For such a young festival, BUKU Music & Art Project has been remarkably successful. The festival has grown from 8,000 attendees in its first year to 12,000 in its second. This year, its third, is projected to have even more. BUKU is an interesting phenomenon, carving out a neat niche in the ever-growing festival scene.
Due to its boutique size, BUKU can’t get some of the acts attainable by titans like Bonnaroo or Coachella, but it cultivates an interesting environment that draws artists from around the world; seemingly working some underhand magic.
That magic is New Orleans.
Dante DiPasquale, Festival Producer at Winter Circle Productions, BUKU’s parent company, claims that they often get comparatively big acts because “a lot of artists like playing an intimate festival for a change and are drawn to the energy of the city.”
That’s BUKU’s forte. Held annually at Mardi Gras World, a Mardi Gras float production warehouse located in between the Mississippi River and the Public Belt Railroad, BUKU sticks to its roots.
Amidst high-profile acts like The Flaming Lips and Nas celebrating the 20th anniversary of Illmatic, there are 12 native artists on the official lineup: Big Freedia, Generationals, Kid Kamillion, Gravity A, Unicorn Fckr, Murder Beach, Big History, Shanook, DXXXY, Quickie Mart, Money P, and DJ Digital. DJ Jesse Slayter is from nearby New Iberia.
Ranging from virulent up-and-comers to long-time touring and jam bands, the New Orleans scene is usually in the spotlight on one of the event’s five stages.
“It’s really awesome to see local acts like Big Freedia and Kid Kamillion start getting the national press they deserve and still come back to perform at BUKU,” DiPasquale notes.
Gravity A, a funky jam band familiar to Baton Rouge’s music scene, will be the first to perform on BUKU main stage this Friday. Working in a genre they dub “New Orleans Funktronica,” Gravity A deftly incorporates electronic elements to jam-based funk.
New Orleans natives, LSU graduates and indie rock stars Generationals are set to perform Saturday, bringing their crisp pop hooks and subtle new wave-esque synths to the Ballroom stage.
Contributing to the electric aspect of the festival, producers Murder Beach, DXXXY, Jesse Slayter, and Kid Kamillion are scheduled for performances one after the other on the Back Alley stage this Saturday.
Big Freedia, New Orleans’ own popularizer of bounce music, will be performing Saturday on the Float Den stage, after noise pop duo Sleigh Bells and before L.A. house DJ Kaskade. Freedia is also going to give a “twerk lesson” for the VIP crowd.
Those who splurged and bought VIP tickets to the event are in for a special treat: Aboard the S.S. BLU-KU, positioned nicely on the river, L.A psychedelic hip-hop producer The Gaslamp Killer will be playing a two-hour improvisational set with PresHall Brass, an outreach of Preservation Hall designed to represent New Orleans’ brass-loving culture, a sort-of spiritual successor to the Olympia Brass Band.
VIPs get another benefit as well via a performance by longtime New Orleans record-spinner DJ Soul Sister.
Still, for all this internal recognition, BUKU isn’t entirely introspective on its home city. Featuring acts from around the world – from L.A. to Norway, Canada to Texas, Chicago to France – it’s a well-rounded experience, brought together and wrapped in a signature New Orleans post-industrial twang.
In just three years, BUKU seems to be gaining steam – and mass – without changing its core identity.
“No matter the size or location,” DiPasquale says, “the goal will always be to keep BUKU’s house-party vibe and showcase the quirky progressive subculture of New Orleans.”