SWEET & SOUR: AG WRITERS’ PICKS FOR BUKU 2019


Now in its eighth year, The BUKU Music + Art Project continues to put out the most dizzying, electrifying, and diverse lineup seen on a New Orleans festival bill—where else can you see Rico Nasty and Thou in one place??? Here’s where you’ll find the more adventurous of the AG crew at this year’s BUKU. See you in the pit, friends!


FRIDAY

YVES TUMOR

2018 marked a big year for Los Angeles-based experimental artist Yves Tumor, who signed to Warp Records and released his third studio album, the outstanding Safe in the Hands of Love. The album takes many twists and turns as Yves masterfully deconstructs multiple genres of popular music. From track to track the album hops from Dean Blunt-inspired ambient beats to modern R&B to early 2010s indie rock. The whole thing sounds like the process of someone losing their identity, picking up the pieces, and trying to put them back together. Touring recently with Blood Orange, Yves has added a heavy visual aspect to their live performances that will be a fascinating experience for anyone willing to devote an open mind. —Brandon Lattimore

DEATH GRIPS

For the unfamiliar, Death Grips is an extremely high energy hip-hop-verging-on-noise group, founded in Sacramento in 2010 by MC Ride and drummer/co-producer Zach Hill. Notorious for disregarding the wishes of their label (they were dropped from Epic for leaking their second album for free download), canceling tours, and lots of break-ups/reunions, catching Death Grips live is a treat that you’re never sure will happen until you’re actually there. I saw Death Grips at One Eyed Jacks in 2015. There wasn’t any opener and I had no idea what to expect. The room was packed. When they walked out, Death Grips immediately erupted with a volcanic energy and didn’t stop to catch a breath for over 90 minutes. 10/10 recommend, and I can’t wait to see them again. —Kallie Tiffau

PLAYBOI CARTI

This Atlanta MC established a name for himself in recent years as the poster child of rap’s impressionist phase by trading cerebral verbosity for tactile ad libs. 2018’s Die Lit made an instant imprint on the landscape of rap with its minimalistic, bit-crushed production and almost pathological sense of repetition. Those questioning Playboi Carti’s ability as an MC probably don’t get the point: onstage, he has a distinguished enthusiasm and his rabid fan base (which skews younger) reciprocates his energy with glee. Although it remains unclear whether Carti’s new project (tentatively titled Whole Lotta Red) will see the light of day prior to his appearance at Mardi Gras World this month, fans can expect to hear a number of new songs when he takes the stage. It isn’t a stretch to say his music is a bit of an acquired taste, but if you have a remote affinity for mosh pits or just want to see what the kids are so damn excited about, you will probably find yourself bobbing your head at his Friday set. —Andy Swicord

KERO KERO BONITO

British trio Kero Kero Bonito traded in their cheery, electro-pop brand for chaotic, punk-influenced noise on last year’s Time ‘n’ Place. Without warning, they completely retooled their sound and transformed into a much more angsty band. Sarah Midori Perry still sings with the same breathy gusto she always has, but her lyrics skew away from the positive sloganeering of Intro Bonito (2014) and Bonito Generation (2016), the group’s first two records, and veer toward a much more introspective, ambivalent philosophy. Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled, who previously masterminded the band’s bubblegum ethos from a digital perspective, are now thinking analog, and their sound has gotten notably stranger since they made the change. KKB’s live show, however, is still extremely upbeat. In October, they came to the Hi-Ho Lounge as a five-piece, adding guitarist James Rowland and percussionist Jennifer Walton to their lineup. With Bulled on bass, Lobban on keys and Perry up front, the band sounded slightly raw, but powered through their set with such infectious energy that any mistakes felt irrelevant. Now, with months of touring under their belt, it should be interesting to see how KKB has polished their material for the BUKU stage. —Raphael Helfand

TRAX ONLY

Local DJ collective TRAX ONLY has garnered a reputation as a driving force in New Orleans’ electronic dance culture after years of throwing inclusive queer warehouse parties that feature both local and touring talent. Following a set at Pennsylvania’s Honcho Summer Campout last August and subsequent tour dates on both coasts, founding members Mark Louque (a.k.a. Father Figure) and Brett LaBauve (a.k.a. Bouffant Bouffant) will be representing the collective at BUKU with a set that’s sure to include an eclectic mix of bangers. As anyone who has been to one of their parties, heard a SoundCloud mix, or perhaps watched Bouffant Bouffant’s excellent 2017 Boiler Room set will know, TRAX ONLY blends a diverse array of house, techno, disco and electronica, highlighting both contemporary and classic underground producers. According to Louque, one of the collective’s primary goals has been to create safe dance floors where hate is verboten and body positivity is status quo. —Nick Pope

