At only 2 years old, Buku is a relatively young but up-and-coming festival. To give a scope of the size of the venue. it would only take about 5 minutes to casually walk between its two farthest points. Despite its size, there were still four music stages – each with their own flavor. The venue was constructed in and around Mardi Gras World, a storage facility and museum for Mardi Gras floats nestled on the edge of New Orleans against the Mississippi river, which is all exactly as cool as it sounds.
The entrance dumps you into a large open area where the first object you encounter is the massive outdoor “Power Plant” stage, named after the enormous, dilapidated power plant looming just behind it. This was the main stage and the site for the headlining acts. Immediately next to it, flanked by giant skulls (don’t worry, they were fake) was the smallest venue, the Riverfront Stage. Acts performed here during the gap-time between the main stage performances so sounds wouldn’t overlap (which no can stand, c’mon) but you would never go without music. Next, if you were to turn around and walk a few hundred feet, you would come across the Ballroom. The large, tastefully empty space featured a balcony in which an impressive stage and an even more impressive light fixture was set up. Finally, if you were to leave this and head away from the main stage past the vendors, you would run into the Float Den, our personal favorite. The building was a long, low warehouse that emitted an underground, industrial vibe. Once inside though, you realized the stage was flanked by old Mardi Gras floats which is, again, exactly as cool as it sounds.
Ranging from creepy to fantastic, you really got to see the raw underside of Mardi Gras culture. Aside from the music, the atmosphere was augmented by a wall of artists working on numerous Graffiti projects, boats coming and going on the river, crazy spring break antics, and New Orleanian (as well as non-New Orleanian) vendors. All in all, the feel of the festival as a whole was very much in tune with the city – an intersection of rust-belt-like grit, flashy urban style, southern hospitality and the wild Mardi Gras culture. Enough about the setup though, lets talk about some music.
Daniel Desimone’s Buku Experience
Friday March 8
Earl Sweatshirt (Ballroom): The first act I greatly desired to see this year at Buku was Earl Sweatshirt. Readers: Brace yourselves because I have a lot to say about this one. My first impression of the show was a pleasant one, seeing as Flying Lotus (as Captain Murphy) was on the 1s and 2s. It was 7:00 on the first day and there was already an unexpected crossover act. After playing fellow Odd Future member Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers” to set the mood, Earl, face obscured by a black hoodie, grabbed the mike and went to work. As a fan of Earl’s old material, this show was a larger source of anxiety for me than I would like to admit since I had heard rumors that Earl had more or less disowned his old material. What if all he played was new material? What if Earl’s new material wasn’t appealing to me?
Thankfully, all of my fears amounted to nothing. Earl zealously performed old tracks such as “Earl” and “Drop” alongside tracks from his upcoming album Doris. While his new tracks retained a lot of the controversy, psychosis and deviance from old efforts they seemed more polished and introspective. He has also allowed his undeniable lyrical prowess, rather than shock, to provide the bulk of the value in his music. If the entirety of Doris follows this pattern, the album is going to be absolutely massive. That is not to say he has completely grown up, though. In his songs, music videos and live performance his playfulness and humor shine through. With a goofy smile, he threatened not to release the album if we didn’t dance or requested that we turn to our left and punch the person next to us. All in all, Earl crammed an impressive performance into his short, 30-minute set. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I can now say that I saw Earl perform what he called his “first big-ass show,” and he killed it.
Flux Pavilion (Power Plant): Having heard a handful of British producer/DJ Flux Pavilion’s recorded material prior to Buku, I had not planned on making much of an effort to reach his show. That being said, I can safely say that you know absolutely nothing about what Flux Pavilion is capable of until you have seen him live. At a chaste 7:30 in the afternoon, Flux Pavilion wove together a seamless flow of sounds, effortlessly jumping between dubstep, drum n‘ bass, moombahton, electro house and more. Unlike many live DJs Flux Pavilion never seemed satisfied with allowing a segment to just run for a minute, allowing him to take a break. If it wasn’t building to a peak or crashing over our heads it wasn’t good enough. Within this fog of frenetic sounds, however, there were familiar tunes to hold on to like singles “Bass Cannon” and “I Can’t Stop”. These songs, coupled with his incredibly futuristic, explosive visualizations and light show were enough to put Flux Pavilion very high up on my list for most fun Friday show. Definitely a must-see if you have the chance.
