Buku Music Festival and Art Project Review
These days it seems like there is no end to the offering of massive music festivals around the globe. These festivals often boast every DJ you ever wanted to hear and tens of thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of partiers to dance with.
So what does it take for a festival to stand out and separate itself from the almost overcrowded sorority of mega festivals catering to the dance music audience? Well, whatever it takes, Buku Music and Arts Project in the heart of New Orleans, LA has certainly figured it out. With the aid of two of my closest festival crashers I decided to take in Buku’s offerings and discover what all this “artsy fartsy” stuff was really going to add to the “festival experience”.
The first thing you would notice about Buku before you even get on a plane is the line-up. Headliners would include Future, Kid Cudi, Purity Ring, Fetty Wap, CHVRCHES and Crystal Castles billed alongside the usual cavalry of EDM mainstays like Above & Beyond, Pretty Lights, Tchami, Yellowclaw, NGHTMRE and more. Obviously a line-up this diverse had to signal something better than the average experience I was used to back home. It’s not unusual to hear one, maybe two hiphop-ish acts at a Toronto dance music festival but usually it’s the latest barely known OVO artist or at best someone who recently put vocals on a Top-40 trap tune.
As someone who grew up in the glory days of rap music I was actually excited to hear some artists who have more than one or two catch phrases to offer. The other excitement factor was that the music was not clearly divided by “4/4” and “Bass” as evidenced by the performance schedule. This meant that even if all I wanted to hear was 4/4 music I’d still get the full experience of each stage area while getting to move around and explore the grounds in order to catch the acts I specifically wanted to see.
Now, since it would be impossible to write about a music festival in New Orleans without talking a little about the city itself I will start by saying that I LOVE NEW ORLEANS!!!! You buy a drink at a bar they give it to you in a cup “To Go” (street drinking is legal here). Directly across from any of the hotels you will find all your voodoo and alcoholic supplies located in the tourist-centric gift shops. And best of all, there is no need to eat at Popeyes because literally every place serves Lousiana style chicken (or my personal preference Catfish). I recommend Willies Chicken Shack (yes, they’re giving me free food to say this). But I could write 25,000 more words on how much I love New Orleans, so for the purpose of this review I will stick to Buku. Let’s just say that a quick walk around The French Quarter and it is crystal clear why New Orleans is the perfect place to hold a music festival equally devoted to art and music.
The view of New Orleans’ streets
Once my partners in crime (a little advice, never travel with someone more famous than you unless you intend to stop every 20 feet to let people take photos of them ) and I reached the festival we were immediately greeted with the glorious backdrop of a massive industrial power plant situated directly behind what we assumed was the main stage (due to its positioning and size). For those of us who had the luxury of raving in Toronto’s abandoned or disheveled warehouse days this was a welcomed and inspiring setting for our next 48 hrs. Once we managed to pick up our jaws from the still sort of soggy ground (apparently they haven’t solved the rain problem in New Orleans) we realized there was actually more to this festival than this singular stage. There was an indoor warehouse that resembled a mid-century ballroom complete with a massive wrap around balcony that I found most opportunistic for getting the full concert experience. There was a massive tent outside of that which featured possibly some of the most unique of the weekend’s musical acts (violinists, people playing chip tunes and more!). Beyond that there was an even MORE massive warehouse that was probably equal to the square footage of the entire Eaton Centre. Outside that there was 40-foot high displays of graffiti and scaffolding for the artists to create their creations. And in true New Orleans style the VIP area was on a 3 floor Steam Ferry straight out of a Huck Finn story. Needless to say there was no shortage of exciting and interesting areas of visual stimulation and discovery (especially convenient for those who cant stand still).
Power Plant Stage (photo courtesy of thebukuproject.com)
VIP SS Buku (photo courtesy of the bukuproject.com)
The Ballroom (photo courtesy thebukuproject.com)
(Back Alley View photo courtesy thebukuproject.com)
Well, now that we’ve talked about all the many reasons you MUST attend this festival next year without actually talking about how good the music was maybe we should actually mention some of the musical acts that stood out to me personally.
I’m not going to write a review of NGHTMRE or Mija because you damn well know how amazing these artists already are. I will instead talk about some of the killer sets and performances I heard that really stood out to me as something great or something different (and one that left me wondering how this person sleeps at night).
Mystikal b2b FlyBoi b2b Juvenile – Since Above & Beyond was doing their thing on the outdoor “power plant” stage we decided to go check out the indoor ballroom/warehouse space and were immediately smacked in the face with the sweet scent of dankness. The second thing, which smacked us, was dirty hip hop beats and skilled lyrical wizardry. It’s not often (since the closing of both Kool Haus and Sound Academy) that I get to hear good hiphop on a massive system in a massive room so this was an excellent throwback to some of those Toronto glory days.
