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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The unbearable litness of Buku?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 7:00 PM


Time doesn’t exist inside the float den. It’s always loud, always dark, and it’s only worth checking your phone to see what time the next set starts, though it doesn’t really matter, because you probably aren’t going anywhere. There’s a guy in multi-colored all-over-print spandex pants and Magic Eye cape, another in an Asian conical hat and fitted sweatpants and carrying a white walking stick, and everyone else is bouncing around in Nike Flyknit sneakers and oversized T-shirts. I keep seeing a tie-dye shirt with Rocko from Rocko’s Modern Life, but I think it’s the same person. I’ve definitely seen a zebra cosplayer wearing no pants at all with her bare-chested boyfriend covered in silver glitter several times. Three people in homemade deadmau5 heads haven’t stopped posing for photos. A string of green lights collapses on the crowd like a fountain of water from a lawn sprinkler.

The Buku Music + Art Project’s lineup and precisely executed Vibe™ is anchored explicitly in an eclectic pop culture of that second. Nearly half of 2016’s XXL Freshmen. Some minor viral hitmaker. Non-EDM artists that fit into the chill matrix. But the festival is moored in the reliable, ticket-selling partytime of dance music. Buku is simultaneously a snapshot of whatever is happening in left-of-center pop music and a constant rave, as if nobody left the night before, or had instantly reappeared from last year as if they never left, still just a pulsing mass of neon tank tops and your friend who had to sit down for a minute.

The night before, someone jumped into the Mississippi River. The eternal dance party continued.

After closing its sixth year, Buku has worked through its growing pains and settled comfortably among corporate-branded, festival-based Music Consumption events, in which having an “epic” weekend becomes a social obligation ostensibly tied to bands and artists you want to see. There are commercials everywhere, and more people than a club concert could ever bring in. Music festivals have seemingly replaced them.

But Buku has embraced being ephemeral. Its crowds intentionally skew younger, almost as a parody of Jazz Fest’s boomer paradise and Voodoo’s awkward simultaneous transition into and away from a Gen X nostalgia trip. Every year, music writers try to extract meaning and message from these kinds of massive festivals, wringing them out to find out how they’ve changed, what was special about this or that performance, and who gave the best one. In Buku’s case, those things are largely irrelevant.

In its first years, insufferable social media posts tried to figure Buku out, even though most of the festival is a sage stick away from a jam band tailgate. You can buy Baja hoodies and several kinds of Grateful Dead dancing bear enamel pins there. But for the first time in a long time, New Orleans birthed a large-scale festival devoted to a part of the city’s underground while also plugged into national touring artists, namely in electronic music and rap, and probably not attractive to anyone over 35.

Do you want “lit” or “chill” on your choose-your-own adventure? Or a bit of both? Buku also purposefully threads locals through its stages throughout the day, not as lip service to the scenes that made it happen in the first place but because they fit right in. There’s AF THE NAYSAYER blasting tracks at sunset from inside a stack of large cans. Techno Club NOLA DJs preside over a miniature rave just outside the massive one happening inside the float den. On the other side of the festival is Run The Jewels, getting the biggest crowd of the day so far, followed by deadmau5, whose sea of people appear to be swallowing his stage. On the ballroom stage, a pulsing chandelier of snaking laser-like tubes hangs above a stage for Yeasayer and Vince Staples.

The performances were good. Then there were others. The dance party inside the float den only ended because the festival had to close down at some point. Buku will bring more like it the next year, and the next, pending ticket sales. Will crowds grow out of it, or return to it? Will Buku keep them as it evolves over the years with the kinds of artists it books, or will it rely on the age group rather than the audience it first attracted? Based on the full-blown ecstasy on display in the middle of the crowds, the audience isn’t going anywhere, and I’m curious to see how Buku greets them. Festivals rely on selling the suspension of Real Life and replacing it with an attractive, all-inclusive weekend of moments. Buku says those moments are Real Life. Or to quote the prophet Drake and his disciples wearing it on crewneck sweaters: You only live once.

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