Primus 3D (Power Plant): The legendary psychedelic-funk-metal trio Primus was the second oldest group performing at the festival this year (the first being Public Enemy). This was my second time seeing the Primus 3D show in six months, so I’ll go ahead and get the comparison out of my system. The two shows were very similar. This is to be expected, but it was still slightly disappointing. The show was stellar, but I was personally disappointed for reasons I will explain later. For anyone skeptical about the 3D nature of the show, let me tell you that it really takes their material to a whole new level. The band’s recorded songs rarely, if ever, exceed 6 minutes in length but live they fill their entire 1.5 hour set with just over 10 songs. How? By incorporating new elements of improvisation, drone, and psychedelia into their already existing material, augmenting the psychedelic 3D visuals. These in turn enhance the listening experience, creating a tunnel of trippy positive feedback.
So how does the 3D work? Before the show, glasses are handed out to be worn during the performance. Images are displayed on the screen behind the band. These are more than just 3D movies, though. Picture this: over-saturated images slowly change colors, superimposed over old black-and-white film clips. Color vortexes, bubbles and flying faucets weave in and out, while the band plays, flanked by their iconic inflatable spacemen.
Now for my personal caveat. Primus has a very diverse catalogue and due to the nature of the tour most of the material leans psychedelic. This is nice, but anyone who loves the uptempo, funk/metal material (like yours truly) may be disappointed to find that a very small amount of that finds it’s way into their setlists. Perhaps I have attended the wrong performances, but even songs that were once staples like “My Name is Mud”, “John the Fisherman”, and “Wynona’s Got a Big Brown Beaver” now seem like rarities. My favorite part of the whole performance was the final three songs where singer/bassist Les Claypool donned his infamous pig mask and became his old self again, wielding the 6-string rainbow bass, prancing around the stage and playing the heavier, funkier material. These aren’t the words of a bitter fan though, just one who acknowledges that he has arrived too late to see one era of an amazing band and gets to experience another different on. Long live Primus.
Flying Lotus (Float Den): One of the most frustrating conflicts orchestrated by the Buku 2013 staff for me was, without a doubt, that of Primus and Flying Lotus. As a die hard fan I needed to see Primus, but on the other hand I was curious to see if FlyLo would perform any material as his alter-ego Captain Murphy, whose Duality album was one of my favorites of 2012. I was only able to catch the last 30 minutes of Flying Lotus’ set, but I arrived just in time to hear Earl Sweatshirt’s recognizable voice rattling away over the unmistakable beat for the Captain Murphy track, “Between Friends.” This marked the start of an exceptional Captain Murphy segment of FlyLo’s set. He followed this up with a few more Flying Lotus tracks which he enhanced by mixing in songs by other artists like Portishead and Beastie Boys. The stage itself was also interesting. FlyLo was sandwiched in between 2 screens with a projector behind him. He and his turntables appeared as shadows against the fuzzed-out graphics of the frontmost screen. Unlike many of the other electronic shows of the weekend, the set focused not on partying, but losing yourself in your own mind. This was definitely not your average DJ set, and I regret not being able to see the whole thing.
Zedd (Float Den): Never before in my life have I been to a warehouse rave, but I have to imagine this is what they feel like. Progressive electro house producer Zedd absolutely destroyed his set, despite any initial techincal difficulties. Persistent kick drums, the heartbeat of the entire experience, reverberated off the Mardi Gras floats, rattling the audience alongside blistering synths. All the while, lights flashed on and off. The room would be immersed in total darkness one second and then illuminated just long enough to catch the sweaty, glitter-painted faces of the frenzied people around you. According to friends, Zedd apologized on his twitter for not delivering the show he desired because he had to use Flux Pavilion and R3hab’s equipment, but I say he definitely delivered, and then some. This was surprisingly the only time the entire festival I was approached by someone who inexplicably hugged me, rubbed my body, and left. Was it love or was it MDMA? We will never know.
