The first ever Buku Music and Art Project in New Orleans represented more than just another festival to the city and the widespread multiday festival circuit around the country – it capitulated to the ever-changing music scene in America and showed what can happen when considerate vision is tipped to the attendee. We will get to the quality of production and performances over this past weekend, but first just cannot escape reflecting on the overall state of music in this budding generation represented through the crowd infused with a recently revamped genre in hip-hop.
As discussed in OurVinyl’s preview to the festival, locally founded Winter Circle Productions carried the Buku Project, taking their own festival experiences into account when drawing the plan for a project that fused hip-hop and electronic music. From local foods to live art installations to the presence of some of the most trending names in music, the Buku Project catered to the fan. And with thousands of attendees gathering in the Big Easy to celebrate, the highly anticipated event delivered.
As stated in the name, the Art aspect of the Buku Project had a number of different avenues of expression. Upon entering was a collage of recycled metal and wooden frames that created the wall space where Buku was painted in large letters. Aside this installation was a group of triangular prisms that reflected light and had images across the panels.
As one continued to walk through the festival site, there were scattered floats and statues from Mardi Gras World including Yoda and Marilyn Monroe. Additionally, there was a unique fish-like vessel that one could sit in and relax on the riverside as it lit up. The Art crew also created a custom hammock grove that was mounted by recyclable items and used plants, creating a forest like chill-out zone that was crowded throughout the weekend.
Yelle DJs remix of Under the Sun
Further across the river on the edge of the festival were a number of street artists painting during the course of the weekend. While each artist had their own opportunity of expression with their respective pieces, ranging from surrealist heads, paw prints, and signatures, the novelty of watching the artists in action was another creative performance provided by the festival. The artistic element of this festival was seen throughout and aided in the illumination of the fantastic feeling that evoked the grounds, providing amusement in nearly every facet.
As far as production goes, the Buku Project handled this aspect of the festival like seasoned professionals. Drinks were cold and albeit affordable (4 dollar Rolling Rock anyone?). The food was diverse and satisfying without hurting the wallet. Performances ran on time, and the sound was crisp and heavy.. really heavy.. especially from the main stage. The ballroom was the indoor stage at the festival site, with tall ceilings and a light rig that was mounted high above.
With the aura of art, lights, and the panoramic backdrop of the Mississippi River, smokestacks and the Crescent City Connection all in clear view, the scene ironically set as its own composition and was ideal for the perfect weather that enhanced it. Being the inaugural edition of the Buku Project it was uplifting to see the production run seamlessly, with little to no snafus.
Musically, the weekend was potent yet balanced, arraying from heavy electronic to raunchier dubstep to fresh disco and hip-hop and more. With two full days of music on two stages, there was much to see, including the segues from local musicians and DJs. Here are some of the more notable acts throughout the weekend:
Although playing at the same time, Grammatik and Yelle DJS was when the festival really started to feel like the party it was promoted as. The French native band played one of their coveted DJ sets wearing shirts made from CDs. The trio alternated mixing and matching as they provided an upbeat disco and house influenced set that got the ballroom popping from the very first track. All the while, across the site Grammatik played to its hip-hop inspired beats that had the respective crowd grooving.
Following was one of the most sought after acts of the weekend, Avicii. From the very first notes, as in nearly all of the Swede’s US Tour dates, the entire crowd was energetic and hypnotically pumping and jumping to the dance party that he was providing. As a first time visitor to New Orleans, the crowd was very receptive, singing along to many of his tracks as he drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. Avicii plays a very accessible style of electronic music to the average person. Without sounding too entitled, one’s capacity does not have to be deep in order to dance along and enjoy his tracks and the party that results from it. His sets do not vary very much in style or tracklisting, but the tunes he chooses and produces are that of the triumphant and euphoric trance beats. Avicii did however cleverly blend some of his own tracks, using hooks from one tune with the melody of another.
Aviici’s Sweet Dreams
Mord Fustand and Holy Fuck continued the energetic electronic dance party later into the night while Wiz Khalifa took the main stage. Usually, as this writer notes, rap performances do not normally translate well in a live setting, as much of the prestige in their makeup is due to meticulous mastering and layering of vocals. However, Wiz, accompanied with a live band, played an excellent show with clarity and range that stood on its own outside the studio. Making it abundantly clear that he was 4/20 friendly, Wiz played hits from Bob Marley as well as many of his own popular tracks. Not only did Wiz’s set provide the most exemplary personification of the Buku Project’s agenda to meld modern hip-hop with an erupting electronic scene, but his performance was impressive musically as well. It was a nice contrast with much of the thumping from the rest of the day to get down to some mellow tunes aside the river before the night got into full swing. These acts at music festivals are under-appreciated as they act as not only a draw for some but also an opportunity to breathe for many.
