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Preview: BUKU Fest

Alex Woodward talks to STRFKR and previews this year's Buku

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Electronic music fans dance at the Buku Music + Art Project. - PHOTO BY CALDER WILSON
  • Photo by Calder Wilson
  • Electronic music fans dance at the Buku Music + Art Project.

I thought if I was in a band with a dumb name it would never go anywhere," says singer/guitarist Josh Hodges about his band STRFKR. "And then we did. We started touring. Now it's like a different kind of funny joke, 'Let's see how far we can go with a stupid name. Let's see how big we can get with a stupid name.'"

  If the band's success heightens at the rate of its lost letters, "Maybe we'll just move to two or three letters," Hodges says with a laugh. "It'll just be a symbol."

  The Portland, Ore. dance-pop trio has made waves more for its unabashedly hook-heavy dance-floor pop music than its cheeky name. "I try not to think about it like that. Maybe I should more," Hodges says. "We're three days into the tour, and we keep focusing on how to figure out how we can make that last show as good as it can be."

  This week, the band performs at the second annual Buku Music + Art Project, a growing two-day festival highlighting hip-hop producers and MCs, electronic artists, pop bands and dozens of other ephemeral buzz bin acts. Headliners include hip-hop stars like Public Enemy, Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi, among others, alongside producers like Calvin Harris and Major Lazer and indie rock bands Passion Pit, Best Coast and Alt-J.

  Among the dozens of seemingly disparate acts is STRFKR, whose latest album Miracle Mile (Polyvinyl) dives body-first into addictive synth melodies and dance-floor bass pulses — the party-crashing equivalent to Of Montreal's bad trip disco. The dreamy "Beach Monster" and highlight "I Don't Want to See" follows the one-three punch of "While I'm Alive," "Sazed" and "Malmo," all laced with Hodges' whispered club confessional vocals and spaced-out harmonies.

  The release follows 2011's Reptilians, a less-subtle synthesizer-driven joyride. Where Reptilians was a more four-on-the-floor affair, Miracle Mile is fixed on a well-tuned cruise control. "We're trying to get closer to something I like — this is closer than the last one," Hodges says.

  Hodges started the band initially as a solo project, then passed it through lineup and name changes until arriving at its current moniker and roster in 2011. "We started off way more electronic than we are, but that changes over the years," he says.

  Hodges grew up surrounded by Portland's burgeoning psychedelic scene watching bands "play 10 minute songs." ("My friends and the people I played with, we'd just take acid and smoke weed when our parents were gone," he says. "We didn't ever know what we were doing.") Among his personal side-project ambitions: stripping away the drum machines and synthesizers for ambient and guitar-driven works. "What I write for STRFKR translates to playing live, and we have big dance-y songs," he says.

  For the band's latest live incarnation, drummer Keil Corcoran created videos for an 8-feet-tall wall of lights synchronized to the band's music. It runs on a Linux program built by the band's group of hacker friends. "If anything gets f—ed up with it, we have to bust out a monitor and keyboard and plug it in," Hodges says. The band hopes to convert it to instrument-size lights so they can travel with it overseas.

  "It adds a lot. Just a little thing can add so much. When you go to a show it's so much more than the music, it's the whole vibe — how the crowd is, how the room is, how it sounds, what the visuals are. We just want to cover as many bases as we can." Hodges says. "It's nice to cultivate this feeling of going crazy, and loosen up inhibitions."

  Last year, Buku stacked its inaugural lineup with an impressive list of artists, including Skrillex, Big K.R.I.T., Avicii, Diplo and Wiz Khalifa, as well as a roster of local hip-hop and bounce artists. This year's expanded lineup features four stage areas, as well as a VIP DJ stage assembled on a riverboat. It's one of the flagship events for New Orleans production group Winter Circle Productions, founded in 2008. Winter Circle's BASSIK spotlights rising stars in dubstep and underground bass music. With Buku, the producers aim for a self-described "indigenous post-industrial vibe" with its location paired with EDM, hip-hop and up-and-coming indie rock.

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