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Reviews

BUKU Music and Art Project: 8-9 March 2013 - New Orleans

David Murphy during one of STS9's two sets. (Photo: Annie Pennell)

With a diverse lineup, BUKU intended to incorporate the post-industrial vibe as well as the garish festivity of Mardi Gras World, which it pulled off with varying degrees of success.

Sometimes the atmosphere of a festival is as big a story as its line-up. That was the case with the 2013 BUKU Fest. For its second year, BUKU returned to its urban wasteland beside the Mississippi River. BUKU intended to incorporate the post-industrial vibe as well as the garish festivity of Mardi Gras World, which it pulled off with varying degrees of success.

The Good: The main stage's location and aura, called the Power Plant, was well-chosen. Headliners put their shows on directly in the shadow of the abandoned Market Street Power Plant, the hulking piece of neglected architecture. The contrast between the LED-infused spectacles and the sad silhouette of the darkened power plant was a poignant remark on the advance of digital technology paired with the forgotten past of the Industrial Revolution. A live graffiti project and an art installation featuring a heap of spray-painted TV's enhanced the vibe. Another art project, a giant hammock made out of rope and ship containers, provided a comfy viewing area of the Power Plant.

The Bad: Mardi Gras Float Den, which was expected to be the biggest highlight, was a little disappointing. Floats were regulated to areas on the sides of the cavernous warehouse, far away from the audience. The floats' sculptures loomed in the dimly lit background. As the audience focused on the acts on center stage, the floats were left as forgotten footnotes. The result was a creepy Mardi Gras Den, which seemed too large for the crowd inside it. There was just too much room between the audience and the floats. This decision may have been in order to protect the floats, but it certainly lacked the closeness and intensity of a real Mardi Gras parade, where crowds push against the floats, begging for beads and throws.

Flavor Flav of Public Enemy (Photo: Annie Pennell)

The Ugly: Flavor Flav's mug graced the BUKU main stage. Public Enemy performed at BUKU, presenting a tight example of why a hip-hop group formed in 1982 remains relevant in a culture that values wub as much as lyrics: they're talented rappers with a lot to say and a dexterous way of saying it. Chuck D is a more elegant rapper than relative newcomers like Kid Cudi, flowing in his smooth baritone that packages his words in an authoritative, likable sound. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have a packed schedule for 2013 following the release of 2012's Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp and Evil Empire of Everything.

BUKU's lineup was diverse. Headliners like Calvin Harris, Kid Cudi, and Kendrick Lamar appealed to the under-40 demographic, which included almost every attendee. Up-and-comers like Flying Lotus, ZEDD, and Nero generated a lot of buzz among the highbrow E.D.M. crowd (if they can be called such a thing), who appreciated festival organizer Winter Circle Productions' inclusion of ascending E.D.M. acts who don't often play in Louisiana. Big Gigantic, Primus, STS9 and Lettuce spiced up the line-up by focusing on live instrumentation over loops and LED lights.

Of all the acts though, Big Gigantic had the most energetic, solid set of the weekend. Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken (who I also interviewed for PopMatters' coverage of Hangout Fest 2012) delivered a high-energy set paired with excellent choices in mixes and steady musicianship. Their formula works: an energetic saxophone player and an indefatigable drummer paired with well-chosen remixes and original dub-step beats. Standout tracks were a fun remix of Kanye West's "Get Em High", which gave the track a digital twist and even more attitude, and "It's Goin' Down" from their 2012 album Nocturnal. Another strong show was given by Kendrick Lamar. He lived up to the hype and delivered a solid set with an easy flow, sending the audience into a frenzy during the smooth "A.D.H.D". On the flip side, Kid Cudi's set was inconsistent at best. He was struggling by the second song, off-tempo and not commanding the stage with authority but instead singing out of tune and making jokes about glow sticks. I recommend his recorded albums over his live performance.

See below for PopMatters' photographer Annie Pennell's incredible work.

Photo Gallery

Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Lalli catches his breath (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Jeremy Salken of Big Gigantic (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Crowd shot at Kid Cudi (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Art installation (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Fest fashion: fluffies, short shorts, and weed leaf patterns (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Crowd shot at Kendrick Lamar (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Crowd shot in the Float Den (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Kendrick Lamar (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Kendrick Lamar (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Kid Cudi (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Kid Cudi (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Jeff Apruzzese of Passion Pit

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Chuck D. of Public Enemy (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Flavor Flav of Public Enemy (Photo: Annie Pennell)

Flavor Flav of Public Enemy (Photo: Annie Pennell)

David Murphy of STS9 (Photo: Annie Pennell)

David Murphy of STS9 (Photo: Annie Pennell)

David Murphy of STS9 (Photo: Annie Pennell)

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