Diplo concluded the night on the main stage. Although his set was revered by many attendees and the weekend was without doubt a success and ultimately, fun, there is something important to note through my coverage of the artist and other DJs. Having seen his most recent festival sets at this past Deluna Fest and side project Major Lazer at the Voodoo Experience, there are some disappointing assessments about the DJ scene the came up. As we see through the popularity of DJ sets and performers all across the world, it has been globally accepted for the performer to play a relative set, even if they are not playing their own music that much or at all in their track selection. It is frustrating to some music lovers to know that such DJs can play new tunes that excite people while telling a story, but in a way also educate the listener to new music rather than just playing the same ole’ tunes.
As for Diplo, a seasoned DJ and producer with his own record label and respective artists, it is puzzling to why he would play mainstream over-popularized tunes. It seemed at these festivals his sets featured many of the same tracks, some even too mainstream. The reason for this could be that with his experience, he knows exactly what needs to be played to facilitate the right vibe at a festival or even that he has a special set dedicated to such an event. But Diplo has created some great original tunes and through his record label reaches across many other current producers and tracks so why not showcase it in the live set? There is no reason at a festival that is so DJ heavy that the attendee should here the same tracks from varying artists. This writer urges the DJ to not underestimate, but challenge its listener. A good tune is a good tune, even if people do not know it thoroughly enough to sing along to.
The late night performances on Saturday was a special experience in the fact that it was true late night, lasting until the wee hours of the morning in a city were partying until sunup is not abnormal, but customary. Local talent Unicorn Fukr opened up the night in a fitting set that was outdoors with disco and house influences, nicely setting the stage for Plastic Plates, a premier NuDisco talent that plays a catalog of fresh and current tracks that had kick-started an intimate crowd boogying along to the breezes of the Mississippi River. As dubstep was new and fresh a few years ago and now is in the forefront of every youngling’s consciousness, maybe this NuDisco thing is going to catch on too, as it is the catalyst for late night sexy parties. The headlined act Wolfgang Gartner for lack of a better phrase “killed it.” His heavy hitting electro had those with the energy to stand continue moving.
On Sunday, local favorites Gravity A kicked off the final day of festivities with their diverse collection of original compositions touching all genres from jam to breaks to funk. Gravity A has consistently been putting on Stellar shows around the Gulf Coast for years and captured the new listeners in the first set of the day. Seen throughout the city year round, it was pleasing to have others understand that New Orleans music is certainly not just limited to brass bands and second lines, but that there also exists those artists always staying current and pushing the brink.
Woldganf Gartner’s Space Junk
Sepalcure provided a heartfelt DJ set that was raging from the get-go. Usually, this writer is prone to have a deeper understanding of live DJ sets and recognize most tunes being played, or at least the method to their selection. However, Sepalcure had many gazing without recognition any of the tunes being showcased. As discussed earlier, the crowd at this performance rose to the unique tracks the duo was spinning, dancing heavily for the entirety of the set.
In an audible substitution for the bedridden Yelawolf, A-Trak showcased his apparent mixing skills with a high-tempo energetic set that had the kids bouncing. Kudos to the Buku crew for handling an unfortunate situation in a way that was completely fitting for the time and place even if the coveted rap artist was missed for the nod to the hip-hop element of the festival.
The remainder of Sunday was the best stretch of music from the weekend. Purity Ring played a short set of only thirty minutes but may have had the most relative buzz throughout the festival. With a stage filled with eerie lighting and unique artistic structures, the duo triggered dissonant loops and samples while the vocalist belted her sultry lyrics in a soothing fashion. Their indie-chillwave sound stood out in the festival and provided yet another ‘breathing’ moment.
Maybe the most impressive act of the weekend was SBTRKT. The UK duo cleverly blends down tempo R&B with smooth vocals and dance grooves, representing the vision of the Buku Project – facilitating the natural progression to mix hip-hop and electronic music. There was no down time during there set, where each track was played with energy, passion and great enjoyment. Ending with their most famed tune “Wildfire”, the two did not simply perform what one was used to from their album but improvised and rocked out each tune. Their set had excellent pacing winding down at the right times while consistently playing invigorating music.
Much of the local talent that segued between main acts on both stages included DJs of varying genres and in one instance, a memorable experience for all who do not completely understand or are aware of the local flavor in New Orleans and its homegrown bounce music. Big Chu and the Crew and Fly Boy Keno hosted the special bounce session that played its brown beat rotten with all the booties flying across the stage. A unique and utterly entertaining site, many of the kids and fans became enamored by the high energy butt-shaking madness on state before the final progression of the festival.