TORO Y MOI

For some it would be surprising that Chaz Bear’s alias, Toro y Moi, has lasted this far, considering they were lumped in with the micro-genre known as chillwave. But with their seventh studio album released this year, they are fully established as a pillar of current indie music. As time has passed, Toro Y Moi’s influence has noticeably expanded past the world of indie rock and become fully embraced by fans of modern R&B and house music. Chaz himself took a small break from playing live to DJ regular gigs. It shows in tracks like “Ordinary Pleasure,” “Freelance,” and “Who I Am” off of this year’s Outer Peace. Borrowing heavily from Daft Punk and modern disco, Outer Peace is perhaps the most energetic of the Toro y Moi discography. This should transfer well to their live show, as Chaz is well-versed in knowing how to please a crowd. —Brandon Lattimore

RICO NASTY

2015 was a tough year for Maria Kelly (Rico Nasty). Shortly before she graduated high school, her boyfriend died of an asthma attack. Later in the fall, she found out she was seven months pregnant with his son. By 2016, Kelly was working as a hospital receptionist. Her first mixtape, Summer’s Eve (released two years earlier), had earned her some local love in the Baltimore area, but fame and fortune were still far away. But she hustled, balancing maternal and work duties with musical aspirations, dropping two mixtapes in 2016 and two more the following year. Her work improved dramatically, her lyrics growing steadily sharper as her style calcified from bubbly, heavily autotuned “sugar trap” to the loud, fearless scream rap Rico Nasty performs today. In January 2018, she teamed up with producer Kenny Beats for “Smack a Bitch,” a furious fight song referencing her beef with rapper Asian Doll. An instant classic, it was the final crack she needed to break through hip-hop’s thick glass ceiling. In June, Rico Nasty signed with Atlantic, appeared on the cover of The Fader, and released her sixth mixtape, Nasty. Returning to Kenny Beats’ minimalist production, she amped up her newly raspy bars for an electrifying, 14-track project. Since its release, she’s been touring a tight, fiery set across the nation, quickly earning a reputation as one of the most exciting performers around. —Raphael Helfand

LANA DEL REY

Our Lady of Summertime Sadness, of torch songs, of being as bad and sad as you are basic; she who fluently shouts out iPads and Plath within the same song (“Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman like Me to Have – but I Have It”), she who dares to tell Azealia Banks to “pull up”; our siren-starlet performs at BUKU just as her new album Norman Fucking Rockwell drops. Since her transformation last decade from upstate New York’s Lizzie Grant into Los Angeles’ Lana Del Rey, she has developed, committed to, and perfected a persona in harmony with her sound, the unified aesthetic of a shameless Hollywood wannabe making moody, lush, dramatic pop music. 2017’s Lust for Life was laden with features, and it was jarring to hear other voices cutting in. Eventually, I came to appreciate these intrusions as an inevitable phase in the LDR narrative, a moment in our hero’s journey when she can rise to a level of fame and call upon A$AP Rocky, Stevie Nicks, Sean Ono Lennon, the Weeknd—and yet remain miserable, enchanted, and disenchanted. While it’s a pleasure to watch some artists evolve, Lana is at her best alone, so alone that you can hear her voice echoing through the emptiness. See y’all in the void. —Beck Levy

SATURDAY

GUNNA

Since signing to Young Thug’s label YSL Records in 2016, Gunna has been a key influencer in Atlanta’s newest wave of trap megastars. Frequently associated with the larger-than-life, wah-wah-wah rapper Lil Baby, Gunna is most known for his collaborative album, 2018’s Drip Harder, and its aptly named standalone single, “Drip Too Hard,” which debuted #4 on the Billboard charts last year. Aside from the incessant references to his pricey Audemars watch, Gunna is a breath of fresh air for Atlanta’s rap scene, which is evidently exhausted after years of dominating the mainstream with Goliaths like 21 Savage, Future, and Migos. Gunna’s raspy, melodic raps are reminiscent of an early Thugger and have the keen ability to transform an otherwise generic trap beat into a hit single. Though he’s yet to release a full-length studio album, his latest mixtape, Drip or Drown 3, was released last month and features an all-star lineup, such as Soundcloud maverick Playboi Carti and producer Metro Boomin, the hitmaker behind Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” and Drake’s “Jumpman.” —A.T. Callaghan

THOU

This summer, local metal cornerstone Thou celebrated an album release by playing a set at DNO Downtown, and it felt pretty special. Spilling out onto Carondelet Street was a dedicated local following that many acts would murder for. You can listen to the five albums they released in 2018, but seeing the Baton Rouge outfit in concert is requisite to grasp what makes their appeal so multilateral. While often pigeonholed as a sludge band, Thou’s interpolation of punk ethos is made clear both through their melodicism and the political agenda embedded within the lyrics. Vocalist Bryan Funck has a penchant for taking the piss out of his audience, so expect a few sardonic quips, but also be prepared for a foray into some hypnotic depths. —Andy Swicord

