It’s hard to take a festival seriously when you see swarms of teenagers wearing vibrant plastic tank tops, colorful swim trunks and neon sunglasses at night. It doesn’t help that they’re are all either on drugs or planning on taking them at some point in the night. This is the battle the BUKU Music + Art Festival has been dealing with since its start three years ago. But the crowd doesn’t speak for the music, or the people that run the festival. Let’s not pretend that Jazz Fest doesn’t bring its fair share of illegal substance users into the city—they’re just not 18- year-olds. By making the festival 18+, Buku managed to cut down on a lot of the underage inebriation, but anybody that’s ever been to anything like Bonnaroo or Coachella wouldn’t bat an eye at anything they witness at BUKU.
The other thing causing BUKU to have acceptance issues in New Orleans is what appears to be a lack of real New Orleans musicians at the festival. Fortunately, that’s not true. The main Power Plant stage opened on Friday with the self-proclaimed “Only New Orleans ‘Funktronica’ band” Gravity A. Bounce queen Big Freedia played two sets that same day—one on the V.I.P. boat (the S.S. BLU-KU) and one in the mainly electronic Float Den tent. Saxophonist Khris Royal played with Gravity A on Friday; on Saturday he joined the championed bass-heavy L.A. DJ from the Brainfeeder label, Gaslamp Killer, along with members of Preservation Hall. A less-noticed aspect of New Orleans music being displayed at the festival was by out of town DJs spinning classic New Orleans rap bangers, like Juvenile’s “Ha” and the new bounce sensation “Let Me Find Out” by 5th Ward Weebie.
It’s tough to open a festival in the middle of the day with a small crowd in a tiny tent by the river, so big props to C-Lab and Murder Beach, who got the music rolling in the Back Alley tent. Classixx kicked the festival up a notch with their synth disco live set in the Ballroom tent. Though they had to battle the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony crowd halfway into their set, they had people dancing early with Michael David pumping out bass lines and Tyler Blake on the synth drum pad and keyboard.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony brought it back to the golden age of hip-hop. They may be still coasting on “1st of tha Month,” but it’s okay, we still love you Bizzy Bone. They paid tribute to fallen rap heroes in the middle of their set, first saluting who they called the “Godfather of gangsta rap,” Eazy-E, followed by Biggie and of course, Tupac. They closed with “Crossroads,” setting the stage for the much anticipated Nas Illmatic 20th anniversary set.
Unfortunately, DJ Premier canceled what was supposed to be a collaboration with Nas, and was replaced with New York hip-hop heavyweight DJ Green Lantern. The show started with Green Lantern playing the beat from “The Genesis” (Illmatic intro) as shots of ‘80s New York graffiti, early breakdancing, and boom boxes flashed on the giant screen behind his head. Nas came out and tore right into “N.Y. State of Mind” as the images shifted to footage of him as a 19- year-old wearing a puffy black coat on a Queensbridge Project bench. It was a special moment for all the real hip-hop heads in the audience. He blazed through Illmatic in about 30 minutes, playing every track off the album (but not touching on every verse). One of the highlights of the festival was Nas spitting his verse from the 1991 Main Source track “Live at the Barbecue.” Big L sampled lyrics from this verse, “When I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffin Jesus,” on his breakout single “Devil’s Son.”
After paying homage to Illmatic, which was released on April 19, 1994, he went into all the Nas classics from the last two decades like, “Hate Me Now,” “If I Ruled the World,” “Made You Look,” and “The Message.” Before exiting the stage, he shouted out to all the future rappers and world leaders, and said “Fuck Vladimir Putin” during his rendition of “One Mic.” Nas has an ability to capture the attention of a crowd with his punctual flow that makes it apparent you’re watching one of the greatest lyricists on the planet. He almost doesn’t even need a DJ.
Wavves started immediately after Nas in the Ballroom, opening with their 2010 single, “Post Acid.” It was a jurassic jump from classic ‘90s hip- hop to their thrasher/surfer punk rock style. They got all the noise rock fans ready for the Sleigh Bells set right after.
BUKU did a good job of making sure there weren’t too many overlaps for similar genres. All the hip-hop fans could see Bone Thugs, followed by Nas, followed by Pusha T, followed by Chance the Rapper. The EDM people could see Paper Diamond, followed by Carnage, followed by Zedd, then Kaskade, followed by Zeds Dead. They also did a good job having DJs playing good music between sets in the tents to keep the party rolling, so you could stay in one place the whole night if you wanted.
Pusha T brought the aggression with New Orleans rapper Kevin Gates as his sideman. He opened with “King Push” to a crowd that might not have been ready for how hard Pusha T really is. He’s recently gained a lot of attention from the younger rap audience through his work with Kanye West and the GOOD Music label, but a lot of these new fans might not know how far back Push goes. People were into the show when he spat his verses from Kanye West’s “Runaway” and “So Appalled,” and nodded their heads to the tracks from his latest album My Name is My Name.
Most people in the crowd didn’t remember his early days, as nobody seemed to know the words to “Grindin,” his post golden-age hip-hop crack- dealing anthem he did with the Neptunes as part of the rap duo Clipse. Noticeably disappointed with the audience’s participation, he exited the stage saying, “Sing the words y’all.”
