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Ben Samuels

Winter Circle Productions, the local event production company best known for their monthly BASSIK events at Republic, had a lot to live up to after announcing the first ever Buku Music and Art Project back in December. Showcasing some of the biggest names house, dubstep, hip-hop and various other electronic genres, the crowd – ranging from teenage candy ravers in rainbow tutus and furry leg warmers to college dudes in lacrosse pinneys and snapbacks to a surprising number of moms and dads- arrived excited for the weekend and were not disappointed. Located at Mardi Gras World between Tchoupitoulas Street and the Mississippi River, the open-air festival included an enormous empty factory as a backdrop to the main stage, plenty of local food and vendor tents and the bright lights of the Crescent City Connection blinking in the sunset. Local artists and DJs were given prominent roles throughout the weekend, lending the festival a distinctly New Orleans feel. From the opening Saturday until late Sunday night, the varied lineup played terrific set after terrific set.

Cities Aviv was an early highlight in the BASSIK Ballroom – the smaller, indoor stage – and set the weekend off with his curious brand of chillwave hip-hop. From there, Gramatik played a vibrant set on the main stage, highlighting his distinctive, glitchy electronic sound with elements ranging from jazz samples to a live electric guitar.

Despite a relatively early 7:30 p.m. set time, Avicii drew a headliner-worthy crowd when he hit the stage. When he opened his set with crossover hit “Levels,” house music’s ubiquity became clear. This concert series wasn’t just a small underground movement following a niche genre; thousands of people were uniformly moving to every beat, euphorically singing and dancing to Avicii’s puppet master-like command. His expertly mixed set contained his own hits such as “Blessed” and “Seek Bromance,” plus epic bangers such as “Calling” by fellow Swedes Alesso and Sebastian Ingrosso. Don’t worry; he played “Levels” twice, including one version that mashed the song up with Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know.”

Mord Fustang, an Estonian wunderkind with a Bieber-esque hairflip, was another highlight. Playing 75 minutes of non-stop bass-heavy electro, Mord Fustang dropped tracks such as his excellent remix of Morgan Page’s “In the Air” and fellow European teenage prodigy Madeon’s “Icarus.” Saturday’s headliner, Diplo, closed the night in a uniquely eclectic fashion. The tastemaker’s set featured popular house and dubstep tracks but mainly showcased his diversity as a producer. Featuring genres such as New Orleans Bounce, Jamaican dancehall, Moombahton, trance, mainstream hip-hop and everything in between, the set exemplified how forward-thinking innovators like Diplo are shaping mainstream pop music on a daily basis.

After Diplo finished his blockbuster set, the after-party featuring Wolfgang Gartner and Archnemesis popped off in the ballroom. The crowd thoroughly enjoyed Archnemesis’ unique sample-embracing glitch-hop, sounding like the love child of Pretty Lights and the Glitch Mob. Birthday boy Gartner headlined, and despite his visible irritation with technical difficulties throughout the set, the ruckus was brought until the dawn’s early light.

Of Sunday’s acts, late festival addition A-Trak was the day’s first highlight. A-Trak showed off his unparalleled scratching skills and demonstrated why he is one of the most respected DJs in the game today. Without skipping a beat, A-Trak masterfully blended his remixes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll” and Martin Solveig’s “The Night Out” while also playing his Duck Sauce project’s “Barbara Streisand” and “Big Bad Wolf.”

SBTRKT and Figure had conflicting set times, but both acts had festival-goers raving. SBTRKT and vocalist/keyboardist Sampha recreated the tracks off its standout 2011 debut album, keeping the crowd on its toes for the entire set. Meanwhile, Figure’s filthy dubstep rocked the BASSIK Ballroom to the point of collapse – nearly melting the faces off everyone in attendance.

The night ended with a trio that rivaled headliners of the most established electronic music festivals. Big Gigantic killed it and showed why it has one of the fastest growing fan bases in all of electronic music. The band’s mix of electronic music and bass drops with live drums and saxophones truly transcends genres, mixing dubstep with funk, dance and all that other good stuff.

The final two acts of the night, headliner Skrillex and prot?©g?© Porter Robinson, played their signature brand of Grammy-winning dubstep to the elation of the audience. With bass so loud the ground shook, both Robinson and Skrillex’s sets were the definition of sensory overload – and the crowd ate up every single bit of it.

In his keynote address at this year’s SXSW, Bruce Springsteen touched on the importance of music regardless of genre. “Whether you’re making dance music, rap music, electronica, it’s all about how you’re putting what you do together. The elements you’re using don’t matter. Purity of human expression isn’t confined to guitars. There is no right way, no pure way of doing it. There’s just doing it.” Buku represents an exciting sea change in the electronic music landscape. It has become a major presence in the music world at large and it’s here to stay. We can’t wait to see what happens next year.

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