Sitting along the Mississippi River front, just behind the infamous New Orleans Convention Center, we marveled at the reality of this historical sight. This was the very spot that rescuers dropped people off during Katrina once the Superdome reached capacity. The grounds of Buku Music & Art Project were among the estimated 20 percent of New Orleans that were not affected by Katrina’s flooding. The thought of this bestowed a certain chill over us as we each acknowledged being in such a profoundly historical place.
The eager crowd of 12,000 waited anxiously at the gate opening March 8th for Day One of the 2013 Buku Music & Arts Project in New Orleans, LA. The massively colorful and cartoon-like float characters at the front gate offset the abandoned power plant building decaying behind the main stage, creating an industrial vibe for all to rage. With the sun setting into the NOLA city skyline and the drift from the river coming in chilling the sparsely-dressed attendees, the first set of the weekend commenced.
The seven-piece soul band Lettuce played one of the earliest sets, kicking off the weekend with one of the funkiest. Although the band boasts plenty of amazing instrumentation, the precision horns and psychedelic keys really set it off. It’s the kind of band that knows when it hits the jammy sweet spot and lets the spotlight shine free on whomever is leading the rage at that given moment. Many other musicians had the chance of stepping in to join the jam, and each artist proved their talent, switching between instruments and vocals. This set got us down with the dirty sound, carrying nicely into the sunset.
Preferring flow to funk, Earl Sweatshirt mopped it up next delivering crowd pleasers like “Chum” and “Hive.” He appeared as a hooded figure saturated with the colors beaming from behind. No gimmicks, but real talk, solid shiny beats and clean hip hop. Sweatshirt is a born thinker with lyrics describing street culture on a more philosophical level. After claiming he feels like the odd one out, Steve Ellison (the Flying Lotus front man) hopped in for a quick duet, proving him wrong. The 19-year old Sweatshirt closed his set claiming it was the first “big-ass crowd” he’d ever played. And we were honored, Earl, you killed it.
Up next was Flux Pavilion proving Buku wasn’t playing around when the festival described an upgraded audio experience for 2013. Flux sent shock waves of dirty drops throughout the crowd with his Euro-style beats that make you crumble. It’s impossible to stand still at this set. He incorporated an array of electronic genres to please the audience members’ eclectic tastes. Front row or back behind the soundboard, Flux sounded incredible and the crowd went insane.
Heavy metal of electro turned into straight-up punk metal with the hi-octane Vancouver, BC duo Japandroids. Never mind a small crowd, these dudes (Brian King, David Prowse) threw their bodies and instruments around so much they had the punk fans thrash-moshing The Ballroom stage in fits of rage. Their own words describe their sound better than anyone: “It has the fluidity of pee and the solidness of poo.” Grimey, just a big sweaty wad of that kick-ass grime.
Primus 3D was a trip. Boxes of free 3D glasses littered the grounds as Les Claypool’s 3D visions came to life in the wierdest production around. Graphics featuring extreme sports and late night cartoons set the backdrop for Claypool’s dark and slinky bass melodies. And when the glasses were worn, it was a different world. Think bubbles floating up above the crowd and a spinning vortex that felt like infinity and looked like molten tie-dye. Claypool’s wonderland is some of the most unique production out there. Experience it.
Two Fresh (twin brothers Kendrick and Sherwyn Nicholls) twerked the lower-level ballroom of the S.S. Buku, holding the most eclectic crowd. Their tight instrumentals and low-end, hip-hop sound had gangster girls shaking it alongside hipsters with endlessly bobbing heads. With a talent to read the audience and adjust accordingly, it feels like these guys have endless material to play around with. This duo is super chill, always down to throw a party, and this time was no different. Definitely check them every time you get the chance.
Flying Lotus (Steve Ellison aka FlyLo aka Captain Murphy) brought production to BUKU that blew minds and entranced crowds. What he calls a 3-layer show places the DJ between two screens and two projectors, creating wild visuals that appear to move forward and backward, through and around the DJ himself. Playing classic FlyLo, mixing Beastie Boys and even inviting Edward Sweatshirt for a second round team up, the production was incredible. He’s one for the books this season, check it out.
The next set, Break Science, had such a synchronized dynamic you would think they shared skulls. Adam Deitch and Borham Lee know how to command crowd energy with casual bumping melodies that grow into high-energy key jams that had the dudes themselves jumping. Their shows make it incredibly easy to dig in and get down. A guaranteed good show not to miss. (And if you haven’t gotten a copy of their latest collaboration EP, Twilight Frequency, featuring Michael Menert, check our review of it with a link to the free download here.
