the musical globe of genres from jamtronic to EDM, and rap to indie rock, Buku was a confluence of not only sonic stylings but the fans of them as well.  Now, normally if Jamwich is around, then there are deadheads as far as the eye can see, but in a change of pace, down at Buku there were Deadmau5 heads spanning the concrete instead as well as many other characters you wouldn’t usually see at a jam fest.  After taking all of this in we were finally ready for some tunes and Robert DeLong was first up for the day.

By the time the first notes were coming through the speakers there was already a large crowd to witness this one man band.  He employed keys, drums and his voice to create live loops and even dropped a chiptune version of The Rolling Stones ‘Miss You’ before he was finished.  Next came a change of musical worlds as New Orleans native Pell rapped to a crowded ballroom.  He had dozens of fingers waving in response to the call “who you know got it like that?” Apparently Buku did.

Subsequently came Claude Von Stroke, some tech house and our first visit to the Float Den, a warehouse so named because it holds Mardis Gras floats, both past and future.  They ring the entire space and brought even more color, spirit and culture to an already rainbow gathering.  Then it was back again to the main stage for some STS9.  Pushing our way through a mire of people as dense as the bayou we came upon an already blazing set by one of the godfathers of livetronica and the only band to hail from the jam scene.  Even though the sun was still in the sky they had one of the best light shows of the night.  Afterwards was A$AP Rocky and his posse with hip-hop and Portugal The Man with some edgy indie pop.

Now it was time for one of the headliners and by the far the best stage performance of the weekend.  Empire of the Sun is an anthemic rock band with the production value of a renowned pop star crossed with a heavy metal act.  There were multiple dancers, props, costume changes and an incredible stage setup accompanying a distorted voice that seemed to be telling us all the secrets of life that we just weren’t ready to understand.  We were blown away by the show and vowed to see them at all costs whenever they come to town.

Another heavy hitter on the lineup was Slovenia born Gramatik.  He is a multi-genre DJ with live accompaniment and throws down every set.  Now that we were back in the Ballroom we decided to go upstairs for a different vantage.  The crowd looked like a sea of reeds rhythmically blowing in a tangible wind of sound.  However, after catching a few tracks we head back to the Float Den for what was sure to be a set to remember.

Making an almost 180 degree turn from the new wave synthpop we witnessed earlier was Die Antwoord, by far our most anticipated act of the festival.  The high octane energy of this male/female South African shock rap duo was unlike anything we have ever seen.  First you have the DJ, a brolic specimen wearing a big toothed Rocky gangster mask (from the Rocky and Buggsy cartoons).  Next, imagine a 5’1″ tiny blonde with blacked out eyes and you’ve got Yo-Landi Visser.  Now picture her sucking on a giant helium tank backstage and pressing a fast-forward button underneath her hair and you can almost hear her voice and see how fast she was running across the stage.  Ninja, the sinewy, inked up male half of this group was jumping around on the stage humping the air and spitting lyrics to round out the show.  All of this might seem horrible and off-putting but it was a must-see show and I highly encourage everyone to see them at least once.  You may never come across another musical act in your life quite like them.   Seeing as how nothing could possibly top them, the night ended and we all spilled back out into the Crescent City to rest up and recharge ourselves for another adventurous day in the sun.

Morning came fast and once again we headed to Mardis Gras World for another incredible day filled with music, laughter and love.  We decided to take it easy though and spent most of the day making new friends and relaxing while we waited for the nights headliners.  Because we weren’t rushing from stage to stage we had time to check out why Buku is also called an arts festival.  Near the entrance was a shipping container filled with graffiti (floor, walls, and ceiling) that people were adding their signatures to with sharpies and there were stairs out the back of it that lead to one of the best views of the main stage.  There were also three more stories of graffiti art near the Float Den, all of which evoked the colorful emotions of the French Quarter.

Finally it was time see some music and Borgore was up first.  The Israeli DJ/Producer was one of the biggest names in dubstep and now it seems was on to hardstyle, dropping more of it than we expected, but doing it well nonetheless.  The crowd went craziest when he dropped a remix of the Fountains of Wayne hit “Stacy’s Mom.”

Up next and playing their first show of the season was one of our favorite groups, the indie pop stars Passion Pit, whose uplifting vibes are infectious.  Their sound entered the ear and quickly moved through the bloodstream like an injection of bliss.  Then, escaping through the mouths of the singing onlookers, the positivity flowed through the crowd like a palpable mist of emotion.  One can’t help but be elated after one of their sets and as we walked away our smiles stretched from ear to ear.

We got a quick look at Lil B while the main stage was being prepped for the next set.  He had the crowd amped with a lot of call and respond verses but wasn’t our cup of tea.  Anyway, we wanted to get a good spot for Bassnectar so we headed back out.  As I look back, the only negative aspect of the entire weekend was the overcrowding.  Unfortunately, as amazing as the venue was, there were too many people there for it to always be comfortable.  Pushing through thousands of festivalgoers wasn’t fun but when it was all said and done, only a small blip on the radar of an otherwise unforgettable weekend.

After making our way through the dense crowd to get a great vantage point, Bassnectar took the stage to a thunderous roar of cheers.  Lorin Ashton is hands down the reigning king of bass music.  I wouldn’t even venture to categorize his music under any subgenre of EDM, rather it’s all his own and because of that he manages to ensnare followers who would otherwise never listen to electronic music.  There were thousands of so-called bassheads and beat freaks there just for him and he did not disappoint.  No one can control a crowd quite like a DJ can and almost no DJ can do it quite like Bassnectar.  And finally, after he gave us all a seventy-five minute long bass massage, where our bones were vibrated through and through, it was time to head to the Float Den one last time.

On our way to the other side of the festival we ran into a local N’awlins dance crew called the Buku Breakers.  We had joined a crowd three or four people deep to see them break on the hard concrete when all of sudden a remix of “Praise You” came blaring out of their speakers and we drifted into a dream.  In our haze I could’ve sworn that we were in a Fatboy Slim video. However, once the song ended we snapped back to reality and resumed our journey.

While waiting for the last set of the weekend to start we got to hang out with our friends running The Headspace booth.  If you love visionary art apparel and haven’t seen them on lot yet, check out their website (www.theheadspace.net) right away.  They collaborate with some of the best artists in the scene to bring you colorful, unique hats and clothing that’ll stand out in any crowd.

After just a short wait, Porter Robinson got underway and provided us with music that flowed through our very souls.  This was the most beautiful way we could’ve ended the weekend.  His set was equal parts pounding, pulsating bass and smooth vocal EDM that brought the entire crowd together in a ‘kumbaya’ like harmony.  Here was a DJ implanting mellifluous visions in our heads so that we could walk back out into the world in a tranquil dream state and peacefully reintegrate ourselves into society.

When it was over we slowly floated down from our clouds and made our way back into The Big Easy, where we joined all of our fellow festivalgoers who were also exploring the city.  New Orleans is a city and culture unlike any other in the US and Buku follows suit by being a festival unlike any other as well.  I can’t wait to go back and celebrate the fifth anniversary of this wonderful event.  Next year in NOLA baby!