Our team coverage of last weekend's Buku also looks at Lil Yachty, Deadmau5, and more.
Buku made news Friday night when one patron had to be fished out of the Mississippi River, and I can’t be the only person who was surprised not that it happened but that it hadn’t happened sooner. That and the threat of rain Saturday were the only blemishes on an otherwise strong year, but the prospective rain’s primary impact was the early closure of the Front Porch Stage before the Saint Heron Showcase. Young Thug missed his Friday slot on the Power Plant Stage, but Juvenile subbed for him with typical style and flare.
We were at Mardi Gras World this weekend for Buku, and here are our team’s takeaways. You can click on Max Morgenstern’s photos to see them blown up in a viewer.
Travis Scott’s breakout mixtape Days Before Rodeo was a hard act to follow—and he hasn’t.
His first two albums—Rodeo and Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight—while commercially successful, didn’t pack quite the same punch. Lately, it seems, he finds an effect or a hook he likes and then button-mashes it like he’s playing Mortal Kombat. Classic examples of this tendency are Young Thug’s “call your friends, let’s get drunk” hook and his “It’s lit! / Straight up!” ad libs.
His penchant for maximalism can be tiresome, but it plays great live. In December, I saw him perform at Houston’s Day for Night festival, where he put on an electric show for his city, rocking a crowd comprising most of the festival’s attendees. His set at Buku was also well-attended, placed carefully at 9:45 and set on the Power Plant stage to avoid conflict. New Orleans doesn’t love Scott as much as Houston does though, so much of his audience looked like it was biding its time until Zeds Dead.
Scott still tore it up, running through hits from both his albums, as well as a surprise performance of “Mamacita” from Days Before Rodeo. Young Thug would likely have joined Scott on stage for support on that one (and on “Pick Up the Phone, too), had he not missed his flight and cancelled his show.
On “3500,” Scott passed the mic off to a fan for the verse—a little piece of showmanship / solidarity he tries out at every show. This time, after finding someone who knew all the words, he brought him up on stage. He was a white kid with mid-socks and a snapback, and Scott had to give him a pretty serious pep talk to get him to say the N-word in the chorus. After the track was over, Scott announced he was flying the young fan out to New York at the end of April for his exclusive birthday party.
With Floyd Mayweather’s machismo and Oprah’s generosity, Scott vaulted around the stage, surrounded by birdcages, with the light projecting vivid abstraction of birds, as well as a fully formed eagle surrounded in flames. He brought up a consistent stream of VIP fans only to have them launch themselves back into the crowd like divers from a sinking ship. Scott stayed afloat, though, and finished out one of the best sets of Buku 2017 with a bang. (Raphael Helfand)
Scott’s charisma was strong enough that he was a compelling presence despite performing largely in silhouette. Buku’s Power Plant and Float Den stages had no lighting from the front, so performers’ faces were largely obscured by back lighting. That’s not much of a problem when the performer is a DJ or an elegantly lanky Scott, but in a full Float Den, fans could only “see” Lil Yachty when he stood in front of the rear projection screen, which made his outline clear. Since the Buku production team generally know what they’re doing, that got me wondering if maybe we need to reconsider what we talk about at a hip-hop or EDM show.
After all, much of the music for Scott and Yachty was on the DJs' laptops, so it doesn’t change from night to night, and like many emcees, Yachty’s tracks had a guide vocal on them so the songs were whole and satisfying if played and the artist did nothing. Yachty let that vocal carry the ball at times before he jumped in, but no one around me seemed cranked by that. Since seeing the performer didn’t seem important either, it made me wonder if maybe the conversation about such shows needs to be about the audience, and how the aesthetics of electronic shows has everything to do with the audience and little to do with the artist specifically. (Alex Rawls)
Deadmau5 has spent the last few months designing a state-of-the-art production display, “Cube 2.1”. Many of his fans were active on social media trying to find out if he would debut the cube at Buku because it has become a part of his identity along with the helmet. He didn’t, but he put on a memorable show anyway, and when he played his classic "Ghosts 'N' Stuff," he gave the Power Plant crowd that authentic rave feeling. (Ryan Knight)
Did anybody else hear Deadmau5 say anything about New Orleans when he explained why he didn’t bring the cube? I didn’t, Ryan thinks he did, and I can’t find confirmation online of what Ryan thinks he heard. Let me know what you think you heard below or at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll update the story.