Datsik (Ballroom): In the United States, dubstep is often stereotyped as trashy, frat-friendly tunes designed to encourage fist pumping, grinding, and beer chugging. This is definitely not always the case, but Datsik did fit this description. Intentional or not, it was delicious. Datsik didn’t take the stage until 1:30 AM and he stayed on until 3:00. It got to a point in the ballroom that the crowd was so bathed in smoke and lasers that the front row was invisible to the rest of us. More so than any other set I saw this weekend, Datsik rocked ribcages with simple, but massive wobbles and samples of recognizable hip-hop tracks. This overlap of dubstep and hip-hop makes him, in my mind, the most iconic Buku artist, seeing as those were the festival’s most well-represented genres. I didn’t feel like it was the most mind-opening, avant-garde performance but there’s something beautiful about that raw, visceral energy that comes from losing yourself to the party. It was an excellent end to night 1 of Buku.
Saturday March 9th
Action Bronson (Power Plant): A bearded, Jewish, ex-NY Mets chef born to Albanian immigrants isn’t the stereotypical personification of “hip-hop.” Despite all of this, Action Bronson’s early afternoon performance on the main stagee was one of the most genuine hip-hop shows I have ever experienced. Bronson didn’t present himself like a god. He chatted with the crowd in between songs, openly admitted to forgetting the words to a verse and even walked off stage to grab a soda out of a cooler mid-perfromance. It might not have been the most professional show but professionalism is not nearly as valuable to me as sincerity is, and he was rife with it. It was easy to tell that his food, drug and sex-soaked lyrics came right from the heart and when I looked around the audience I was hard pressed to find a face without a grin. If all of that wasn’t enough, he even brought Earl Sweatshirt on stage to spit a few verses with him just because he happened to be around. During his final song he climbed down off of the stage right into the audience and danced around rapping through the crowd giving out hugs, high-fives and photos. Me? I definitely went in for a hug right after the photo. It was just another party to him, and I couldn’t think of a better host. Curious? Two of his most notable releases Rare Chandeliers and Blue Chips are free downloads.
Public Enemy (Power Plant): Iconic hip-hop act Public Enemy has proved that their music is timeless, not just because they are still drawing massive audiences in 2013 but also because they did this show exactly like they would have done it in 1989. First to the stage were a handful of live musicians as well as DJ Lord and the S1W (Soldiers of the First World) in full fatigues, opening the show per tradition with a routine. After this the great Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Professor Griff themselves took the stage, breaking the spell by running around, swinging mics like hammers, leaning against one another and shaking to the music in a way that you would never see hip-hop artists today do. The high energy (not to mention borderline unnecessarily high volumes) was maintained throughout the show and they kept it fresh on stage by doing things like putting Flav behind the drums or giving DJ Lord a time to shine. Unlike some older acts who begin to phase out their oldest material, PE stuck to a lot of their classics like singles off of Fear of a Black Planet. However, they still found time to play tracks from their latest album The Evil Empire of Everything. Finally, right before the end of their set, Flav delivered a speech on acceptance, love and the end of racism to the audience, leaving us in a state of nostalgic positivity.
Kendrick Lamar (Power Plant): Kendrick Lamar took the stage as the third and final act in a bumper-to-bumper-to-bumper hip-hop bonanza on the main stage. Since the release of good kid, m.A.A.d. city the Compton native and Black Hippy member has experienced success on a national scale. This was evident by the size of the crowd, which must have been 80% of the festival’s population despite Kendrick overlapping with other acts. As he’s made apparent on his studio albums, Kendrick has a propensity for theatrics and storytelling, which made it’s way into the live show. He started most songs with some sort of introduction, anecdote or interaction with the crowd and it worked amazingly. Live, Kendrick’s delivery was much more aggressive and unrestrained. There was a great “we are family and this is our struggle” atmosphere created that was broken only by songs like “Backseat Freestyle” and “m.A.A.d. city,” where the crowd would go nuts.
