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Apr 07

“How BUKU Are You?”

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Before we jump head first into this, let me paint you a picture. New Orleans is a city unlike any other. It’s got its own flavor and its own style and it knows how to rock it. Now that we’ve honed in on the city, let’s explore the location for this unique adventure because I can’t stress enough the importance of this particular atmosphere and setting. Mardi Gras World is a funhouse unto itself. It’s situated on the bank of the Mississippi River, replete with: views of the GNO bridge that you can’t find anywhere else, a burned down factory in the distance, active railroad tracks on one side, and encompassed under a panorama of screensaver skies. That’s the setting on a regular day. We’re not going there on a regular day. We’re stepping into the madness when it’s decked out for The Buku Music & Art Project. This means five stages for one of the most diverse lineups a two-day festival can offer, tons of hidden and not-so-hidden goodies, and a riverboat thrown in the mix, and that’s a dramatic oversimplification just to ease you into what’s about to happen. I’ll be upfront about this. Winter Circle Productions, MCP Presents, and Huka Entertainment know how to throw a festival. One very important aspect that takes this from just a “festival” to an immersive “experience” is the incorporation of brilliantly executed kick-off parties and after-parties, at multiple locations, for each night. This means you can seamlessly blend Thursday to Sunday in a blur of smiles, lasers, and BASS, with the only limiting factors being how much dancing your feet can take and when will you stop high-fiving strangers. I’m not being sarcastic because it’s rhetorical. Once you tap the throttle, you’re in it until the last beat fades into the night. Without further ado, let’s BUKU!!!!

 

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I am already painfully aware that my concept of time is going to be extremely warped from the get-go. Once the music begins, I know there is no backtracking, and I refuse to hide my excitement. The weekend kicks off a day early, as it should in Nola, at Republic for the Official Buku Pre-Party. A favorite spot for the local and out-of-towners alike, you can feel the buzz in the air already. It’s quite fitting that the first audio lambasting I get is from one of the hometown beat wizards, Kthulu Prime. There’s nothing like a little local hot fire to get things cooking before we go international. Disclaimer: There is no such thing as too much Circus Records love in one building. I know Cookie Monsta and Doctor P are on tour together, have worked together extensively, and both know how to throw it down, but I’ve never experienced my pulse pounding from their live handiwork before. I don’t know if they planned it to work out this way, but their back-to-back sets complemented one another so well. Doctor P was even classy enough to show an unequivocal sign of respect for his friend and co-founder of Circus Records, Flux Pavillion, by working “I Can’t Stop” into his set. Please turbo-charge the “Going Ape Shit Meter” as the crowd can no longer be contained. The evening closes with another killer set from Kthulu Prime to remind us that we are in New Orleans and the weekend has just begun.

 

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I start every festival with some semblance of a game plan. I lay out whose sets I CAN’T miss. The ones I refuse to miss. I sketch out a rough timetable for when I’ve got to head this way or another, but as soon as I step through those gates all bets are off. Basking in the sunshine and being perpetually greeted by countless smiling faces dissolves even the most well-intentioned plans. I am now in meander mode, guided only by the music because I know there is an AT&T vortex above this venue and my phone will be all but worthless for communication this weekend. Since time has now become relative and “contemporary” is a flexible concept (as good music never leaves your heart), I’m pleased to announce that the pacesetter to get my Day 1 groove going is Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony. I refuse to call their hits “classics,” as they are truly timeless in my book, and it makes me smile to see a group of neon tutu-clad ladies that know all the words. I already have that extra pep in my step and I think I’m sufficiently stretched-out and limber to make a change for something more suited for bouncing and shuffling.

 

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I’ve found my new home until I feel the impulse to migrate again. Float Den, you are my ground zero. Let’s get things moving. Next to the stage is one of Ballerado’s favorite sons, Paper Diamond. Producer. DJ. Mother Nature Selective-Combustion Enthusiast. Call him what you will but he is ALL energy. He skips the rising action and expertly ushers in my inaugural dose of “whomp whomp” for today. His energy is translated instantly in a reaction that spreads like wildfire through the crowd. The sun isn’t even close to setting and he’s dropping bombs like the Apocalypse is coming. There’s no need to duck for cover because these BASS-laden salvos are the standard for this gentleman. You can’t escape the beats. Why would you? Isn’t that what you came for in the first place? No hesitation or trepidation here. I’m thoroughly invested in what’s happening and what’s to come. This adventure has just begun. The downtime between sets isn’t even enough for me to catch my breath. That’s what happens when you get exponential on your inner “shuffle master.” Chipotle Gang in the house!!!! Carnage chooses his opening words carefully and his bottom line is that this party isn’t going to miss a beat. What happens when you: take a few thousand people, put them in a warehouse that is used to store Mardi Gras floats, and unleash a continuous medley of genre-busting anthems and BASS-bangers? You enter A State Of CARNAGE!!!! My man is living up to his name and making sure that I when I wander away from this venue my brain will still be rattling.

