BUKU ignites lights in fest-goers minds
The first thing that you notice about BUKU Music + Art Project is the lights: Neon yellows, pinks and purples dress trees and canopies like tamed lightning, casting an energized glow over Mardi Gras World that encapsulates the festival’s electrifying aesthetic.
From afar, BUKU — set on the bank of the Mississippi River — looks like a physical representation of the glowing specks that dance in the middle-nowhere of your vision when you clench your eyes shut; from up close, it seems as though you’re right in the middle of that sparkling galaxy floating through a nebulous haze of THC and nicotine and bouncing off naked asteroidal bodies.
A huge scaffold exhibited works-in-progress from 14 local artists who displayed their eclectic abilities on 10-by-8-foot panels that would be auctioned off at the end of the festival, with proceeds going to Animal Rescue New Orleans and Upbeat Academy Foundation, a program that offers mentorship and education in the essential technical and creative skills involved in the production and performance of hip-hop and electronic music for at-risk youth.
The Vermilion arrived at BUKU late. About seven hours late, to be honest, because good kids go to class and cool kids show up late to social events. We are both, but sometimes we skip class, and sometimes, traffic is bad and makes us later than is ideal. As it was, we missed Young Thug’s non-appearance — he canceled mere hours before his set, citing a “personal emergency” and was replaced by New Orleans rapper Juvenile.
We missed GRiZMATIK’s reportedly earth-shaking electric funk-fest; we missed Thundercat’s virtuosic bass-lines; we missed Car Seat Headrest’s earnest and self-aware bedroom rock and Sleigh Bells’ distorted pop bombast.
Photos by Haoua Amadou/The Vermilion
We did not, however, miss Friday headliner Travis Scott, who played an explosive set at the Power Plant stage that stormed and calmed, stormed and calmed.
Lil Yachty also delivered a solid set, performing his and D.R.A.M.’s smash hit “Broccoli,” at which all of New Orleans seemingly lost its damn mind.
Lil Dicky closed out the night with his signature irreverence and flat-out off-brand Lonely Island self-parodying inexplicability, at one point stopping his set to remark that he hadn’t heard the national anthem yet that day and then proceeding to lead the audience in a rendition that was still oddly patriotic despite Dicky’s obvious parody of sports arena anthem over-singers.
Saturday was cold and gray, with rain threatening just on the other side of the encompassing clouds. A girl fell to her knees and wondered where Space Jesus was and if he could hear her. He was at the Float Den Stage with Minnesota, someone told her. Space Jesus and Minnesota drew a surprisingly large crowd for a 3:15 p.m. set, proving the party people didn’t sleep in too late.
Aminé stretched out his four commercially-released songs into a 30-minute set, supplemented with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” to his guitarist and a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Novacane” honoring the New Orleans native. As with any new artist riding the wave of a hit like “Caroline,” the crowd was there mostly for the closing song. The Portland rapper threw a curveball, delivering the song mostly a cappella and hyping the crowd to get into it along with him. They didn’t need a lot of pushing, and the result was mass delirium.
By the time of Run the Jewels’ performance, the rain that had been threatening all day began to drizzle down, causing some concerned looks towards the sky. The super-duo’s performance was tight and explosive — a stick of TNT in an anthill of political and social disturbance. Killer Mike and El-P’s chemistry was on full display as they traded verses and physical location. On their records, RTJ is almost impossibly tense: the songs go wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-ceiling with little to no room for any kind of catharsis. In a live setting, they hand out catharsis like the Salvation Army handing out guilt-trips.
Vince Staples was onstage alone, a fitting scenario for his stark songs. Against a backdrop of fish, sharks and roses, Staples related desolate commentaries on dead-end race-wars on dead-end streets, dead-end families and dead-end lives; sometimes standing hands in pockets at the microphone like a high school freshman at an open-mic poetry event, other times hurling himself around the stage with the introspective distress of someone who has seen their worst demons behind them in the streets and can’t shake them off.
The rest of the night was dominated by EDM acts, with the exception of 21 Savage. deadmau5, $uicide Boy$ and ZHU delivered sets that got the job done, but lacked anything that made them distinguishable at a base level.
The first thing that you notice about BUKU Music + Art Project is the lights: neon yellows, pinks and purples. The last thing you notice is that it’s over. As the neon lights die, so does a piece of you, for better or for worse.