A$AP ROCKY

International heartthrob, fashion icon, former boyfriend of Kendall Jenner, and an indisputable leader of the new school, it’s hard to overstate the influence A$AP Rocky (Rakim Mayers) has had on rap culture since his emergence in 2011 with “Purple Swag,” “Peso,” and his debut mixtape, LIVE.LOVE.A$AP. Born in Harlem to Barbadian parents, Rocky spent time in and out of jail before shifting his focus to music, after the murder of his older brother in 2002. As a teenager, A$AP spent time in Houston, where he was deeply influenced by DJ Screw and returned to New York to pioneer trillwave alongside rapper SpaceGhostPurrp, a genre which fused syrupy, screwed-up melodies with boom-bap New York flows. Since those early days, A$AP’s clout-meter has gradually ticked upwards, perhaps maxing into overdrive with the release of his studio album, LONG.LIVE.A$AP (2013), which clocked in at #1 on the Billboard charts and features cult classics like “F**kin’ Problems” and “Goldie.” A$AP is equally revered for his music as he is for breaking into the world of high fashion. The self-proclaimed “Fashion Killa” spearheaded a fusion between New York streetwear and the European designer elite in 2016, when he was revealed as the face of Dior Homme’s AW16 campaign. —A.T. Callaghan

$UICIDEBOY$

Both of the $UICIDEBOY$ have more Instagram followers than Drew Brees. However, just five years ago, the duo—consisting of Ruby Da Cherry and Scrim—were a pair of depressed cousins who worked together at a mattress store in New Orleans. Ruby was a disappointed punk rocker who played in a plethora of bands before becoming fed up with the local scene. Scrim was an aspiring DJ and songwriter without an outlet. After making a do-or-die suicide pact, the pair made an unconventional ascent into SoundCloud glory with the release of their ten-part mixtape series, Kill Your$elf, which chronicles their struggles with depression and drug addiction. Though the duo gained controversy for references to devil worship and apparent calls for suicide, they also developed a cultish, international fan base who seem to spawn infinitely from the darkest corners of the internet to defend their kings. Spitting drugged-out, double-time raps over ominous, glitchy beats—which frequently sample old-school Memphis legends like Lord Infamous, Project Pat, and Evil Pimp—the $UICIDEBOY$ have been a driving force behind the revival of Memphis-style horrorcore. The duo’s debut studio album, I Want to Die in New Orleans, sold over 49,000 units in its first week. With tracks like “Krewe du Vieux,” “Carrollton,” and “10,000 Degrees,” look for a BUKU set that pays homage to New Orleans. —A.T. Callaghan

YAEJI

When asked by Pitchfork to describe her pulsing dance track “raingurl,” the New York-born, South Korea-raised DJ known as Yaeji summed it up as “the definition of introspection at the club.” With a list of lyrical influences that range from attending therapy to her national duality, these paradoxical statements have come to define her music. Yaeji’s hushed vocals, alternating fluidly between English and Korean, murmur over warm, thumping house beats buzzing with energy. It’s a testament to her musical style that after moving back to Brooklyn, Yaeji started hosting dinner parties where she would serve steaming bowls of Japanese curry while her friends performed their most recent musical creations. Yaeji’s dreamy, understated beats make you feel like you’re cradling a bowl of hot soup at the club. So if you’re an introvert looking to get lost on a foggy dance floor, Yaeji’s dreamy dance set might be the place for you. —Natalie Sharp

EARL SWEATSHIRT

I had the pleasure of seeing Earl Sweatshirt perform at the 2013 BUKU, with Flying Lotus DJing for him. At the time he had yet to release a full-length album so his set was sparse, made up mostly of a few verses from his Odd Future days, as well as songs that he openly admitted may or may not make his upcoming album. Earl has released three albums since that performance, the latest of which, Some Rap Songs, was one of the most personal and therapeutic records released last year. To see Earl live is already in itself somewhat of a rarity, considering last year he cancelled a large chunk of his tour due to anxiety and depression—which is a shame, as an always enjoyable aspect of Earl’s music is how it seems therapeutic not only for his audience but for Earl himself. The format of Some Rap Songs is also perfect for live performances as Earl blitzes through 15 songs in just 25 minutes. Seeing his personal growth in the public’s eye—from the teenager who made misogynistic music on those early Odd Future mixtapes, to uttering the line “It’s not a Black woman I can’t thank”—is one of the biggest face turns in rap history. —Brandon Lattimore


The BUKU Music + Art Project will take place on Friday, March 22 and Saturday March 23 at Mardi Gras World (1400 Port of New Orleans Place). For more info, check out thebukuproject.com.


photo of Rico Nasty by Mario Kristian (courtesy of Atlantic Records); all other photos by Joshua Brasted