New Orleans’ newest big festival, the Buku Music + Art
Project, returns to the edge of the Mississippi River this coming weekend, Saturday-Sunday (March 21-22). Its
third iteration maintains the fest’s vibe of big-name national as well as local
acts with a common theme of danceability: electronica, alt-rock and dance-pop,
and a little hip-hop thrown in.
Winter Circle Productions, the local independent promoter
behind Buku, started out as just a couple of college buddies who wanted to see
the kind of parties they liked in New Orleans. In 2008, Tulane law student
Dante DiPasquale and undergrad Reeves Price started throwing dance and
electronica nights at small venues, and soon established the monthly DJ party
Bassik. The inaugural Buku in 2012 came off polished and tight, especially for
a first effort, and brought marquee EDM names like Skrillex and Avicii to New
Between its first and second year, Buku grew significantly,
aided by new partnerships with Huka Entertainment, the New Orleans-based group
behind the annual Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Ala., and with national festival
promoter MCP Presents. The festival booked more big names, and added two extra
stages — an expansion of its footprint that paid off in a sellout, with fans
traveling, organizers said in 2013, from all 50 states.
Going into its third festival this coming weekend, Buku made
some additions to its offerings but focused instead, DiPasquale said, on
fine-tuning the experience. One of the first tasks on deck was to cope with
last year’s well-publicized noise issue; in 2013, complaints rolled in from New
Orleans residents who discovered during the wee hours of the festival that its
sound carried exceedingly well over water, surprising people at home from
Bywater to the Garden District with late-night dance beats.
“We’ve been working with the city pretty much since the day after
the festival last year,” DiPasquale said, “and brought on several sound
engineers. We completely revamped mainstage audio to limit the reach of the sound.
We’re pretty confident in the results.”
Other slight tweaks include moving the entrance to the main stage
side of the grounds, and increasing the
number of points of entry, to address last year’s bottle-necking. A new vending
area and art market has been added, as well the new Back Alley stage, which
will feature a lineup of deep-house DJs.
One of the changes DiPasquale is most jazzed about is the
creation of a new position, whimsically titled Director of Special Moments. In
that role, the Republic’s Nick Thomas has been booking local street performers,
fashion designers and visual artists to create pop-up performances throughout
the weekend — the nature of which, said DiPasquale, is a secret.
“There’s a pure, raw surprise element to the performances,”
“We wanted Buku to be more experience-based, and to showcase
the underground culture of New Orleans that inspires us,”
Here are the essentials of Buku #3, at a glance:
Hip-hop: Nas, who will perform his landmark 1993 debut album,
“Illmatic,” in its entirety, is the flagship hip-hop act for Buku 2014. Also on
the bill are eclectic Detroit rapper Danny Brown, Kanye collaborator Pusha T
and last but certainly not least, fresh from an arrest for inciting a riot at
SXSW, Odd Future ringleader Tyler, the Creator.
Electronica: Veteran French house DJ David Guetta tops the
bill of Buku’s EDM offerings, which also includes popular electronic music
producers Kaskade and Zedd, the trio Glitch Mob and the quirky “livetronica
performance art” group Beats Antique, who played a late-night gig at
Preservation Hall this past Halloween.
Rock and pop: Old-school psychedelic weirdos the Flaming
Lips, a Voodoo favorite, make their headlining debut at Buku, along with complex
instrumental post-rockers Explosions in the Sky, noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells,
Wavves and electro-pop singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding. On the local side,
indie-rockers Big History, Generationals and electro-funkateers Gravity A are
on the bill.
Food: On-site food vendors include Beaucoup Juice, with
fresh-juice snowballs; German sandwiches from Bratz Y’All; salads and wraps from
City Greens; New Orleans staples like red beans and rice and jambalaya from
Fireman Mike’s Kitchen; Woody’s Fish Tacos, pizza, Thai food and more.
There’s also an interactive cook-off (the “Bukookoff”) from
3 to 5 p.m. Saturday inside Mardi Gras World’s Grand Oaks Mansion, where four
finalists from an online competition will pit their dishes against one another
Activities: Finalists in an online fan-fashion contest will
compete in a runway walk-off (the “Bukatwalk”) on the S.S. Buku Friday, March
21 at 5 p.m. And for those who haven’t pre-registered for the cook-off or the
fashion show, there are still chances to win: Festival sponsor Blu will scan
wristbands at their onsite tent and award prizes like backstage access and
passes to next year’s festival throughout the weekend.
Art: As in 2013, Buku prefers not to divulge the specifics
of its large-scale interactive art installations before the festival. They
will, however, be expanding those offerings this year, as well as bringing back
live graffiti artists, who’ll paint pieces for sale throughout the festival.
More after-parties: The Republic (828 S. Peters St.) and the
Howlin’ Wolf (907 S. Peters St.) both
walking distance from the festival grounds, each host an official “Buku Late”
after-party both Friday and Saturday. Republic hosts Carnage, Paper Diamond, Valentino
Khan, Kid Kamillion and others presented by Diplo’s Mad Decent label on Friday,
and Baauer, Cashmere Cat, Jacques Greene and more on Saturday, between midnight
and 6 a.m. The Howlin’ Wolf presents DJ sets from Poolside, Holy Ghost! and
Tiger & Woods Friday and Zeds Dead, Trippy Turtle, Klutch and special
guests Saturday, running from midnight until 5 a.m. both nights.
On Thursday, Republic kicks off the festival weekend with
Doctor P, Kthulu Prime, Mizuki and Cookie Monsta. Tickets range from $20-$60,
with VIP options, at thebukuproject.com.
The boat is back: The V.I.P.-only S.S. Buku riverboat docks
again at the edge of the festival grounds, adjacent to the main stage. Its upper
deck offers a view of the headliners, and a private inside stage hosts acts
like the Gaslamp Killer with Pres Hall Brass, plus a special twerking lesson
from Big Freedia.