BUKU Music + Arts Festival has always been a festival that’s been on my radar. Their lineups catered to my electronic and hip-hop needs, their art was awesome, their image was unique, and it was in the city of New Orleans. For one reason or another, I always prioritized other events over BUKU, but this year I had to make it. I’m eternally grateful to my friends and gracious hosts (shoutout Max, Kathleen, and Kieran) who made sure we had the best time and that we stayed alive, for the most part.
I was surrounded by music before I even got out of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. A live band playing jazzy music was set up right by the exit to the terminal–a natural welcoming party. With a full day before BUKU, some friends and I set out to demolish dozens of oysters while bar hopping across the city. We ended up at Superior Seafood & Oyster Bar, which will now be a staple to any future New Orleans trip I make. Even though I was a shellfish-newbie, these oysters were the biggest, slimiest, morsels of goodness I’ve ever seen. After multiple beers and daiquiris, these suckers were drunkenly slurped down in minutes. Later that night, we were sent down to a local bar, Parasol’s, to pick up two massive firecracker shrimp po’ boys. Heaven. I can’t get too much into the food or I’m going to be writing forever. This is a music blog, right?
BUKU DAY 1
Before I knew it, I was waking up in my friend’s hammock and it was T-minus three hours until the first set of BUKU. A cold beer was tossed my way and the party from last night continued all the way to the front gates. As soon as I got in, I made my way to the Power Plant, which was essentially the main stage of BUKU. It gets its name from the industrial, decaying power plant that’s in perfect view behind the stage, across the Mississippi river. Lido had just taken the stage and was throwing down an impressive set with his very unique live setup. He had a mic he was singing into, a keyboard, a drum pad, CDJs to mix, and a set of cymbals he pounded throughout his set. Since he was at the Power Plant and it was still early in the day, there was a lot of open space. Probably more than Lido would have liked, but I imagine most of the masses were still pregaming for the later shows to come.
After Lido’s set I was fortunate enough to cool off in the media lounge and have a brief conversation with TroyBoi before his 6 o’clock set in the Float Den. You’ll be able to check out what we talked about and take a deeper look into his BUKU set soon! It was hype. The set ended and I had a bloody nose. Let’s leave it at that for now.
The sun was setting and it was time to head back to the Power Plant to catch GRiZMATiK. Since Colorado is a central hub for GRiZ/Gramatik shows (and all their combinations), and since I’ve lived there for the past six years, this one was highly anticipated for me. The Power Plant was now appropriately packed. GRiZMATiK threw a hell of a show, attracting what seemed to be every type of person that was attending BUKU. There was funk, bass, hip-hop, jazz and brass–a little something for everyone.
Afterwards, the crowd seemed to clear, but that thought fleeted as a whole new mass of hip-hop fans came rushing in to grab a spot for Travis Scott. A comfortable spot for GRiZMATiK was now a shoulder-to-shoulder situation for Travis. This normally would have annoyed me and caused me to find a new spot, but this was La Flame, my current favorite rapper, and I held my ground. Not even a second coming of my bloody nose was able to pull me out the rowdy crowd. Travis mostly played songs from his most successful and most recent album, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. Highlights definitely included a huge pyrotechnic blast every time he threw in an “it’s lit!” ad-lib.
After the Travis set, I was visibly losing steam and did what I could to keep up with the group at Zeds Dead back at the Float Den (last set of the day), but it was tough. I gave it my all for the first half of the set, but ended up calling it quits early. It had been a long day and I still had much more of BUKU to explore the next day. Luckily, my hosts lived just a quick drive from the venue, so in no time I was snuggled up on a couch with a dog and I was out.
BUKU DAY 2
After some much needed rest, it was time to indulge with some more rich, Nawlins food. We found a cafe with some pleasant live music and delicious mimosas to get the day started off right. There was some buzz throughout the city pretty early, and this was due to the huge annual St. Patrick’s Day parade that was to take place very shortly. We scarfed our food down and chugged our drinks to make sure we beat the rush. We probably wouldn’t have made it past the parade if it weren’t for our very skilled and knowledgeable Uber driver, Lester, who took us through the tiniest and most crooked streets to get us to BUKU on time. Thanks, Lester.
I had been talking up Space Jesus to the group since I caught his insane set at Okeechobee the weekend prior (ok, I was pretty tired), and we made it just in time to see him take the stage and play a back-to-back set with Minnesota. The Float Den was the perfect place for it. A huge warehouse with huge speakers to match. In the enclosed space it seemed misty, like you could almost see the sweat evaporating off of everyone as they raged on. We agreed that Space Jesus and Minnesota may have had the best set of the weekend, but REZZ came up next, and gave them a sure run for their money. Those first two sets had us grooving for over two hours straight. It was time to go chill out for a bit and get some air. Perfect timing, too, as Tycho was about to come on back at the Power Plant.
The group and I took some of this time to explore the other creative spaces around BUKU. What really stood out was the graffiti wall, where live art was being exhibited and some pieces were themed to some of the artists that were playing that day. There was also a viewing area that was made out of shipping containers covered in more art, where you could comfortably view whatever was happening at the Power Plant. We hung out around here and got some seriously mediocre festival food (come on now, we can do better than chewy chicken fingers and pizza, BUKU) before we embarked on the final chapter of this crazy festival.
The final act included Run The Jewels, who are easily one of the best hip-hop acts to see nowadays (same with Travis Scott), and hometown heroes $UICIDEBOY$, who turned the Float Den from a rave to an extra-hype house party. Their style can only be described as nearly-screamo mixed with dirty south trap. It was fantastic.
The finale of BUKU was one of my favorite electronic performers to date, ZHU. Everyone was clearly running on fumes at this point, but the set was so good that we all kept moving. ZHU was accompanied by his live companions, the mysterious guitar and saxophone players that hit a solo for nearly every song, just begging us to keep our energy. It’s one thing to see a DJ execute a set perfectly, but it’s something else to see one of your favorite songs remixed live right in front of you, which is ZHU’s specialty.
Eventually the set came to a close, and it was time to hug it out and grab any contact information we could from our new-found friends. BUKU was finished. And I was exhausted. I’m not sure where we went after that, but I definitely remember waking up briefly at a McDonald’s drive-through in an Uber at 4 a.m., only to fall back asleep and wake up back on that same couch with the same dog. Miss you, Kona.
It may sound simple, but when you go to a festival in the middle of a city, that city is part of the festival. You’re not out in the middle of nowhere, stumbling back to your campsite. It’s important to take advantage of your new surroundings and get some perspective. Even though it’s been over a decade since Katrina, the damage is still very evident. But New Orleans was still one of the happiest places I’ve been to. Could it be the music? The culture? The people? Perhaps all of the above. One thing is for sure, I won’t ever forget this trip or the friendships I found or the ones I strengthened. Keep doing you, BUKU, and I’ll see you in 2018.