 

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The voice in my head, that represents my homeostasis, is urging me to mix it up. It’s time to venture again. After willingly allowing my mind to be systematically assaulted “Big Room” style, I need to take the intensity in a different direction. The welcoming and melodic stylings of Zedd beckon me back to the Power Plant stage. Resting heart rate, you’re welcome. Alas, the wave of calm if short-lived. Zedd came to play. Mingling through the crowd I hear a string of random quotables with a common theme. “I wonder if he’ll play Clarity.” “When do you think he’ll play Clarity” “I can’t wait for him to play Clarity.” Relax. Have a little faith. He’ll play it when the moment is just right. I hope that these people actually look up and enjoy the song when he plays it instead of burning down their battery power trying to send a Snapchat to a hundred people right when the drop hits. Zedd consumes the crowd with a blend of electro-fused power ballads. While the atmosphere is still invigorated from Zedd’s set, the next act takes the stage. Her voice is equal parts folk temptress and angelic siren. I am of course talking about the multi-talented Ellie Goulding. Her voice and her stage presence make you wish that you could freeze time. It doesn’t surprise me how many people, guys and girls alike, that know all the words to her songs. If their reaction to her is the same as mine, I know everything else fades into the background. I am mesmerized. It could be the power of her words. It could be the patented “whip-back” motion that defies gravity and proves the power of the muscles surrounding her spine. Ellie is a classy lady and brings a performance designed to entertain. Tonight is no exception.

 

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It’s time to make a dash back to the Float Den. I’m sure I could leisurely walk, but I know I’m about to take a ride into the “Atmosphere,” courtesy of Kaskade, and I’m not prepared to miss a beat. He starts the tempo slow, allowing your mind to feel the warm embrace as his set gains momentum. The energy in the room is growing with each expertly chosen transition. My feet even start feeling lighter as the progression takes me on the equivalent of an ethereal carpet ride. If it was possible to channel the positive energy in this venue right now, you could power the city for weeks, months perhaps. I am witness to countless sets of outstretched arms, directed skyward, as the audience revels in the transportive powers of the resonating communion present. The correlation between uplifting music and a surge in radiant energy is transparent with this crowd. I don’t know if an appropriate term exists for a state of “elevated mellowness,” but the DJ tag team that takes over next has a different plan for syncing your heartbeat to a specified BPM. Hooks and DC, known the world over as Zeds Dead, want to close Day 1 with a series of jarring maneuvers, designed specifically to motivate individual switches from “Yeah, I was bobbing and swaying peacefully to that,” to “I think it’s best if we rip the roof off this place one more time.” It’s all in good fun. Determined to raise the “shuffle factor” by an exponent of “wop wop get loose,” these boys go hard. There are no complaints here. Today has been a roller coaster: for my emotions, for the music, and for my resting heart rate. I wholeheartedly appreciate that I will walk away vibrating at a higher frequency. Classics and bangers. Classics and bangers. I’m not saying the crowd isn’t particular. I’m just saying that they are receptive to everything sent their way. Lovers of music for music’s sake. I have no faults and am rejuvenated by the BASS that has mobilized every working synapse in my brain. We close with a bang but the night is not over yet.

 

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Time to follow the lights to more lights. Even the festival patrons that cut out early are stuck in traffic as a massive pilgrimage begins towards everyone’s respective after-party. The same affliction you face at a festival comes into play when choosing the after-party. All options for the twilight hours have stacked lineups, but the voice inside my head is telling me that I can’t pass up the option to see Paper Diamond and Carnage twice in one day. Republic, once again, you are my destination. If there’s at least one person dressed as a banana in the crowd, you know the party is still thriving.

 

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This is one of the rare times that Father Time sends me a wink and forgives my perpetual tardiness. As I walk in the door, Paper Diamond is taking the stage. Yes, my friends, this was meant to be. With the signature style and creativity that was featured front and center earlier in the day, there’s no doubt in my mind we are in for a treat. Alex B. does not disappoint in any form or fashion. His high energy and crowd interaction have initiated the immortalization of this event in Republic’s illustrious history. The Ballerado train makes a stop in Chipotle Gang territory as Carnage takes over the decks. I told you I was sold on this event when I thought I was going to be given the opportunity to double my daily dose of PD and El Gordo, but there’s always some surprise in store when you walk through those doors. DC from Zeds Dead decides to drop in and crank out a little side-by-side action with Carnage as they proceed to annihilate the audience’s audial nerves. Jamison, high-fives, old friends, and new friends all come together in a delightfully eclectic mix, and we all know that we get to do it all over again. Sleep is for the weak, but this guy needs food so I’m not starting the next round on an empty tank.

