Words by Grant Thomas and Shane Colman | Photos by Shane Colman
The second installment of the BUKU Music and Arts Festival proved, once again, that New Orleans knows how to throw a great party. The prime location along the mighty Mississippi provided a unique backdrop of passing barges, not to mention the elaborate floats of Mardi Gras World, for the sold out two day festival. Making the wise decision to move away from the EDM-exclusive lineup of 2012, BUKU’s organizers crafted a truly eclectic lineup that featured the best of current EDM, indie rock, and hip hop. Where else in 2013 would you see a headlining stage host Lettuce, Flux Pavilion, Primus, and Kid Cudi back to back? Although BUKU still seemed to cater to the EDM crowd with a plethora of DJs, my personal tastes steered me more toward the “live” artists who use more than a laptop to make music.
The only issue of the weekend was the excessive crowds on Saturday that materialized after organizers decided to release 2,000 more tickets day of. Regardless, this year’s installation made it clear that BUKU has joined the ranks of New Orleans’ other major music festivals like Jazz Fest and Voodoo and won’t be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
It’s no easy feat to come to New Orleans and throw down some impressive funk, but Lettuce stepped right up to the plate and knocked it out of the park with their late afternoon set at the Power Plant stage. The boys from Boston seemed to feel right at home in the Crescent City as they powered through a tight instrumental set of their electric funk. As the sun went down, NOLA’s own Ivan Neville joined the band for a tasty cover of “Bustin’ Loose.” Amid the neon glow of the rave crowd, Lettuce confirmed their universal appeal and ability to boost the fun factor of any festival regardless of genre.
Earl Sweatshirt and Flying Lotus, each billed for their own sets, shared the stage with each other for some of the most exciting, innovative hip hop and DJing of the weekend. For Earl’s set, FlyLo came out with no introduction to spin a few tracks before Earl himself emerged in his namesake hoodie to spit elaborate, tongue twisting rhymes. Onstage, Earl effortlessly captivated the crowd by himself with nothing more than his intricate lyrics and trademark drawl as he previewed a slew of tracks from his upcoming solo album. As the Odd Future buzz dies down, it’s good to know that Earl is moving away from the group enough to establish himself as a solo artist. A long career awaits this young gun if he keeps doing what he’s doing.
As Flux Pavilion shook the Power Plant stage, Vancouver’s Japandroids threw down an excellent set of raw rock to a small crowd that showed a lot of love for the two piece band. Last year’s well-received Celebration Rock exposed the band to a much wider audience and it was clear from the heartfelt stage banter that these guys were grateful to be doing what they love. The set was full of shout-along choruses akin to The Hold Steady, but with a punk swagger that propelled the songs in explosive directions. “The House That Heaven Built” was pure fire and left the small but mighty crowd begging for more.
Primus, once a band that primarily attracted metal and grunge fans, has amazingly reinvented itself over the past decade to become one of the most original, and certifiably weird, acts on the jam band circuit. Their sound and style has evolved from the hard funk of their early days to a more subdued, yet still powerful, instrumental stew that still surprises both die hard fans and newcomers alike. Their BUKU set confused a lot of ravers looking for Kid Cudi, but the die hard Primus fans had a blast chanting “Primus sucks” as they grooved to a truly original band. The 3D aspect of the show was good, (and surely blew some zonked out brains) but an unnecessary distraction from the incredible musicianship on display. The finale of “Jerry was a Racecar Driver” and “Tommy the Cat” closed out one of the best sets of the weekend and made it clear that this band has no intention of slowing down as they age.
Flying Lotus/Captain Murphy
The infectious hand claps of “Putty Boy Strut” brought a sizable crowd to Flying Lotus’ set in the Float Den, but the curious soon disbanded to check out some more conventional EDM. Those that stayed with Flylo were rewarded with a surprise appearance by Earl Sweatshirt (performing songs left out of his earlier set), a choice sample of “Idioteque,” and some dexterous rhymes from FlyLo’s alter ego, Captain Murphy. Flying Lotus continues to push the envelope in an increasingly narrow minded world of DJs and this set was no exception. There was a good amount of material from his stellar 2012 album Until the Quiet Comes, as well as some new mixes that fit perfectly alongside his older cuts. Flylo revealed that one especially volatile beat was for a track he produced for Mac Miller. Hopefully more major hip hop artists will take a cue and start incorporating these forward thinking beats into their music.
Now this is what dance-rock should sound like. Starf***er (or STRFKR) brought a loud, mesmerizing set of mostly instrumental tunes that effortlessly fused deep bass with beautiful vocal harmonies to create brain soothing electro-rock. These three guys have kept a low profile for a few years, but are poised to blow up at any moment thanks to their incredibly infectious style (just try and listen to “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” without becoming completely obsessed with it). A dancing bunny and spaceman joined the band onstage for the last few songs to make sure everyone left the Ballroom grinning from ear to ear.
The first set I caught Saturday was also one of the most raucous. I found myself front stage left, directly in front of a quartet of body painted babes who seemed to be enjoying the flow as much as the rest of the raging crowd. The DJ duo from Chi-Town made New Orleans their own and looked to be having a pretty wild time themselves during their thumping set. Of course, they treated the BUKUites to “Rollup,” and from the aroma of things, the crowd took the message to heart. All great musical experiences come full circle, and BUKU was no exception as one of the last sets I caught over the weekend was an unannounced, slightly more mellow set from Flosstradamus on a small side stage next to the Power Plant after the Calvin Harris audience cleared out.
While Kendrick Lamar tore apart the Power Plant Stage, a different kind of party was unfolding inside the doors of the Ball Room. A crowd started gathering inside the more intimate setting a good half hour before the show, but many started to gravitate towards Kendrick as a sound issue delayed Alt-J’s start. Those who stuck around, however, were treated to an incredible set by the Brit indie rockers. Mellow grooves intertwined with electronic synths and catchy riffs as the quartet effortlessly performed hits like “Breezeblocks” and “Tesselate” from their debut release. Often times I’m dissapointed when a band’s sound closely mirrors its studio recording, but in the case of Alt-J I truly appreciated the tight precision of their live act. And that’s not to say they played it too close to the chest – in one of the highlights of the weekend Alt-J brought NOLA’s own Preservation Hall Jazz Band to the stage for the dub heavy “Fitzpleasure.” Check the video below. An Awesome Wave, indeed.
I was a little worried when I arrived at Passion Pit and found myself at the back of the Power Plant’s masses jubilantly rocking to “Cry Like A Ghost”. Passion Pit drew a huge crowd, and I feared there was no chance I’d be able to get a good look at Michael Angelakos and company. But divine intervention arrived in the form of a life sized plaster cheetah obviously “borrowed” from Mardi Gras World by two Tulane frat stars (who just might have made it to the Kappa Sig house before all the hoopla). On the tail of a cheetah, I was propelled to the front of the throngs and treated to a riveting set. Angelakos is one of the most captivating frontmen on tour today, and in the midst of his feel-good hooks it’s easy to forget that many of his songs tackle some pretty somber subject matter (financial crises, domestic abuse, mental illness, etc.). Set against Gossamer’s backdrop of two companions reaching towards the sky, Passion Pit had the entirety of the audience doing the same as they closed with “Sleepyhead” and “LIttle Secrets”. The sky seems like a perfect place for Passion Pit to reach, and we’re elated they’re back on tour.
Major thanks to the kind people at Buku for granting the @LMBNOLA krewe full access and an unforgettable and wholly unique musical experience. We can’t wait to see what BUKU evolves into next year.