BUKU Music + Art Project, or BUKU, as it’s most widely known, turns seven this year as artists, organizers, promoters, musicians, and approximately 35,000 guests gear up for the two-day immersive event. Founded in 2012 by Winter Circle Productions and focusing on EDM, hip hop, and indie rock music, BUKU has solidified itself as a fixture of New Orleans’ festival season while retaining the same magic listeners would feel if they were at a house show.
I attended BUKU for the first time last year as a journalist with a critical eye and even though I wished all the youthful attendees would have dressed properly for the weather, the festival left me pleasantly surprised. With past performers like MGMT, Nas, Alt-J, Major Lazer, Flosstradamus, Sleigh Bells, and dozens of others, the musical lineup is always the most talked about aspect of BUKU.
However, it’s the less obvious features of the festival that make it unique – in a world with too many music festivals to count. Walking onto the festival grounds is akin to entering an outdoor museum dedicated to neon and lights. Last year’s festival grounds included a glowing water tower, a massive rainbow BUKU sign affixed above the VIP building, and the largest glowing star installation I had ever seen. The festival grounds were expanded for the first time last year which included more interactive art displays like the popular giant hammock strung between multiple (and multi-storied) shipping containers and a glowing LED tree for people to sit beneath.
Hosted every year at Mardi Gras World, the floats we watch roll through New Orleans every Carnival season become the backdrop for the weekend (see them in the Float Den) and that’s just the beginning. BUKU organizers have strived to bring together music lovers by providing installments for local visual artists, food vendors, and street performers throughout the fest.
Just a short walk from the entrance gate to the furthest stage, I took note of the two-story graffiti wall sectioned off for each invited artist to create an original piece while festival-goers watched on, a woman in a bikini strolling through the grounds with multiple Hula hoops spinning around her, and a pop-up break dancing competition. This year, keep your eyes peeled for my personal favorite artists Monica Kelly, Hugo Gyrl, Art by Jay, Ceaux, and Fat Kids.
Beginning on Friday, you can catch sfam, Mason Maynard, Dounia, Yves Tumor, SunSquabi, Kidswaste, From First to Last, Rico Nasty, PEEKABOO, 1788-L, Kero Kero Bonito, TOKiMONSTA, Ekali, Denzel Curry, Death Grips, Toro Y Moi, Mayday Parade, FISHER, and Claude VonStroke. Playboi Carti, RL Grime, Kevin Gates, Excision, and her holiness Lana Del Rey close out Day One.
Local acts like Trombone Shorty Academy and The Iceman Special join the fray as well as LLEAUNA, an original member of the New Orleans founded Techno Club collective and whose dark interpretation of that techno sounds mixes with her Natchez, Miss. roots to evoke the sounds of the Deep South. Catch Trax Only, another locally based DJ collective known for their all night raves, that have created inclusive and safe spaces for the southern queer underground.
If you only have a one-day pass then fret not, Saturday is just as jam-packed with performers representing New Orleans with Unicorn Fukr, Thou, Malik Ninety Five, Lil Jodeci, and James Seville. Mersiv, WHIPPED CREAM, We Came As Romans, Doja Cat, Roy Blair, EarthGang, Papadosio, Kasbo, Oliver Tree, Liquid Stranger, G Jones, J.I.D., Yaeji, Earl Sweatshirt, The Black Madonna, and Gunna keep the music going throughout the day and lead into headliners Dashboard Confessional, $uicideboy$, Ella Mai, Louis The Child, GRiZ, Dog Blood, and A$AP Rocky.
But again, it’s the local acts that I get most excited for. This includes Tristan Dufrene, who can be seen DJ-ing all over town and describes her music as a “kaleidoscope of consciousness” that helps her blend and push the boundaries of house and techno music, and Lil Jodeci, the founder of Pink Room Project, a DIY music collective aimed at furthering the trajectory of local musicians onto the global level – who brings his mixture of Chicago house, Detroit techno, and New Orleans bounce and hip hop.
BUKU is an ADA accessible and a rain or shine event. Be sure to check the official website for a complete list of prohibited items (attendees are searched at the entrance). There are lockers, food, and booze at the festival, but locker rentals sell out fast.
The festival grounds are located adjacent to to the Mississippi River with very few shaded areas. It does get hot during the day and cold when the sun goes down, so stay hydrated. Bring an empty water bottle with you to fill up at various water stations on site, and something warm to throw on at night.
BUKU’s Safe Space Policy emphasizes their inclusive values and clearly communicates them as follows: “Acceptance, compassion, encouragement, and love is what the BUKREWE stands for. Let’s stand together to keep each other safe to party in freedom.” They make it clear that they do not tolerate any form of bigotry, sexual harassment, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, or any other form of discrimination or hatred. And we are here for it.
BUKU Music + Art Project takes place on March 22 and 23 at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans. Tickets start at $115 for One-Day General Admission and $210 for Two-Day General Admission as well as locker rentals for $40 can be purchased here.