I knew going into BUKU Music + Art Project that I was going to have an amazing time. The last two years of the festival had been nearly flawless, and there was no reason to think this year would be anything different. BUKU has proven itself to be one of the best city festivals in the country, and this year only bolstered that claim. From the moment we waltzed through the gates on Friday afternoon until the afterparties finally wound down as the sun was rising Sunday morning, BUKU blessed us with incredible music, amazing humans, and a beautiful blend of art and culture you can’t recreate anywhere else in the world.
If you don’t already know from my constant yelling, BUKU is nestled alongside the Mississippi River at Mardi Gras World, the perfect location for a festival the fully embraces its host city unlike any other. The festival stages are perfectly built into the location, making each area seem like its own little world, and the acts are all expertly curated for the stages they grace.
I made the mistake of arriving in New Orleans two days before BUKU, and so as a functional alcoholic in a city that never stops partying, I had already consumed more alcohol by Friday than I had the entire week prior. Nevertheless, I was in high spirits, and ready to keep the party going at my favorite festival, in my favorite city, with my favorite humans. We arrived surprisingly early, and were immediately greeted with amazing music, weather, and people.
BUKU weekend was all about the young phenoms of electronic music, with Whethan, Chet Porter, REZZ, and Boogie T all throwing down some of the best sets of the festival. Nobody quite signaled the rise of the newcomers like K?d who opened up the Float Den in grand fashion. Packing in the venue while the sun was still high in the sky, K?d absolutely killed his first festival appearance, and set the tone for the Float Den, which provided a nonstop roster of phenomenal sets throughout the festival, culminating with what was quite possibly the best performance of BUKU, the legendary ZHU. Shrouded in darkness and flanked on either side by musicians cloaked in black with backs turned, he addressed the crowd with a simple question. “Are we gonna have this warehouse party or what?” And with that, the singer-producer launched into an incredible career-spanning set that captured everyone’s hearts and ears. At least, I assume so, since I was too hypnotized by the music to notice how anyone around me was feeling.
While The Float Den may have hosted some of the best sets of the festival, the stage to beat was still The Back Alley. Boasting a new design every year, and providing a beautiful escape from the crowds populating the rest of BUKU, The Back Alley will always be my favorite stage, and this year proved to be no different. Constructed out of giant metal piping, the unique stage played host to a little bit of everything, from local DJs like Musa b2b Otto to legends of house and techno Lane 8 and Nina Kraviz. Stepping into the dark corner of the festival, I never knew what to expect, but I knew it would be amazing. Whether you’re trying to dance in the darkness, hang out with friends away from the masses, or simply sit by the river and ride out your trip, The Back Alley was the place to be this year, and every year.
While I spent most of my time bouncing between the Float Den and Back Alley, I still made time for some of my other favorite parts of BUKU, like pop-up performances and free alcohol. The former was scattered all throughout the festival, from the common area in the center to the amazing Back Porch. Performers of all different types entertained the masses throughout the festival with special performances you won’t find anywhere else. The latter came courtesy of the VIP SS BUKU, a VIP-only riverboat docked alongside the festival that featured special performances and most importantly, an open bar. If you asked me what my ideal Friday night would entail, there’s a pretty good chance that free gin and intimate performances from Ekali and Chet Porter would be part of the package. And if you venture out onto the top deck, a beautiful view of the main stage awaited you. BUKU is one of the few festivals where the VIP perks are truly worth the extra change.
Even with the amazing artists, flawless setup, and incredible perks, one of the best parts of BUKU is the beautiful crowd of humans that populate the festival. New Orleans is a cultural melting pot, and that is reflected in the humans of BUKU. People come from all over the country to revel in the music, art, and booze. And while the ravers camped on the rail for DeadMau5 might not normally hang out with the hip-hop heads packed inside The Ballroom for Vince Staples, at BUKU everyone is family. There was nothing but love everywhere inside the festival gates, and it spilled out into the parking lot and the streets of New Orleans after the festival, where everyone continued to bask in the glory of the city and its music.
BUKU Late is another amazing part of the festival, with expertly curated afterparties taking place all over the city. From special appearances by Jauz and Hooks (Zeds Dead) at Griz’s afterparty, to the Grizmatic party where Ganja White Night and Space Jesus literally shook the Joy Theater until the sun came up, there is absolutely no excuse to go home after the festival gates have closed for the night.
I could go on forever about how amazing BUKU Project is, but ultimately you just need to find out for yourself. I talked a lot of friends into making the trek to the Crescent City for the festival this year, and not a single one was disappointed. It’s a can’t-miss festival in a must-visit city, and there’s absolutely no excuse for you not to be there next year. Whether you’re a basshead, an art enthusiast, a hip-hop aficionado, or simply a heavy drinker that appreciates all sorts of music, BUKU Project will capture your heart, your mind, and your liver. Get your ass to BUKU next year, and I’ll see you in The Back Alley.
All photos by Kelsey James (Sundara Studios)