 

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The combination of being battle-weary from an amazing after-party and traffic get Day 2 off to a late start. There’s no need for me to be disheartened because quality will always compensate for quantity. I made a promise to myself when the lineup came out that I would not miss the funktastic melody man, known as GRiZ, for anything. Determination, game face, juke moves, and some Jordans are all I need to make a beeline from the gates to the Float Den, where he’s just taking the stage. First, I don’t play an instrument so I have tremendous respect for those that can and do. Second, I don’t produce music or DJ so I have to give credit where credit is due. Now when you can play an instrument and DJ simultaneously, you’ve just produced the audio-visual equivalent of the Vulcan Mind-Meld because I’m not going anywhere. From funk to hip-hop…slow jams to def jams, he covered the spectrum like a true professional and the enthusiasm of the crowd could be felt all the way in the back.

 

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I’m trying to shake off the feeling that I’ve just been hypnotized. Before I can tell my internal CPU to stop rolling through the “GRiZtastic” highlight reel, Baauer and RL Grime assume their positions. Some brush off that cold chill that runs up your spine when you know it’s about to go down. Not me. I embrace my “EDM-inclined Spidey Sense.” It’s served me well in the past and I have a feeling it’s not going to let me down today. You can’t put up a worthwhile defense against a duo of audio ninjas. The assault is underway. All I can say is lasers and bangers. I can’t call it a tag team effort when it sounds like they’re playing a flawless game of “electro double dutch.” Seamless integration is the name of the game and they don’t miss a beat. I’ve now claimed a personal zone to shuffle in with an eight-foot radius. The best part is that I’m not the only one. The people came to dance and dance they shall.

 

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The first time an artist plays a certain festival is one thing. It’s something entirely different when it’s their first time to ever visit the host city. That last statement gets taken up a notch when their career has taken them to countless cities around the globe and somehow they have managed to miss where you live. David Guetta has never been to New Orleans before. His heartfelt welcoming words about the cultural and musical significance of New Orleans and how coming here to play is a dream come true for him tie a beautiful ribbon around what is already destined to be a legendary performance. Nestled happily in his perch, above the eager crowd, our maestro lets his laser-guided symphony begin. This iconic figure of house music guides us through an emotion-filled anthology, integrating past and current hits, and leads a thriving crowd in several unmistakably enthusiastic sing-a-long moments. If Mr. Guetta’s smile is any indication of his mood and he can see the perma-grins on our respective faces, then he knows that New Orleans appreciates the gift we just received with that performance. After over an hour of lights, lasers, and continuous jams I need a breather before I close out the evening.

 

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Get some food. Use the bathroom. Check all of the missed alerts on your phone. Rally your crew. Do what you have to do because the Float Den is about to be destroyed by The Glitch Mob’s first festival appearance on their “Love Death Immortality” Tour. Any time a stage set-up is shrouded in a black cloak, a feeling deep inside of me starts swelling, reminding me that madness is about to blast through that veil. There’s an uneasy buzz rolling through the audience. “What’s behind there” and “I heard their gear is crazy, man…” are just a few remarks I overhear. The cue is given and in one swift motion the stage crew whips off the cover. The audience’s reaction is an instantaneous boom of elation. I’m still not quite sure what I’m looking at right now. Their gear looks like the worlds of Atari and Mad Max were fused by a mad scientist, well, three in this case. This intensity that this L.A.-based trio brings to their set is incredible. I can feel the floor shaking from the steady throbbing of the crowd. One thing is for sure, these guys aren’t letting up for anything. Wailing away on their independent snares, that look like they were constructed out of goblin armor, and furiously manipulating their synth machines, there is something otherworldly altogether to this performance.  Even after the music fades, I still hear the beat with every step I take.

 

Every festival has its own unique flair for bringing the entertainment to the masses and The Buku Music & Art Project is a resounding success. I might be biased since I’ve been talking about Buku for the last 363 days since last year’s event, but that shouldn’t discredit the appeal or the effectiveness of this event. Every festival I attend across the country is beautiful and magical in its own way, but I make sure to tell everyone I meet that they have to make the trek to Nola and experience it for themselves. “Come on vacation and don’t leave on probation.” Enjoy the moment and make some new friends. After all, we all came for the same thing, a healthy serving of beautiful music and an environment of good vibes. Great music serves as a foundation for some of the most meaningful relationships possible. Thank you again, Buku. Until next year…

 

 

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