$uicideboy$ haven’t quite blown up yet. They still work day jobs and play single-room shows and house parties. Still, the local rap group held down a prime time slot (10:45- 11:30) at Buku’s Float Den, got a prime time response from the audience, and put on one of the most exciting shows I saw all weekend. The duo, which consists of Scott Arceneaux Jr. ($crim) and Aristos Petrou (Ruby Da Cherry), have a sound that mixes trap with hardcore punk, and the refreshingly dark lyrics to go with it. The sound has roots in the “sad boy” aura pioneered by Yung Lean and Co., but while the Swedish wunderkind’s success seems to have plateaued of late, $uicideboy$ are just getting started.
They’ve caught on to a new trend in sad rap, opting for more serious lyricism over random shoutouts to the early 2000s (the saddest years). The budding subgenre (let’s call it trap punk) has been creeping slowly into the public ear for some time now, with rappers like the currently incarcerated XXXtentación and his friend Ski Mask the Slump God carrying the torch for now. On Saturday, $uicideboy$ drew a large and enthusiastic crowd that stayed with them as they bounced around and head banged—letting their long, scraggly hair billow in the breeze from the overhead fans—for a 45 minute set that felt half as long. $uicideboy$ may not have much critical or commercial acclaim as of yet, but they do have multiple videos with multiple millions of views on YouTube, and these days, that’s as good a sign as any of impending stardom. Considering their subject matter, they probably won’t be on the radio any time soon, but if they keep putting on shows like they did Saturday and putting out videos as good as this one, they’ll be rocking sold out shows in no time. (Helfand)
$uicideboy$ radiated not giving a fuck Saturday night from before they belatedly stepped onstage. Their DJ told the soundboard to start their video, them called for a rewind because they weren’t ready. When $crim and Ruby hit the stage, they came with a crew that threw water on the crowd, lurched around on their own, drank liquor from the bottle and rolled joints at the back of the stage. They gave us the wasted youth look and attitude more common in heavy metal, a genre with which $uicideboy$ share some aesthetics.
In fact, the band’s web presence suggests that it has a solid graphic designer on the team if not running it. The stickers for sale on Etsy are smartass, accomplished and edgy, and one T-shirt unsettles with ease as a drawing of a hand with a scarred wrist is accompanied by the slogan, “Woke up dope sick with a cut wrist.” If White Zombie and Ministry never used the cheap movie recreations of Bible scenes that $uicideboy$ ran on screen behind them, it’s only because they didn’t find them first.
Their visual and verbal imagery guarantee that they won’t become radio stars, but it doesn’t matter if their nihilistic outrageousness is calculated because they’re really good at it. (Rawls)
ZHU was one of the best live performers at Buku this year. After the rebellious $uicideboy$ refused to leave the stage, ZHU was able to completely shift the mood to a laid-back dance parties that was perfect for the huge disco ball in the Float Den. He is mostly visible only as a silhouette on stage, accompanied by a saxophonist and a bassist. These live elements were especially appreciated when the crowd was serenaded by guitar solos during electrifying solos. The Float Den felt like a disco, and he spun the grooviest set this weekends. (Knight)
The electronic acts at Buku this year catered heavily to the dubstep and trap fans. New Orleans’ audiences seem to be more into dubstep and deep house than other types of electronic music, so Grizmatik and Zeds Dead worked extra dubstep into their sets. Further, deep house powerhouses Shiba San, Lane8, and Nina Kraviz all graced the Back Alley this year, while trance, future bass, and house—all popular nationally—were noticeably missing. (Knight)
Lil Yachty’s music is goofy down to its core, but at Buku on Friday, he ran through his songs with an unexpected sense of seriousness. He’s played Republic twice in the past year, once in support of Young Thug, and then again in support of Rae Sremmurd. Both times, he shared the stage amicably, letting his friend/collaborator Burberry Perry (now The Good Perry) take a hefty portion of the spotlight, and dishing even more of it out to a motley crew of oddballs (Ugly God) and moguls (Coach K).