Big Freedia (Riverfront): “What is even happening right now,”“Oh my God that was amazing” and “I need a cold shower” are three common responses to people seeing Big Freedia for the first time, or any time for that matter. I’ve had the joy of seeing her perform live twice and I still felt taken by surprise. Big Freedia, the Queen Diva, is a New Orleans native who performs a style of music called bounce. Originating in the city, bounce is a subgenre of hip-hop where performers combine elements of the dirty south (drinking, booties, money, parties), trap music (emphasis on snare proficiency and simple, repeated phrases) and inhumanly fast tempos. All of these revolve around one focus point: twerking. No Big Freedia show would be complete without a handful of voluptuous men and women on stage moving their bodies in unbelievable ways. Furthermore, Freedia welcomed volunteers to the stage from the audience to show what they could do. The result was a disorganized ocean of clapping asses, pointing and shouting about said asses, fishnet tights, machine gun-like snare/kick drums and sassy poses all bathed in a pink light. Although the set was shorter than the allotted 30 minutes, it still blew our collective minds. I cherished the opportunity to have seen her in her home town.
Daedelus (Float Den): Daedelus (pronounced “Day duh luss”), is an enigmatic figure in the electronic music world for many reasons. Maybe it’s his luscious sideburns, perhaps it’s the fact that he appears almost exclusively in clothes that make him look like author Oscar Wilde, or maybe it’s the fact that his music is categorized as both neo-baroque and electronic dance music. That being said, his performance was not what I expected (a theme of the weekend, apparently). Yes the sideburns and suit were intact but the music he was playing actually sounded like the apocalypse occurring in the room. A salad of audio samples and synth riffs glitched in and out over a booming wind tunnel of bass and drums. At times he would allow a measure to run on repeat, throwing in a startling robotic interjection or flash of synths. He would slowly transition into hip hop and then psytrance at the drop of a hat. It was wild, scary, and in-your-face. This fury, coupled with a static ridden, geometric light show made for a very psychedelic experience. I sat, I listened, I said “aaaah…” a lot, I enjoyed.
Major Lazer (Ballroom): And the winner for Buku 2013 is….. (drumroll) MAJOR LAZER! It was not an obvious choice, but this show was so full of character, so unique and so awesome I have to put it as my personal #1. The dancehall-moombahton-electro (and more) group is at this point comprised of DJs/Producers Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. The actual figure associated with the group’s name “Major Lazer” is a large (presumably) Caribbean man with a lazer gun for a right hand. He attained this weapon after losing his hand in “the secret zombie war of 1984”. Enough about the group, though. I’ll let the show speak for itself.
The show began 30 minutes late, but it was well worth the wait. Before the music even started, Diplo emerged and handed out an armful of vuvuzelas, then made it rain over the first few rows with a fat fistfull of dollar bills. Then, and only then, did they start the music. As the first few kicks emanated from the towers of speakers inflatable rafts and pool toys were passed out into the crowd. They played a mix of their old material off of Gunz Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do as well as their upcoming album Free the Universe. One new song, “Bubble Butt,” was accompanied by members of the group bringing ladies out of the crowd to shake their ‘posteriors’ in a hectic riot of twerking matched only by Big Freedia’s performance earlier that day. It was here that, in a borderline misogynistic display of wealth, Diplo produced yet another stack of cash and poured it out over the bouncing women. Near the end of the set they also brought a guy (just one, they made this explicitly clear) from the front row to lose his mind on stage during the song “Hold the Line”.
The moral here is that if there was a show to be in the front for, this was it. Granted, if there was a show to be in the back/middle for, this was also it. The crowd was an ocean of topless to nearly topless bodies, gyrating, drenched in sweat and feeling the New Orleans heat. As the show went on, the antics increased. Diplo and Walshy Fire encapsulated themselves in plastic bubbles and ran out into the crowd. People climbed into inflatable rafts and rode the crowd and Diplo requested that we remove our shirts and throw them in the air simultaneously (resulting in the aforementioned nudity).
