One of the best things about the Friday lineup for the 2023 Pitchfork Music Festival is its unclassifiable nature. A lot of the artists on Friday don’t stick to a single genre or sound, and it’s exciting to have that unpredictability where you’re not entirely sure what you’ll be hearing from one moment to the next. A dose of R&B, rap, jazz-pop fusion, standard pop music, electronica, and lo-fi folk are all in the mix, and that’s just the first half of the day! If you need a little help navigating all of the various artists and time slot conflicts, read on. While I do have recommendations for every hour of the festival, please know the goal is to make picks that will hopefully result in the best overall experience throughout the day. You technically can’t go wrong checking out every artist on this lineup, but certain ones are better suited for an outdoor festival than others. If that’s how you think going into this weekend, you’ll end up in great shape. So without further ado, here’s the Friday preview guide.
In case you missed it: A Pitchfork Music Festival Playlist
** = Recommended Artist
[1:00pm – 1:40pm, Green Stage] Nourished By Time**
The tragic hurt of losing Roc Marciano & The Alchemist from this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival lineup has given us Nourished By Time in their stead, and honestly it makes the sting quite a bit less potent as a result. Singer/producer Marcus Brown makes music under this moniker, providing us with his debut album Erotic Probiotic 2 this past spring. The record feels like a step into the past, weaving through hazy ’80s-style R&B where the synths are strong, the 808s buoyant, the samples warped, and just about anything goes. These retro-tinged melodies are the audio equivalent of slipping into a warm bath, so expect a lot of soothing grooves to kick off this year’s festivities.
[1:45pm – 2:25pm, Red Stage] Contour**
While we’re on the trend of artists using a pseudonym performing music that explores a wide variety of genres and sounds, Contour feels like the perfect complement to follow Nourished by Time on Friday afternoon. While Contour’s two records are decidedly rooted in the present, they’re also so varied in approach it’s rather difficult to box him in. “Genres are for listeners, not artists,” he once said in an interview, and that pretty much sums it up. Of course there’s no such thing as a true original these days, so you could cite Frank Ocean, Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo, and a number of more experimental artists as influences on Contour’s sound. The best way to experience him is to listen to his records or go check out his set at Pitchfork. Find a spot in the shade and just groove for a bit.
[2:30pm – 3:15pm, Green Stage] Sen Morimoto
If you’re a local to Chicago who’s at all familiar with the music scene, hopefully the name Sen Morimoto is immediately familiar to you. If not, you may be surprised to learn he’s likely performed on records by some of your favorite artists. KAINA, Ric Wilson, Lala Lala, Vagabon, and many others can call him a close friend and collaborator. While his roots start with jazz saxophone, Morimoto actually functions as more of a musical polymath, often playing multiple instruments on a single song. Guitars, synths, and beats often pop up on his songs, and he’s not afraid to switch between singing and rapping should a track call for it. Is jazz rap a genre? I don’t know, but Sen Morimoto is so much more than that label anyway. His last two records have been uniformly excellent, but expect to hear him dive into the upcoming Diagnosis at Pitchfork with a few previews before it’s out this November.
[2:45pm – 3:30pm, Blue Stage] Mavi**
You could be forgiven if you’re not familiar with Mavi. He’s a great rapper with two excellent albums under his name, but they haven’t gotten a significant amount of attention by more mainstream fans of the genre. Place him into a category with MIKE and Earl Sweatshirt as talented artists who have yet to receive their proper due. Last year marked a big step forward for Mavi though, as Laughing so Hard, it Hurts arrived to strong critical acclaim and made it onto quite a few year-end “best of” lists (including my own). Bigger and better things are certainly ahead for him, and with any luck, he’ll deliver a star-making performance at Pitchfork on Friday.
[3:20pm – 4:10pm, Red Stage] Grace Ives**
While we’re on the topic of underrated/under-recognized artists, Grace Ives has been making music for a few years now and still feels like she’s yet to get her true due. Her second album Janky Star did make some significant waves through, earning her plenty of rave reviews and year-end placements (once again on my “best of” for 2022). It helps that she knows her way around a pop song, delivering memorable chorus after memorable chorus and showcasing a powerful voice that impresses with both its range and nuance. Expect a fun and energetic set that should hopefully further expand her fan base on the ascent to super stardom. No pressure or anything.