To end Day 1, Datsik took the Ballroom stage with a roar. Festival-goers filled the scene prepared for what he was going to unleash. He dropped heavy beats that kept the the energy alive through the night. Fans went bananas when he played his unmistakable dubstep, hip-hop beats, and trap. The crowd had an especially epic reaction to “Juicy” by Biggie. Despite the late night hour, not a body stood still as the build-up had the listeners wanting more. Datsik always brings the party when he hits the decks and this set was an impeccable way to end the first day of music.
As it came time to return to the grounds for Day Two on Saturday, the rays of sun around New Orleans were deceiving. Reaching the riverfront, the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees and the winds were incredibly harsh. Although this came as a surprise, we still raged on with Gravity A owning an early spot and setting the mood for a stacked lineup. They mixed original material and a healthy dose of covers including Ginuwine’s “Ride My Pony” and a sick mash up of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Kind of Man with Three 6 Mafia “I Gotta Stay Fly.” Songs aimed to amp imbued with an impressive musical ability land this group a top spot.
Public Enemy exploded into one of the best sets of the weekend. With Flavor Flave’s signature battle cry spiking energy levels through the crowd, the 32-year veterans of American Hip-Hop proved once again that they know how to deliver. Refined skills included Flava Flav on the bass guitar AND drum kit. Who knew?! DJ Lord’s live mixes mash up heavy rock (The White Stripes, ACDC) and the dope beats he drops on the spot. These along with some hilarious commentary turned the entire crowd into a raging dance floor. On a closing message they announced their April 18th induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hell yeah boys. If you ever get a chance to catch these legends, do it.
Golden boy Kendrick Lamar set off one of the weekend’s most anticipated acts playing most tracks from his latest album, Good Kid MAAD City. Lamar frequently paused to call out fans in the crowd and amp NOLA in some impressive freestyle. He came out in all white and made the crowd feel like an important part of his show, always a huge bonus. Don’t expect this cat to go anywhere anytime soon.
Some sort of twisted joke happened when a sound issue caused Alt-J to hit the stage more than 40 precious minutes late. Every fan in the packed Ballroom Tent was missing the uncomfortably overlapping Kendrick Lamar and Big Gigantic sets while no staffers explained the delay. The patient crowd was rewarded with the tight precision of Alt-J’s engrossing album, An Awesome Wave. Beautiful synths and a low and mellow groove delivered songs as close to the studio recording as you could get, with the exception of one weighted song: “Fitzpleasure.” Here, the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band made an appearance without changing Alt J’s sound at all. We still aren’t really sure how they pulled it off, but the collective swaying of the crowd proves that they did. Definitely a hit show, these shy guys are on their way up and we couldn’t be more proud. Own it indie rockers.
Big Gigantic filled the Float Den with crowds going wild for their jazzy sound, which suits the NOLA vibe well. Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken always fuse their sound so seamlessly, bringing both the ravers and the live music lovers together as one. They continue to wow crowds everywhere they go and had a phenomenal turn out despite the many overlapping sets.
STS9 deserved both of their coveted Saturday night spots in The Float Den delivering on every level. Smogged out lasers filled the warehouse as massive cartoon floats flanked the parameters. Although ravers owned the scene, it was fairly easy to get up close. Throwing down a menage of their cult classics, STS9 lulls you into steady grooves just to throw your body into waves with beat structures that fall somewhere between swaggy and spacey. The second set featured a Daft Punk cover of “Robot Rock” and “Be Nice” with Dominic Lalli live on the sax. The seasoned festival veterans did it again and will no doubt continue to bring it.
Buku’s sophomore year was an incredible experience that we anticipate only improving from here. The industrial grungy NOLA vibes were an appreciated change of scenery for a music and art festival scene that migrated the Mississippi River banks for a weekend. We loved the live graffiti artists (check out our artist spotlight coming soon) as they created unique and amazing pieces that sold at the silent auction. Thanks again to Winter House Productions for hooking us up and continually improving all efforts. Forging a place among the ranks of NOLA festivals, Jazz Fest and Voodoo, Buku is Rey Jing on in 2014. Don’t miss it! And always remember kids, as only Flavor Flav could say it, “The only person who can take better care of you, than you, is yourself.”