On Friday, Yachty was in New Orleans on his own tour for the first time, and he came out solo. He wore a long-sleeve white T, and left it on for his whole set. (His shirt was off within five minutes at both his Republic shows.) He still danced around on stage, but by himself this time, and his jokes were limited. Mostly, he yelled at his raver crowd, spilling into the far recesses of the Float Den, to turn up and get louder. He even urged us to create a giant mosh pit front and center, and pressed the issue when it didn’t happen fast enough. It almost seemed as though Travis Scott was back onstage with a red wig and a bad case of laryngitis.
Yachty (aka Miles Parks McCollum) is still 19 years old, and much of his appeal comes from the childlike mix of playfulness and rebellion etched into his sound. His youth makes him relatable and marketable to trap music’s growing teenage fan base, but it also makes him more susceptible to corrupting influences from the corporate world. It was hard not to love his Super Bowl Sprite commercial with Lebron, for instance, but being branded is not a recipe for longevity in the rap game as it is in the NBA.
Another major part of Yachty’s appeal is his loyalty. In his 2016 “Keep Sailing” video with The Fader, he brought his whole crew out with him and stressed the importance of his Sailing Team brand over individual success. It’s unclear whether there’s any beef within Yachty’s camp—he could easily be doing just this one tour alone—but if was still odd to see him rap/lip-sync “seven years later and I got the same friends (“All In”) and “bitch it’s Lil Boat and Lil Perry (“Wanna Be Us”) all by himself. Of course, his set was a lot of fun, and no one seemed to mind his solitude or even his comically awful voice (no better than it was in May or October) too much. Still, when he closed out with Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” rather than one of his own tracks, I couldn’t help but feel like he was taking a small step in a very dangerous direction. (Helfand)
There’s nothing new about emcees branding themselves repeatedly throughout their sets, but Lil Yachty didn’t just chirp “Lil Boat” after every song. He seemed to cut his own songs off to do it. That’s not new either. Many emcees get through a lot of material quickly by only performing parts of songs, but Yachty seemed to dispose of some after a verse and chorus, and the speed and abruptness with which he ended songs made drilling “Lil Boat” into your head seem like the reason he showed up. (Rawls)
During Zeds Dead, a teen climbed on top of the rafters inside the Float Den and gave the crowd a new life. The song "Lost You" blasted through the upgraded sound system in the LED-studded hanger. No security came to get him down as the entire crowd cheered him on. He eventually climbed down on his own, but the sense of freedom his climb created lingered until the night ended. (Knight)
Buku’s gender imbalance should embarrass organizers. Admittedly, electronic festivals in general tend to be all about the dudes, but only seven acts involving women were booked this year, and one, DJ Soul Sister, played a VIP-only show. Three women played before 5 p.m.—Carly Meyers and Roar! opened one stage on Friday while Lleauna opened another, and Alina Baraz on Saturday—leaving only Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells, Nora En Pure, and Nina Kraviz for prime time. The Front Porch showcases brought three more acts with women courtesy of Community Records (Shark’s Teeth, Gland) and Techno Club (Tristan Dufrene), but even then, 10 says that showing the women in the audience that they could be on stage is clearly not a priority. (Rawls)
Each year at Buku, I'm always slightly surprised that sonic innovation takes place in such a narrow range. With the world of possibilities technology makes available, it seems like music at the festival can and should open up new worlds. One of the most enjoyable 15 minutes I heard came courtesy of Dohm Collective's Zupparty, who brought Indian music to house beats and achieved the same trippy goals as most of the producers who performed on the weekend while suggesting that this world can easily be as otherworldly as any 10 minutes of face-melting wub. (Rawls)