[4:00pm – 4:45pm, Blue Stage] Axel Boman
Swedish producer Axel Boman technically makes house music, but given his general disregard for many of that particular subgenre’s staple elements, it might be more accurate to say he’s operating on his own level while trying to inspire some dancefloor euphoria. There’s a lot of lightheartedness and even humor that shines out of his records, offset by moments of ambient melancholy because electronic music can’t be all sugar sweet highs or depressing lows. It’s about balance. Boman gave us two excellent albums last year titled LUZ and Quest for Fire, which while technically their own separate entities, still felt like different sides of the same coin. While I struggle to enjoy mid-afternoon festival sets where the artist stands behind a table and twists knobs the whole time (give me something interesting to watch! take the recorded versions of your tracks and do something new with them!), I’m hopeful Boman can elevate things on stage to make his performance worthwhile.
[4:15pm – 5:10pm, Green Stage] Youth Lagoon
Trevor Powers made a name for himself as Youth Lagoon back in 2011 with an absolutely stellar debut album The Year of Hibernation. It was packed with the kind of songs you really understood by listening closely with headphones while lying down in your bedroom. A record for daydreaming, you could say. A record for the kids who didn’t exactly belong or know their place in the world, but stil managed to find themselves in the comfort of a world they themselves created. There were three Youth Lagoon albums before Powers decided to end the project in early 2016. He did continue to make music, it was just different from Youth Lagoon and made under his given name instead of the pseudonym. Thankfully earlier this year he decided to revive the project, and gave us another wonderful album in the process. I can’t say his set will be particularly exciting or good fodder for a festival, but if you want to find a spot in the shade and just space out for an hour, let Youth Lagoon’s performance be your soundtrack.
[5:15pm – 6:10pm, Red Stage] Nation of Language**
The first time I heard a Nation of Language song, I thought it sounded like a modern update to New Order’s classic synth-infused dance music. While the band has experimented with their sound a bit in subsequent records to pull on influences such as The Cure, Depeche Mode, OMD, and Kraftwerk, they do still dip into that New Order mode on occasion and it continues to thrill me. What’s somewhat odd about Nation of Language is how out of time they feel, and why they seem to have not yet caught on with the larger populace. They’ve gained a following, but not at the level they seemingly deserve. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time. Their Pitchfork set may earn them a whole bunch of new fans. Singer Ian Devaney is a bit of a livewire on stage, dancing around and just constantly moving in ways great for audience engagement. Their next album Strange Disciple arrives this September, and that may be the one that pushes them into the stratosphere. If you’re not yet hip to Nation of Language, now’s probably a good time to get on board.
[5:15pm – 6:00pm, Blue Stage] Jlin
The house music subgenre of footwork, which inspired a whole community and dance craze throughout the Chicagoland area and beyond for quite a few years, wouldn’t be the same without Jlin’s contributions. The producer may not be credited as one of the founders of the style, but she absolutely learned directly from stalwarts like RP Boo and DJ Rashad. As with all things however, tastes change and what was popular one day isn’t quite so popular the next. Not that footwork is gone or anything, but Jlin has adapted and moved beyond it to craft some of the most fascinating electronic records of the last few years. Instead what we’re now getting is exceptional rhythm and music you can dance to but that also somewhat sacrifice melody in favor of strong tempos and classic samples. Honestly, it’s impressive stuff. Unlike Axel Boman on the Blue stage before her, my suspicion is that Jlin will have some special guests and dancers showing up on stage to keep the crowd engaged as she shows off how well she can work the equipment.