This show was absolutely bonkers and really made me crave some jerk pork. I suggest a Major Lazer show to anyone who likes to get down and wants a little island flavor. Unfortunately, it quickly became time for us to pack it in and bid BUKU fest adieu. At least until next year.
Matt Rodder’s Buku Experience
Friday March 8
Lettuce: With raging horns and killer guitar riffs, Lettuce got the festival started off right! Having seen them before, I was pumped to find out they were playing BUKU. I made sure to rush everyone in our group from the hotel so we were able to catch their set. Playing funk, soul, blues, and jazz music, Lettuce fit in perfectly with the diverse scene of New Orleans. They really held down a natural, groovy vibe that separated them from all other acts. Having a history and reputation for playing multiple festivals, Lettuce certainly knew how to work the crowd, and keep everyone dancing and having a grand time. Trust me, the natives were getting down! Being in NOLA, it would have been a crime to not have a band like Lettuce bringing that funk!
Shlohmo: With a mix of spacey sounds, trap-esque beats and echoing atmospheric embellishments, Shlohmo’s definitely following his own path. His music is pretty breezy and abstract, but it seemed he revamped and/or remixed a lot of his material for a more engaging show. I loved it! He flowed seamlessly throughout his entire set. Playing in a warehouse filled with Mardi Gras memorabilia, partnered with a far out light performance and a very washed out atmosphere, this was definitely one of my favorite sets of the weekend!
Saturday March 9
Flosstradamus: I felt heavily conflicted because Flosstradamus and Public Enemy were playing at the same time. How could I not go watch the now 53-year-old Flavor Flav get down ‘80s style? However, I left early to catch the second part of Flosstradamus’s set, and they destroyed it! Based in Chicago, these guys are fathers to the increasingly popular “Trap music.” Essentially you take hip-hop style instrumentals, remix them and throw in tons of bass. They played a sick remix of “Mercy,” as well tunes like “The Original Don,” “Rollup,” and “Underground Anthem.” As a friend of mine said, “it was ridiculous!” Simply put, NOLA got down to some dirty trap.
Alt-J: Alt-J’s show was probably my most anticipated. After starting almost forty-five minutes late, when Alt-J hit the stage they played ferociously. With their earthy sound, complex vocal melodies, acoustic and synthesized piano and an incredibly distinct mix of percussion, they definitely brought a whole different sound to BUKU. Most of the crowd knew the lyrics, turning ecstatic when the band finally started playing. After that wait, the crowd consisted of mainly loyal fans.The Preservation Hall Jazz Band even made an appearance (in tuxedos for that matter) during “Fitzpleasure” These guys are one of my favorite bands out right now, and their live show was even better than I thought it was going to be!
STS9: This was the only band to play two sets, but rightfully so. Uniquely blending organic and electronic instrumentation, they have been rocking a very defiant jamtronica sound for over a decade. They played the Float Den (by far my favorite stage) starting off with “Kabuki”, then going into “Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist”. At this point the crowd had pushed as close as it could to the front. When they played “Vapors,” one of my personal favorites, the crowd went wild! With about an hour and a half break between sets, it gave everyone a chance to chill, go see other acts, and drink some water. When their second set started there was a great amount of excitement in the crowd It was past midnight on the last day of BUKU, and this was one of the last acts on everyone’s list to see. They started off with “Scheme” followed by “Awesome,” then Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock.” Everyone was hypnotized by their pulsating beat when they played one of my favorites, “When The Dust Settles”. Then, Dominic Lalli (saxophonist of Big Gigantic) made a smooth appearance on “Be Nice”. Encoring with “Rent”, when they stopped playing everyone cheered for the treat they had just got. This was definitely one of my favorite shows. Walking out of that warehouse, (at this point sweaty) we were already reminiscing on what a great show, and weekend of music we got to see.