After a special bounce performance, Big Gigantic played to a packed out Ballroom. Comprised of a drummer and badass saxophonist, the group seem to not only be getting better, but bigger. They are loved by many and are featured in a number of festivals throughout the country. Although the novelty of a saxophone fused with electronic beats and dubstep may wear out, there are no signs of this inevitability. The live instrument provides a poignant point of view in a genre where the softness of true instruments can be lost. With stellar sound and a high-energy crowd, this was a memorable performance. Here is another case where the hip-hop and electronic communities can come together to appreciate this new genre that is sculpted from their similarities.
Porter Robinson then took the main stage and played a unique set, one that ironically seemed to be a mix between headliners Skrillex and Avicii. There were melodic smatterings of classic trance then interrupted by aggressively cacophonous compositions with Moombahton influences. This was certainly a, well, noisy set, but the crowd was extremely receptive. Robinson was very active on stage as well, using a myriad of effects on each track, always keeping the listener on their toes. At a young age, Robinson has catapulted onto the scene and is having his own meteoric rise in popularity awing many in each performance. The level of intensity during his set was extremely high, truly rising to the desires of the Buku Project ticket holders. Meanwhile, Big K.R.I.T. lived up to the praise of his new album in the ballroom that for many, was the favorite act of the weekend. Walking from one stage of dance to another of hip-hop was completely normal at the Buku Project.
Finally, there was Skrillex to cap off a busy weekend. Skrillex has become a household name for musical debate regarding the path of modern music and the deviation of what was once a small niche from the UK in dubstep. There is much dialogue about the objective quality of the young rocker’s tunes as well as to the unexplainable rise to stardom that took him from squatting in abandoned homes creating tunes to playing small clubs with a relentless passion moving on to perform at the most banging parties to the largest crowds across the world getting multiple Grammy nods along the way. The crowd seemed to increase most notably in the beginning of his set.
But love it or hate it, there is no denying his prowess to get a crowd going or play an entertaining set. The bass was so booming and loud that you could feel your esophagus tingle. With the photo pit filling up with eager fans as he took stage, Skrillex provided a seamless set that had patience, balance, and quality music. Skrillex himself is more into the show than his fans, consistently jumping and hopping up and down from behind the booth, always engaged in the music, as other DJs can be seen just letting the track ride. Cleverly reverting to classic rap songs intermittent with his heavy hitting compositions, it became clear that this was the proper way to end the Buku Project, showcasing what modern music for the current generation has become: a fusion of electronic music, hip hop elements, and the artist’s creative license.
There is no denying the presence of electronic music entering the mainstream in America, especially the youth, as it has been influencing all genres of music and gaining speed over the past few years. With acts like the Swedish House Mafia selling out Madison Square Garden in New York and the Electronic Daisy Festival expanding its reach across the States to the number of other festivals that pop up each year, one theme is consistent: they are mostly electronically based. So why the sudden surge? What is it that has turned adolescents from singing along to OAR or Dave Matthews to banging around to heavy electronic beats? It is presumptuous for anyone to answer these questions clearly and correctly, but one thing that is undisputed is the affection that these fans display for the artists and each other at these given shows and events.
At the same time, hip-hop is making a come back after what many music historians may not to as the dark ages of the genre. During the aughts, the hip-hop scene was polluted with generic beats, meaningless lyrics, and a poor image. Today, we see the most current rappers and producers taking a more sophisticated approach to the genre, catering to the hip and trendy rather than just uttering about bling and crime. These new artists are able to convey meaningful messages while creating tunes that touch a number of genres, naturally teaming up with the very same evolving electronic scene.
For most, the Buku Project was more than just another festival, but the beginning of a tradition that they will share with others tightly woven in the fabric of this music community. The Buku Project created a place where a group of people who come in hoards of neon, ready to dance for countless hours, gushing at any opportunity to relive these experiences can come face to face with the hip-hop community that is very much becoming a part of the very same scene. For the creators of said event, the Buku Project is this vision and more. It was a chance not just to realize their own dream of creating such a festival to call their own, but committing to filling a stellar bill and really taking the energy and effort to devise a scenic and memorable space, one that will not only facilitate the masses of music lovers, but provide the backdrop and subtle ambiance where those indescribable introspective moments flourish inside of us. This weekend touched on many of these important points that attribute to those who are endeared by this music scene. The Buku Project provided a new place to spend time with loved ones, support and revel the current trends, and reflect upon those moments where everything just seems too perfect, those surreal occasions at the festival where you think, “Why can’t every day be like this?” Too Buku.
Written by Danny Goodman | Senior Writer