Fetty Wap – Decided to check out what else the grounds had to offer and that’s when I discovered the “Float Den”. This is the Eaton Centre sized warehouse building that houses the famous Mardi Gras floats (adding a festive and artistic element to the scenery inside). I can’t really estimate how many people were in the space for Fetty Wap’s set but I’d guess it was equal to about 3 Queens Park marijuana march gatherings by the clouds I walked through. There has been a lot of hype around this artist and I can see why. Delivery was on point and definitely had the crowd control game “on fleek”.
Outside of Float Den
Crystal Castles – Prior to their performance I had the chance to sit down with Ethan
Kath and singer Edith Frances in their backstage trailer. Firstly, I am very happy to announce that Edith is one of the kindest and funniest people I’ve ever met. And yet, she has a tough edge which suggests if she ever has to she’ll kick a security guard in the face while chugging back a can of beer. The other good news is that the upcoming new CC album is almost finished and judging by the songs they played
for me backstage, possibly their best yet! Some of the new songs were sprinkled among old favorites for their performance. The new material is rhythmically harder than their older works. Edith delivered a dizzying performance complete with long interludes of child like twirling to Ethan’s symphonic magic and drummer Chris Chartrand’s relentlessly steady pounding. The only thing about their performance
that skipped a beat was the lighting due to their lighting board going down during their set! The sudden darkness on stage and confusion in the crowd suited the band perfectly though.
Crystal Castles in The Ballroom (photo credit My Crap iPhone)
Sweater Beats – On the Steam Ferry Boat there was a VIP section, which our Artist passes apparently allowed us onto. Ethan, Edith and and Myself decided to venture upon it following the Crystal Castles performance. The view was amazing looking out onto both the river and bridges that are staples of New Orleans post cards and the outdoor portion of the festival (excellent vantage point for the “power plant” stage performances). After a little investigative adventurism we located the floor with the DJ’s on it. The music wasn’t too bad and the crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves so we decided to stay a while. It wasn’t until I ventured close enough to the DJ that it was easily realized the entire set was being played from a pre-mixed set in Ableton Live and only the added filter and fx were “live”. It’s sets like these that really grind my gears because if you’re capable enough of using Ableton you should be able to construct an interesting but on the fly performance opportunity rather than letting a laptop do the heavy lifting while you grab all the glory.
Anyways, I don’t want to waste any more of your time reviewing the same acts you’re probably going to be seeing all summer long but let me just say that some of the BIG highlights on Day 2 were Pretty Lights, Purity Ring, Yellowclaw, D.R.A.M. (who I’d never even heard of before but included a DJ and two MC’s doing hip house proper!) and definitely my personal favourite Earl Sweatshirt. You can see what I meant when I said this was a diverse line-up that catered to all taste buds (and bud tastes).
In closing, I can say that I will without a doubt be returning to Buku and New Orleans in the future. Not only was the festival well executed and organized but it had no shortage of friendly faces (even if totally unfamiliar). Staff, security and attendees (as well as anyone else we met in New Orleans) were all extremely accommodating and full of smiles (some even invited us into their homes to photograph the old style Americana décor and architecture, not kidding!). In regards to Buku, the visual and auditory stimulation alone was worth the journey and I haven’t even started telling you about our late night adventures in downtown New Orleans (which I signed a confidentiality agreement with my cohorts not to discuss). So, if any of you my fellow Canadians wish to take your party somewhere new and fresh I strongly suggest this Festival, not just because it isn’t in your backyard, not just because it isn’t in a massive field void of character or shade, not just because it features more than your basic recycled EDM line-up. I say to you; “go to Buku!” because you will come back a different person, with a different appreciation for what goes into a quality experience worth every dollar and a higher level of expectation from your own festival organizers. Buku taught me that it takes more than a massive stage and some gates to create an experience worthy of the title “art” or even “festival”. There truly is more to creating an experience than selling a ton of tickets.
NOTE If you can’t afford to travel there ARE local options that compare; Bestival is looking like it may just be one contender in this regard now that it has eliminated the problem of getting off an island. It also touts a unique and diverse lineup capable of appealing to even the most cultured of music aficionados.
Harvest Festival is also an experience like no other that blurs the line between art and music festivals. Although not held during the summer months, it is definitely worth skipping a Friday and a Monday of your second week back to school for.
Friendly Faces of New Orleans (photo credit My Crap iPhone)
New Orleans Sunsets are Lit Fam (photo credit My Crap iPhone)