Gaslamp slipped in right after, saying, “Hi, I’m Gaslamp Killer and I’m here to do a surprise set. They said I came here to do a VIP set, but I had to be with my people.” Not much talking after that, just hard, bass-driven hip-hop beats. He stopped at one point and ordered the crowd to boo an audience member in the front row that was causing issues, then got right back to business. Gaslamp has the artillery of pretty much every electronic genre under his belt. There’s no telling what type of beat is about to drop at any point of a set. He closed with a power rock guitar sound that he drove into the crowd’s ears until it was no longer tolerable, then cut immediately into J Dilla’s “Gobstopper” and left the stage.
In keeping with the spirit of Dilla, Chance the Rapper opened his set with “Everybody’s Something,” which samples “Fall in Love” by Slum Village. As a 20-year-old rapper, it’s tough playing a festival when the two MCs before you are Nas and Pusha T, but he did a good job delivering his own fresh style. Backed by a full live band, Chance had the Ballroom Tent more crowded than it was for rest of the night.
Meanwhile, in the V.I.P. boat, Holy Ghost was tearing up a DJ set for maybe ten listeners. It was sad. Holy Ghost was playing some of the best music of the night and the boat was completely empty. Their set sounded very similar to what Classixx was playing earlier, only with more of a four-on-the-floor house beat driving it. It was perfect dance music for the people at the festival who were feeling burnt out on dubby bass and screeches.
For those that weren’t burnt out on that sort of thing, Zeds Dead turned the Float Den into a full-fledged rave by 1 a.m. There were more people at that show than anything the entire night, and they were all certainly going to see the sun come up.
Though it was predicted to rain on Saturday, the weather couldn’t have been better. Thundercat played a beautiful set, demonstrating some of the best musicianship of the festival while being backed by a keyboardist on a Rhodes and a drummer. It was more of a jazz fusion set than an electronic set, sounding very similar to Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. He opened with a long, heavily improvised version of “Daylight” and finished with “Oh Sheit, It’s X,” a song featured in the video game GTA V. It was a good introduction to a long day of music. Dan Deacon put some good energy into the still-growing daytime crowd. In true form, he literally commanded the crowd the entire set, forcing everybody to form a giant dance circle and calling out two audience members to have a dance contest in the middle of the floor. He then created a whirlwind of people by having everyone in the circle run clockwise. He does a good job mixing comedy with electronic music. It’s refreshing to see an artist that doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
Gaslamp Killer surprised the crowd once again after the Thundercat show to fill in for School Boy Q, whose tour bus broke down on the way to New Orleans. School Boy was rescheduled for 10 p.m. in the Ballroom and Gaslamp gladly took charge on the main stage, delivering a similar set to Friday night’s.
Chromeo brought the dance party vibes back with their electro-funk set on the main stage. It’s very difficult not to have fun at a Chromeo show. They had with them the usual lady leg DJ stands and delivered an energetic set with songs like “Don’t Turn the Lights On.”
By the time the Flaming Lips came on, the crowd was at full force, larger than anything on Friday. They started the set with “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” as Wayne Coyne emerged surrounded by psychedelic light-up tentacles and a balloon that said “Fuck Yea BUKU.” By this point, the festival was in full swing, as Baauer B2B RL Grime laid down some of the dirtiest trap beats New Orleans had ever experienced in the Float Den.
Most of the Flaming Lips fans migrated over to the Explosions in the Sky show in the Ballroom. Being at an Explosions in the Sky show involves all the emotional complexities a person goes through in life. You’ll feel very sad at one moment, then completely overjoyed the next, followed by surprise, then confusion. By the end of this set it felt like everybody in the audience had an emotional bonding experience through Explosions in the Sky’s chaos-then-relief style of music.
French superstar David Guetta brought the mainstream European house scene straight to the Mississippi River. He towered over the crowd atop a 40-foot tall DJ stand and a full wall of color- changing effects that seemed viewable from the moon. The crowd was happy to have him in town for the first time. The 46-year-old DJ said he’d wanted to come to New Orleans since he was a little boy. It was definitely a taste of a well-established European musical wave New Orleans has never been a part of.
School Boy Q finally arrived to New Orleans in time for his rescheduled 10 p.m. set. He took full advantage of the night and worked the crowd with his drug-themed rap lyrics. It turned out to be perfect for all the fans that wanted to get amped before the Tyler the Creator set in the Float Den.
Tyler the Creator came out swinging with a Waka Flocka Flame track. He seemed to have a serious chip on his shoulder after being arrested in Austin during SXSW for inciting a riot. He told the press to go fuck themselves, not allowing any interviews and kicking the photographers out of the photo pit after only one song, saying “Enjoy the show like everyone else. You’re not special.” He went straight into “Sam (Is Dead)” and had the crowd rolling as he chanted “Your left, your left, your left, right, left.”
San Francisco/Bay Area DJ Ana Sia played to another tiny crowd in the V.I.P. boat that night. Apparently, every V.I.P. wasn’t into the late night festival scene, or they just really wanted to get off the boat after a full day’s access to an open bar. Danny Brown closed the whole thing out with a deep house hip-hop set that was fitting for the final act. He brings his Detroit electronic background into the hip-hop world with a deranged, sporadic flow. It was a nice blend of everything BUKU offered. Songs like “Smokin & Drinkin” and “Blunt After Blunt” pretty much explain what was happening in the Ballroom Tent by this time of night. The crowd was considerably smaller for his show than the previous night’s closing rave at Zeds Dead. The ones that did remain seemed to be ready to party till the ship went down.