The seventh annual BUKU Music + Art Project returned to Mardi Gras World March 9-10. From unsigned up-comers to top chart award winners, this year’s lineup featured 68 eclectic hip-hop, EDM, psychedelic, and indie-rock acts, including: Bassnectar, Migos, SZA, MGMT, A Day To Remember, Virtual Self, Alison Wonderland Sylvan Esso, Illenium, Snails, and Isaiah Rashad. The youthful, care-free festival is exactly what it claims to be on its website: “a quirky boutique event celebrating New Orleans’s progressive subculture.”
BUKU Music+Art Project 2018 (photos by: Steven Hatley)
Warehouses, concrete, active train tracks, and a run-down power plant provided a fitting industrial setting for the ultimate urban underground house party. Sweaty dancing, fist pumping, new but short-lasting friendships, and getting splattered in glitter were up to expectations.
Attendees wore ripped shorts, sequins, bodysuits, overwhelming patterns, fishnets, tie-dye, glimmering metallic fabrics, colored wigs, Halloween masks, and decorative nipple stickers shaped as hearts, stars, ganja leaves, alien faces, and smileys.
BUKU Music+Art Project 2018 (photos by: Michelle Friedstadt)
2018 marked its best sales year yet. According to BUKU creator Winter Circle Productions, the festival extended daily capacity from 14,500 to 17,500. It still sold out.
To accommodate the throngs, the festival expanded its grounds by double the amount. The main Power Plant stage moved across the train tracks. Only one passageway over train tracks connected the site’s two sides. That became a problem on Friday. Immediately after SZA’s electrifying set ended early due to a sprained ankle, a train rolled through.
Fans on both sides of the tracks were frantically upset. Trapped for 15 minutes, we became a herd of wild animals when the passageway cleared from the train. The chaos and claustrophobia penned me in, and I missed Alison Wonderland’s set at the Float Den stage. Disappointed, I was not deterred.
While not the main stage, the Float Den was a fan favorite. Parade floats from Mardi Gras flanked the sea of people synchronically jumping, dancing, and singing. Set transitions were quick and smooth, and the music never stopped. In fact, you could barely tell when a new act came on. The combination of trippy visuals, bouncing lasers, and vibrating bass made leaving the Float Den difficult. But BUKU had so much more to offer.
Here are my BUKU highlights:
· The small but energetic Front Yard stage stood in between an elevated wall of 16 graffiti installations painted live by local artists. Each piece was auctioned for Animal Rescue New Orleans and Upbeat Academy, a Louisiana non-profit to teach kids hip hop.
· Neck-twisting custom LED light statues were spaced around the grounds. These were good meeting points and literally added to the “lit” vibe.
· A poem stand was a uniquely incorporated element. People could give the local poets a topic or theme to incorporate and then take the written art that was produced on the spot with them.
· The Wharf gave a bird eye’s view of the festival up the stairs of stacked and graffitied shipping containers. A crowd-sized white hammock and professional break-dance spot were also not to miss at this new stage.
· The raw talent of the pop-up performances showcased rappers, beatboxers, an electric violinist, and hip-hop street dancers. Mesmerized by their performances, I would often forget where I was going next.
The scheduled talent was not quite as impressive. Friday’s headliner Migos started 30 minutes late and then gave a careless, short performance that came off as disrespectful. Fans fled and didn’t even demand an encore. But at least they showed up. Rappers Ski Mask the Slump God and Famous Dex cancelled last minute, as did Saturday headliner Lil Uzi Vert.
BUKU’s resources for so many people were also rather slim. Festival-goers quickly noticed a lack of signage for directions, restrooms, or maps. With all the dancing and moving, access to water stations needed to be more, and the same goes for ATMs, or at least make the available ones more visible.
And in this world of social media, I was shocked to discover BUKU had no Snapchat geotag because of how strong, well branded and well-recognized their social media marketing campaigns are. BUKU’s mobile app failed, reading “Map Coming Soon,” the entire weekend. Next year, BUKU could add box office staff for wristband pick-up not to mention some back-up plans for those no-show acts.
Every year the BUKU Music + Art Project gets bigger and better, and now we can look forward to what they’ll have in store next year. Until then, some visual beauties from an unforgettable weekend.