For the sixth consecutive year, the Buku Music + Art Project transformed Mardi Gras World into a technicolor wonderland featuring some of the world’s biggest names in hip-hop and EDM. Each year the festival has managed to organically evolve while staying true to its identity as a boutique experience situated in the unique setting alongside the Mississippi River. While the festival primarily caters to a younger crowd, there was no shortage of excellent music from artists that rarely make their way down to the Crescent City. Read below for recaps of our favorite sets of the weekend and click here for an extended photo gallery from Steve Hatley.
Car Seat Headrest
Although the indie rock stylings of Car Seat Headrest initially felt out of place among the DJs and rappers that dominated the Buku lineup, the band’s energetic performance early Friday got the crowd moving and shouting along to their anthemic choruses. The band has been touring steadily since last year on the heels of their excellent album Teens of Denial, and the band played with the swagger and poise of road-hardened rockers. On “Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales,” frontman Will Toledo showed off his incredible range as he effortlessly shifted from a whisper to a howl while his band shouted along with perfect harmonies. Although Buku has moved away from rock in the past few years, Car Seat Headrest made a strong case for the timeless power of electric guitars.
Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, never fails to disappoint with his prodigious bass lines and slippery grooves. His set at Buku featured cuts from his recent album Drunk, which features hilarious stream-of-consciousness lyrics about everything from playing Mortal Kombat, desires to be reincarnated as a feline, and leaving his wallet at the club. Bruner’s trio played the most technically advanced music of the entire weekend, subtly bending time signatures and cramming more notes into one song than most bassists play on a whole album. The music was technically impressive but struggled to emotionally connect with the audience (some wonky sound levels didn’t help either). Hopefully we’ll see the ‘Cat again when his friend Kamasi Washington comes to town for three nights at One Eyed Jack’s during Jazz Fest.
Run The Jewels
After playing a raucous Ballroom set two years ago, El-P and Killer Mike returned to Buku on Saturday for a set on the main Power Plant stage. The duo strolled onstage to Queen’s “We Are The Champions” and spent the next hour reaffirming their status as some of the best in the game. The set drew heavily from the duo’s recent album, Run the Jewels 3, with standout tracks “Legend Has It” and “Talk to Me” getting an injection of raw live energy thanks to the duo’s irresistible charm. RTJ’s politically-charged lyrics have never been more necessary than right now, and the crowd followed along with every singalong chorus. Killer Mike gave a heartfelt shout out to “the beautiful, educated, sexy, tough women in the crowd” while El-P advised everyone to “become friends with someone who doesn’t look like you.” In these dark and confusing times, it’s always comforting to know that RTJ are out there bringing their message of hopeful resistance to the masses.
Grammy-nominated electronic band Tycho delivered a dynamic set on Saturday evening, serving up gorgeous downtempo compositions that kept the crowd entranced and provided a welcome break from the hard-hitting EDM that dominated the weekend. The four-piece band was incredibly polished and made great use of Buku’s powerful sound system as they played their strongest tracks from 2016’s Epoch and 2014’s Awake. As with most sets at Buku, the stunning visuals became an integral part of the performance as the band appeared in silhouette against a giant screen projecting vintage surf videos and old home movies. Tycho is the rare band that manages to incorporate the best parts of electronic and rock music to craft something entirely new and excitingly organic. Here’s hoping they become Buku regulars for years to come.
While the deadmau5 faithful lined up to worship their idol, Vince Staples packed the Ballroom for an unrelenting performance that undoubtedly earned the young rapper plenty of new fans. At only 23 years old, Staples has made a name for himself with his dexterous rhymes and hook-laden tales of growing up amidst the gang warfare of Long Beach, California. The gritty lyrics paired well with the explosive beats blasting off the stage as Staples tore through a set that honored classic hip hop while simultaneously blazing a trail forward for his generation. Psychedelic underwater scenes accompanied each song and flowed seamlessly as Staples stalked the stage spitting rhymes at dizzying paces. If his jaw-dropping set at Buku is any indication, Vince Staples is well on his way to the upper echelons of hip-hop royalty.
The ballroom has always tended to be the stage where those acts that don’t exactly fit into the crowd stand out, and Sleigh Bells is definitely a band that defies easy categorization. Since exploding on the scene in 2008, Sleigh Bells have effectively carved out their own unique brand of aggressive pop dance music that owes just as much to hardcore rock as electronica. They play live guitars over pre-programmed beats and fill out their sound with the vocals of Alexis Krauss. The band’s unrelenting set pummeled the crowd from start to finish, with Krauss commanding the stage with the energy and confidence of a bona fide rock star.