[6:15pm – 7:15pm, Green Stage] Perfume Genius**
Mike Hadreas operates under the name Perfume Genius, and it’s been a wonder to watch the project evolve over the last decade. The first couple of Perfume Genius records were very insular and quiet, equal parts sad and beautiful. Hadreas is first and foremost a storyteller, and much of the early work kept the arrangements sparse with only a single piano or guitar. When Too Bright arrived in 2014, so did a bolder, more confident Hadreas. The songs fought against any constraints, bursting forward with life in a defiant fashion, loudly pronouncing a star had been born. It’s a transformation Hadreas has continued to explore in subsequent records, both leaning into his pop sensibilities with buoyant melodies and catchy choruses but also playing around in the sandbox of genre to figure out exactly what he can get away with both sonically and lyrically. Last year’s Ugly Season was his most experimental yet, including some of the music he’d composed for an art exhibition and ballet. He remains a singular artist with a dynamic presence, which you can expect to be on full display at Union Park on Friday.
[6:30pm – 7:15pm, Blue Stage] Ric Wilson**
Chicago’s Ric Wilson is a multi-hyphenate talent in the best sense of the word. He blends different genres and styles of music with absolute ease, shifting from hip hop to funk to R&B to soul in the blink of an eye. It makes him notoriously difficult to pin down or gain any real sense of what to expect from him next, but you can pretty much always count on whatever he does to be uniformly excellent. Wilson has released a whole bunch of EPs, nearly one per year for the last few years. They’re often with different collaborators and explore different sounds. It wasn’t until earlier this year that he finally put out an album called CLUSTERFUNK, and even that was a team-up with Chromeo and A-Trak. Will any of his collaborators show up for his Pitchfork set? Who knows. Not that it’ll matter in the end, because the high energy and theatrical performances Wilson puts on are frequently among the best things you can check out. You’d be wise not to miss Disco Ric when he comes through!
[7:25pm – 8:25pm, Red Stage] Alvvays**
The subgenre of music known as jangle rock (not jingle rock or jingle bell rock…) is more about guitar sound than anything else. Instead of playing straight chords, the notes are hit in such a way that it sounds almost like a melody is being shaken out of a sifter or tumbler. It’s a pretty cool sound, but one that’s hard to get right. R.E.M. and specifically Mike Mills was well known for using jangle rock in an effective way. Canadians Alvvays can reasonably be considered the present day masters of jangle rock. While their first two albums were excellent in their own ways, it was last year’s Blue Rev that finally took the band to dizzying heights – the kind that place you at the top of multiple Album of the Year lists by major publications. As such, they now get a pre-headlining slot on Friday at Pitchfork, effectively opening for The Smile. They’ve earned it, and their set should be delightful.
[7:45pm – 8:30pm, Blue Stage] Leikeli47
It’s kind of nice when there’s a sense of mystery behind an artist. Leikeli47 falls into that category, because even though we know she’s a rapper from Brooklyn, the only other real contextual details we get come directly from her tracks. On stage and in every video/photo, she wears a mask. We don’t know her full name, or even if Leikeli is technically her first name. And that’s totally fine! Let the music speak for itself. Rap, house, R&B, soul, funk, and probably a few other genres are on the table when you listen to a Leikeli47 album. She’s a bit all over the place, but everything works in context. Last year’s Shape Up turned out to be a major revelation, really a honing of her skills by leveling up on everything she’s done before. What should we expect from a Leikeli47 live show? That’s kind of anybody’s guess as she hasn’t done much touring – particularly in the last three years. Consider me interested in finding out!
[8:30pm – 9:50pm, Green Stage] The Smile**
In case you’re somehow unaware, The Smile is a trio composed of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood in a team-up with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner. As Radiohead is on a break for the foreseeable future, we received the debut album from The Smile last year. A Light for Attracting Attention earned plenty of praise and wound up on a number of year-end lists (including my own), mostly being hailed as the best Radiohead side project yet. I managed to see The Smile perform last fall, and it was an absolutely magnetic show where the songs from the album became behemoths spinning out into the proverbial void. You’ll get sucked into its orbit and have your breath taken away before returning to the ground in better shape than when you left it. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss The Smile. More than anything, I’m just excited Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood will be in Union Park and hopefully have the chance to check out the festival a bit. Might just inspire them to come back again with Radiohead in a few years.