Buku's Back Alley stage was the festival's most unexpected pleasure. 

asap rocky by patrick ainsworth
A$AP Rocky at Buku, by Patrick Ainsworth

[Updated] If you look carefully in the bottom corner of Buku's festival map, you'll see a small stage hanging off the edge called the Back Alley. This year, organizers drew on its strengths to create an environment that was unlike anything else at the festival.

Never before in Buku's short history has the Back Alley been such an event. Previously, the area featured little more than some seating and a small tent for performers. The "stage" made the artists seem very accessible and the performances intimate, but without a raised stage or impressive visual displays, the Back Alley felt a bit like amateur hour. This year, that all changed. The organizers played on the stage’s close proximity to the Mississippi, and low wooden structures and palm trees to create a space that invited comparison to the tropics.

The deep and tech house DJs that filled most of the time slots nicely augmented the atmosphere by playing carefully crafted, progressive sets that slowly built upon a groove. The focus was on a cohesive structure, not individual tracks, so lukewarm fans that only knew a song or two from the radio stayed away. Furthermore, the level of civility and appreciation that was induced by these performers offered a welcome physical and psychological respite from the rest of the festival. The Back Alley truly felt like an oasis.

Top acts in the Back Alley included Thomas Jack, Jamie Jones, and MUSA. For much of his set, Jack strayed away from his signature tropical house sounds (though he held on to the saxophone). Instead, he read the crowd and worked to establish a groove that set up a back-to-back with Jamie Jones perfectly. Little can be said for Jones, as a legendary DJ in the deep house, tech house, and minimal house scenes, he was a natural fit for the stage and vibe in time.

Less expected was the dance-inducing, head-nodding set by MUSA. When she played Friday afternoon, there were only a couple dozen people in the audience. Unfazed, she showed creative chops by seamlessly transitioning from synth-laden deep house tracks to throwback '80s and disco tunes, then to bona fide New Orleans bounce music.

lil B by patrick ainsworth Lil B at Buku, by Patrick Ainsworth

 

buku fans by patrick ainsworth Buku fans, by Patrick Ainsworth

Other Notes:

Die Antwoord in the Float Den: Die Antwoord’s performance was an assault on all the senses. It was a wild, entertaining show that conventional terms and phrases can’t adequately describe. With music ranging from moombahton to trap, DnB to trance, it was impossible to put a single label on the duo’s sound and style. I couldn’t help but wonder what the people around me thought about this, and all anyone I asked told me was, “Drugs. The genre is drugs.” The disjointed nature of the set played into this suggestion, as the sound and overwhelming light show abruptly cut off multiple times. It definitely seemed like a malfunction or power outage, but it also seemed fitting for the psychologically jarring performance. Ultimately, Die Antwoord was a spectacle that I am still struggling to digest, but given the opportunity, I would definitely go back for more.

Robert DeLong at the Power Plant: Robert DeLong’s live performance did not disappoint. His constant movement on stage from one instrument to the next was engaging and exciting, and the set was clean and creative. The live instrumentation allowed for a lot of improvisation, which was most effective during a savage rendition of his popular song, “Global Concepts.”

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DJ windows98 by patrick ainsworth DJ Windows98 at Buku, by Patrick Ainsworth

empire of the sun by patrick ainsworth Empire of the Sun at Buku, by Patrick Ainsworth

robert delong by patrick ainsworth Robert DeLong at Buku, by Patrick Ainsworth

odesza by patrick ainsworth Odesza at Buku, by Patrick Ainsworth

Zella Ray by patrick ainsworthZella Day at Buku, by Patrick Ainsworth

 

Other Buku coverage:

- Our Buku 2015 playlist

-  Carneyval 

- Robert DeLong 

- Portugal. The Man in review

- Bassnectar, Porter Robinson in review

Updated at 8:32 p.m.

Photos of Lil B, Odesza, and Zella Day were added after the story was initially published, as were links to other Buku coverage.

Updated March 18, 2:04 p.m.

The photo of Zella Day was misidentified as Devon Baldwin. The text has been corrected.