The Buku Music + Art Project roster and the cover of Rolling Stone rarely intersect.
However, the seventh Buku, which takes over the riverfront Mardi Gras World on Friday and Saturday, counts Migos as a headliner. The Atlanta hip-hop trio/cultural phenomenon, creators of the massive hit “Bad and Boujee” and the “Dab” move, appeared on Rolling Stone’s Feb. 8 cover, wreathed in smoke and jewelry. They were also the "Saturday Night Live" musical guests last Saturday. In January, their "Culture II" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.
Despite the prominent presence of Migos, Buku hasn’t suddenly gone mainstream.
The 2018 lineup also boasts Florida rapper and mixtape specialist Ski Mask the Slump God, as well as Montreal-based deejay/producer Snails, pioneer of a particularly “growly” form of bass music dubbed “vomitstep.”
Neither Ski Mask the Slump God nor Snails will likely adorn Rolling Stone’s cover any time soon.
Buku built its national brand with an especially youthful mix of electronic dance music, underground hip-hop and indie rock. That aesthetic is represented this year by Philly rapper Lil Uzi Vert; the EDM deejay Bassnectar; fast-rising contemporary R&B/soul singer SZA; Australian deejay Alison Wonderland; psychedelic pop duo MGMT; electronic producer Illenium, who will stage his full “Awake” production; and the American festival debut of Porter Robinson’s project Virtual Self.
Marquee names are not the main attraction. Instead, the festival offers a carefully curated, cutting-edge roster and an immersive experience in a unique, sensory-overload setting that is equal parts starkly industrial and colorfully Carnival. The festival aims to be a synthesis of an “underground warehouse party and a major urban music festival.”
The main outdoor stage is framed by the twin smokestacks of a long-abandoned power plant. Stages inside Mardi Gras World warehouses are flanked by Carnival floats and décor. Revelers can watch tankers drift by on the Mississippi River or get up close and personal with surreal figureheads that recently rolled in Mardi Gras parades. Street performers and graffiti art installations throughout the site enhance its otherworldly quality.
The Buku formula seems to be working. Each of the festival's first six editions has either sold out or come close. This year, the site has expanded by moving the Power Plant Stage across the railroad tracks that previously defined the festival’s border, and adding the riverside Wharf Stage. The expansion allowed the festival’s capacity to increase from roughly 14,500 to 17,500.
Gates open at 2 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; the music winds down at 1 a.m.
Two-day passes for the seventh edition of Buku are on sale now at thebukuproject.com. A two-day general admission pass is $195 plus service charges. A single-day ticket is $100 plus service charges. Various VIP and enhanced experience packages are also available.
Attendees must be at least 18, with valid government-issued ID. Additionally, the fest's website contains a long list of prohibited items, including "no weird s--- like gas masks, pacifiers or chains."
In a break with tradition, the festival will no longer use the Creole Queen riverboat, docked alongside the festival site, as its SS Buku VIP venue. On the opening night of the 2017 Buku, an attendee jumped into the Mississippi River near the Creole Queen. The current carried him downriver, where he was eventually found clinging to a pillar under the wharf and rescued.
Instead of the riverboat, this year’s festival will feature the “Buku Rooftop,” a reserved, multitiered VIP space with a view of the main stage. It likely won’t be within leaping distance of the river.
Buku is produced by Winter Circle Productions. Winter Circle was founded in 2009 by Dante DiPasquale and Reeves Price while they were students at Tulane University. Winter Circle staged the first Buku in 2012.
In 2015, DiPasquale and Price forged a strategic partnership with international entertainment giant AEG Live to operate AEG’s new Gulf Coast regional office. AEG Live, which coproduces the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, acquired a portion of Buku; DiPasquale and Price were named AEG vice presidents.
Despite the corporate connection, Buku still feels like a quirky, boutique event. And it extends well beyond Mardi Gras World. Once the main event winds down each night, the party continues at other venues around town via the “Buku Late” series.
Recent Rolling Stone love for Migos aside, Buku is still all about what’s fresh and new. It’s still primarily about artists such as Snails.
But given Buku’s knack for sussing out What’s Next, Snails may find himself on the cover of Rolling Stone one day. By then, Buku will have moved on to something even newer.