The first thing that greeted me when picking up credentials for 2014’s incarnate of the Buku Music + Arts Project was perhaps the longest contest winner and guess pass line I’d ever come across. Two friends were at its mercy while some system or other rebooted, a testament to the sheer overload of interest this year. Upon entering the gates, getting my lay of the land, and heading to an overstuffed photo pit for Nas, my cell signal plummeted to the depths of practically unusable, and any hopes of truly instant Instagrams diminished. Buku had officially become a larger festival.
Iconic Queens rapper Nas emerged with his signature Yankees cap and hoodie, this time adorned with the words “Illmatic 20 Years”. The first half of Nas’ set was dedicated to that album, which helped inspire many Buku alums and artists still yet to play the festival this weekend. The MC was clearly in his element as the golden hour of sun and onslaught of fans just arriving from work made for a surprisingly pleasant crowd at the Power Plant stage. A bit of a break forced me to wander into the Float Den where an unpleasantly aggro Carnage instructed fans to get fucked up.; not exactly the best vibe to endure before catching Wavves.
Wavves are the type of band known as much for their music as for their partying. The two go hand in hand, to the point that it’s par for the course to see the band at their lowest when they should really be at their pinnacle: onstage, slumping and slurring words with the type of devil-may-care attitude that’s like a slowed down “yolo.” Surprisingly, the SoCal outfit brought their A-game to New Orleans. Frontman Nathan Williams may have wanted to hurry up their set “so we can go watch Pusha T,” who was set to take the Ballroom stage right after, but there was nothing rushed about Wavves’ performance. Spliced between old tracks and new tunes a la their critically acclaimed Afraid of Heights, Wavves debuted a new tune that was far breezier than their previous gritty effort.
Conversely, Sleigh Bells stood as perhaps the only band to have a decent recorded output but a live show that is worlds away. It’s difficult to capture the nuances of frontwoman Alexis Krauss in a studio. On Bitter Rivals, Krauss feels stunted. Onstage, it’s seemingly impossible to keep her down. The Float Den acted as the perfect setting for Sleigh Bells’ eclectic mix of noise pop and art rock. Not enough can be said of the seriously fantastic layout of LEDs stretching all the way back to front of house and crisscrossing through the onlooking crowd.
Soon it was back to the Ballroom for Pusha T. Despite delays in receiving passes, Buku’s timeliness was on point and shortly past nine, a series of air horn blares made way for his hype man, who seriously hyped the hell out of Pusha. Sure, he was just doing his job, but the excess in excitement made for a very anti-climactic performance once the MC took the stage. It took quite a bit for Pusha T to warm up, to the point that I was able to catch the entirety of Big Freedia’s performance during his set, which apparently went 40 minutes over its scheduled time.
Earlier in the day, Big Freedia had given a twerking lesson aboard the VIP Boat to prepare fans for her performance to come. Big Freedia was on point and ass-shakingly good, but her short set made a good case for an extended slot on the Buku schedule. Last year, Freedia was relegated to only four songs at a supplemental side stage to the left of the main Power Plant stage. It’s a definite upgrade to see her and her dancers in the Float Den, though thirty minutes was simply not enough time for what Freedia aimed to accomplish.
After a brief rendezvous at the food booths, which offered up the type of stoner fare you’d expect at a festival where the weed wafts like a Mississippi fog and finding that molly is as simple as approaching, well, anyone, it was time to close out the first night of Buku; not with over-hyper EDM’ers Kaskade, Zedd, or Ellie Goulding, but with Chance the Rapper.
As much as Buku gets pegged as simply an EDM fest with bits of indie, much can be said for the robust strength of this year’s hip hop acts. Relative classic artists like Nas and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony flow just as freely as controversial stars like Danny Brown and Tyler, the Creator. Chance the Rapper certainly impressed with his deft rhymes but it was his sheer energy and tight backing band that pushed his performance over the edge. I can only hope tomorrow’s fest-closer, Danny Brown, will be just as electric.