After a pandemic-induced two-year hiatus, the BUKU Music and Art Project made it’s triumphant return to New Orleans this past weekend. The 2-day music festival and art project took place at it’s usual location outside of Mardi Gras World on the banks of the Mississippi river. The project’s 10th anniversary featured a stacked lineup of EDM and bass music, rap, hip-hop, and indie rock. Back in March of 2020, as the stages and grounds were being built, project organizer Winter Circle Productions made the tough decision to cancel BUKU Project just over a week out. Being the first cancelled festival in 2020, it was only fitting that in 2022, a few weeks after Mardi Gras celebrations returned to New Orleans, that BUKU would be the first festival to kick off the season.
The 2022 lineup featured several hold over names from the cancelled 2020 edition including headliner Tyler, the Creator, Glass Animals, Alison Wonderland, Taking Back Sunday, and 100 Gecs. Over the years BUKU has grown into a 20,000 attendees per day festival and the location has proven ideal. A 100 year old power plant with graffiti covered smoke stacks and a vintage riverboat anchored on the Mississippi overshadow the project, reflecting the rich history of New Orleans’ warehouse district.
BUKU Project attendees were treated to a perfect sunny 75 degrees in New Orleans, a city that was eager to welcome music lovers back into their arms. New Orleans’ famous culture center of Bourbon Street is once again buzzing with music and activity and this was mirrored into the design of BUKU. Organizers weaved the experience of discovering local music into the fabric of the project.
As you walk around the grounds, you find pop-up musical performances, many which were not featured on the lineup. In the fields of the main stage area, there is a small vendor market with bands playing DIY style shows in the center of the market. A mobile rickshaw draped in hundreds of Mardi Gras beads was seen riding around the festival with massive speakers and a DJ playing music off the back. Outside of the ‘Ballroom’ stage, there was a boxing ring where rappers, bands, and interpretative performers played intensely experimental music.
Aside from the music, BUKU is also an Art Project that celebrates New Orleans artists. Art installations were scattered around the festival grounds and vendors were selling art and custom clothing. Modern sculptures and lighting pieces were found around every corner of the grounds, provided interesting backdrops to the music and for photos. There were also “live art” areas where graffiti and mural artists spent the two days creating beautiful pieces in the shadows of the music stages. Some of these were sold or auctioned for charity, but many fans just spent time watching the art being created while listening to the music in the distance.
Bass Music and Underground Rap
The backbone of the BUKU Project lineup are the dubstep and bass music artists, with the ‘Wharf’ stage dedicated entirely to the genre for both days. The stage production was top notch and all of the performers took full advantage of the system’s power. Lasers from the stage were projected onto the nearby warehouse and the Louis Armstrong riverboat anchored in the river, creating the feeling of an intimate outdoor club while still housing thousands of fans. Liquid Stranger and Lane 8 headlined the stage on Friday and Saturday respectively, with Svdden Death, Mersiv, Clozee, and Wreckno filling in the days.
“Multimedia aggregate” Lab Group also played the Wharf stage, only three months after the tragic death of member and producer Charlesthefirst. The 25 year old’s death shocked the community, but surviving members Potions and Supertask are keeping the aggregate alive and still performing the music that the group created together. At one point in their set Lab Group paid tribute by playing “Old Ways” which features rap verses from Charlesthefirst.
Underground rap and hip-hop played a large role in the 2022 edition of the BUKU Project in New Orleans. Odd Future founding member and now international superstar and fashion designer Tyler, the Creator headlined the project on Saturday. Ever since his solo debut Goblin back in 2011, Tyler, the Creator has been putting a fresh spin on his sound with each new release. 2019’s IGOR was an ambitious blend of rap and experimental R&B which debuted at No. 1 on the charts. Tyler, the Creator followed this up with Call Me If You Get Lost in 2021 which continued to propel his commercial success.
Aside from the big name headliner, the rap lineup for both days of BUKU was stacked with rising stars and veteran artists. Friday featured ShyGirl and Tierra Whack in the Ballroom with Trippie Redd delivering a fiery set mid-day on the main Skyline stage. On Saturday, fans were treated to a full day of Flo Milli, Vince Staples, Baby Keem, Maxo Kream, and Tyler, the Creator. Another major success of the BUKU Project was that these individual genre lineups had no conflicts and fans who were there for the rap did not have to make any hard decisions.
Indie Rock and The Undefined
What festival would be complete these days without the indie kids? The best thing about music today is that anyone can listen to anything at any time. This has cultivated a generation of music lovers with a very wide palate. This was on clear display when Taking Back Sunday took the Skyline stage for their mid-day set. The band is on tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of their seminal 2002 LP Tell All Your Friends and they split their set between newer material and classic songs “Cute Without the ‘E'” and “MakeDamnSure.” The band drew a large crowd for an early festival set and the injection of nostalgia was a beautiful way to kick off the weekend.
Friday headliners and Australian psych-rock titans Tame Impala were the highlight of the indie side of the festival. The band is on the second leg of The Slow Rush Tour which was partially postponed due to the pandemic but is back on the road in full force. Featuring a massive lighting rig suspended from the stage, the band’s live production overwhelms any audience they host. The lighting gives the unsettling yet beautiful feeling of coming face to face with a UFO.
The band cruised through reworked live versions of The Slow Rush songs “Breath Deeper” and “Borderline” while playing a driving, laser fueled rendition of fan favorite “Elephant.” Two extended releases of confetti during the last two songs “Let It Happen” and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” felt like a celebration not only of Tame Impala or BUKU, but more of the return to live music in one of the richest musical cities in the world.
Given the seemingly endless creative outlets that exist today, there are so many artists out there that defy categorization and cannot fit within the typical genre classifications. 100 Gecs were an early highlight of the day on Friday. Described as “hyperpop,” the duo performs an aggressive and in your face punk-like pop music. Their chaotic style is a great show to see in a small club, but their gigantic sound reverberated across the main stage grounds as if that was their natural setting. Porter Robinson performed his Nurture live show and British indie rockers Glass Animals brought their iconic summer pool staging to same time slot on the main stage on Friday and Saturday respectively.
All in all, the return of the BUKU Music and Art Project to New Orleans was a major success. Organizers brought back some of the big names from the cancelled 2020 lineup and designed grounds that were well laid out and easy to navigate. Lines for food and drinks were never too long and there was plenty of free water and “BUKU Budz” throughout the festival supporting attendees. Most festivals with bass heavy electronic music suffer from sound bleed issues, but none of the stages interfered with each other at BUKU. The food lineup featured local mainstays and highlighted the signature creole cuisine of New Orleans.
NYS Music had a great time at the festival and we caught sets from so any different artists and styles throughout the weekend. We enjoyed seeing big names like Tame Impala in their prime, but also discovering new music that will become part of our rotation. Nothing is better than discovering new music live, looking over at your head-banging friends and asking “what song is this?” Moments like this are what we missed most during the pandemic and we are so happy to have back again.
Check out our artist galleries from the 10th edition of the BUKU Music and Art Project below, photographed by NYS Music photographer Buscar Photo.
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