Under the wing of their Winter Circle Productions, Dante DiPasquale and Reeves Price helped build the first Buku Music + Art Project in 2012. Now in its seventh year, festival alumni include Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels and a towering list of contemporary electronic dance, hip-hop and pop artists moored in the popular culture of the second.
Staring down a decade and attracting platinum-selling household-name headliners like Migos and SZA in 2018, the festival has doubled the size of its site space outside Mardi Gras World and increased its capacity to another 3,000 people each day, totaling 35,000 across its two-day event on March 9-10.
"We've had in the back of our heads, 'How do we grow tastefully and not lose the core experience of feeling like a boutique, highly curated, still-kind-of underground event?'" DiPasquale says. "Buku always felt like total mayhem — which is great, and that's part of the vibe. We'll still accomplish that but give people a little more room to breathe and move around and relax a little bit in between the madness."
This year, Buku expands the site's footprint by moving a main stage across the train tracks at the end of Convention Center Boulevard. Organizers say there's room for even more growth. The difficulty is in managing a physically expanding festival — anchored in a relatively smaller market and smaller budget — without losing a carefully produced "vibe" that relies on tapping into a constantly changing youth culture zeitgeist.
Its lineup straddles the pop music mainstream and a hyper-specific subcultural landscape — headliners Migos and SZA share a bill with lower-key electronic dance artists and artists emerging from the microscopic virality of the mid-2000s emo revival and its hip-hop crossover.
"A lot of people in town might look at the lineup and say, 'I've only heard of three acts,'" DiPasquale says. "I think that helps our audience feel like Buku is theirs and still their secret."
DiPasquale says the festival takes risks in some of its bookings — A Day to Remember was a "curveball" appealing to both the recent partially ironic emo nostalgia and its influence in an emerging rap scene. "It was a fun day in the office when we dropped the lineup," DiPasquale says, "and everyone in the office told me 'I told you so.'"
R&B artist SZA, nominated for five Grammy Awards with the release of her acclaimed 2017 album CTRL, performs Friday, followed by rap trio Migos, arriving on the heels of its Culture II sequel to 2017's massive hit factory Culture. Electronic producer Porter Robinson, who performed at the inaugural Buku, returns with his Virtual Self, making its U.S. festival debut with his '90s techno-inspired outfit to close out Friday.
Saturday's headliners include Bassnectar, Lil Uzi Vert, Borgore, Sylvan Esso, Princess Nokia and Isaiah Rashad.
There also are showcases from local scenes, with a Buku debut from progressive hip-hop and electronic collective Pink Room Project. Among the locals on larger stages, AF THE NAYSAYER performs a full-band set with Yung Vul, jazz guitarist Dominic Minix's punk- and R&B-inspired ensemble, at the Wharf on Saturday, and Northshore electronic producer Zack Villere makes his mainstage debut on Saturday at the Power Plant.