What a weird, wild Sunday it will be at Pitchfork Music Festival 2023. Seriously, this is a perfect day for artistic outsiders who craft vital, world-bending music. You get the heavily experimental leanings of artists like Ariel Zetina, Rachika Nayar, Lucrecia Dalt, and Jockstrap to get things started. Then comes the heavy-hitters of noise and aggression as Soul Glo and JPEGMAFIA battle to see who will be louder and have the bigger mosh pit. Killer Mike will most assuredly slay too, because he always does. Then we get some fun pop-rock sort of acts courtesy of illuminati hotties and Hurray for the Riff Raff before things begin to cool down with Kelela and what should be a divine yet meditative set from Bon Iver. Of course Mdou Moctar is also in that mix to show off the incredible things that can be done with a guitar. I’m incredibly excited to see how it will all play out, and hope you are too! Let’s dive into the guide, shall we?
** = Recommended Artist
[1:00pm – 1:40pm, Green Stage] Ariel Zetina
Another day begins with a Chicago artist, and honestly, that’s the way we locals like it. Ariel Zetina is a relatively well-known figure around a lot of Chicago’s more electronic-focused venues. She’s built up a following, particularly in the LGBTQ+ underground scene. Zetina was nominated as a “Breakthrough DJ” by DJ Mag last year, and also released her debut album Cyclorama to some strong acclaim. Much of her music expands on conventional electronic genres like house, drum & bass, hyperpop, and techno by blending it with polyrhythmic elements that speak to her Belizean heritage. The tracks themselves frequently push high energy into an almost euphoric state, even as the content places her trans and queer struggles and triumphs at front and center. Zetina seems like a great fit for Pitchfork and a festival crowd in general, so if you’re able to show up early, her set should be worth it.
[1:45pm – 2:25pm, Red Stage] Rachika Nayar**
The worst part of Rachika Nayar’s set at Pitchfork will be her inability to turn the entirety of Union Park into a dark, smoke-filled room. That’s where her music truly shines, where your other senses are dulled and you’re forced to both focus on the music and the way it pushes into your psyche. What fascinates me most about Nayar’s records, particularly last year’s excellent Heaven Come Crashing, is how she transforms the guitar into this otherworldly instrument thanks to effects pedals and sound manipulation. You kind of get into this post-rock sort of headspace and think of a band like Explosions in the Sky, but then suddenly a song will break open, a pulsing beat will kick in, and you’re dancing. Don’t ask me how, but it works! I’m excited to watch her pull these compositions together in real time, even though we’ll be outdoors in the daytime.
[2:30pm – 3:15pm, Green Stage] Lucrecia Dalt
Lucrecia Dalt is the kind of artist that flutters between worlds. All of her records contain a depth of ambition as they explore genre and sound with curiosity and grace. You’ll get flutes, clarinet, conga drums, and a double bass ambling along in this experimenal melody that’s not quite jazz and not quite orchestral but feels kind of close to it. Last year Dalt delivered a masterpiece titled ¡Ay! that (from what I’m told) is a sci-fi concept album about an alien who come to our planet and explores the concepts of temporality, embodiment, and love. That’s heady metaphysical stuff, and Dalt is a very heady metaphysical artist in general, but given that her lyrics are in Spanish if you don’t know the language there’s still plenty of gorgeous sonics to enjoy. No clue how this will play with the Pitchfork crowd, but hopefully plenty will stick around for what promises to be a gorgeously constructed set.
[2:45pm – 3:30pm, Blue Stage] Florist
A moment of respite on a Sunday at a music festival probably seems like a nice idea, particularly if you’ve been out in the heat and on your feet the previous two days. Florist will be playing the Blue stage at Pitchfork, which feels right for the band given it’s mostly a tree-lined, shaded area of Union Park. The most recent Florist record, which was self-titled and one of the best things released last year, was recorded at a house in the woods. The ambient noises of nature – crickets, birds, the rustling of leaves – permeate these songs, particularly the instrumental ones. But for the most part, Florist are a folk band led by the wonderfully talented Emily Sprague, who writes powerful lyrics in the most compact yet meaningful way you can imagine. There is beauty and great depth of feeling in Florist’s music, and if we play our cards right this performance may end up as one of the most special things you witness on Sunday.
[3:20pm – 4:10pm, Red Stage] Jockstrap**
Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye form the difficult to pin down UK duo known as Jockstrap. You may also know Ellery from her work in the collective known as Black Country, New Road, but she’s also a classically trained violinist. Went to a prestigious London school for it and everything. Skye also attended that same arts school, which is how they met. The music they make sounds like two people attempting to push back against everything they were taught. Their debut album I Love You Jennifer B is one of scrappy charm, as songs veer wildly in style and genre from one moment to the next. They’re letting synths run amok while a steady orchestra plays behind them. Beats accelerate, there’s a tempo you can dance to, Ellery’s voice moves from a whisper to a soar as her violin does the same. This is somewhere between electronic, pop, and R&B, because it’s all of that and none of that, which is what makes Jockstrap so damn great. Can’t wait to see how it all shakes out on stage!
[4:00pm – 4:45pm, Blue Stage] Soul Glo**
Soul Glo have been making hardcore punk music in Philadelphia since 2014, but most of us probably weren’t even aware of their existence until 2020 when their Songs to Yeet at the Sun EP came out and set the world on fire. Bands are no strangers to languishing in their local scenes for at least a few years while slowly building a fan base, but for Soul Glo it feels different. That’s mostly because the members of Soul Glo are Black, and hardcore punk scenes tend to be extremely white. There’s gatekeeping and racism that happens every step of the way. To their credit, the band are extremely attuned to this, and much of their music is about that very subject. They’re not just writing about their own experiences, but also all the heinous, racist shit you see on the news every day. They push back with rage, but also with humor and vulnerability. It’s loud, it’s heavy, it’s revolutionary, and the bodies will undoubtedly be flying for 45 minutes at the Blue stage on Sunday.
[4:15pm – 5:10pm, Green Stage] JPEGMAFIA**
On a Sunday nearly four years ago to the exact date, JPEGMAFIA made his Pitchfork Music Festival debut. What seemed inauspicious in the moments before he took the stage quickly turned into an all-out feeding frenzy when he basically walked out on stage and flung himself into the crowd with reckless abandon. That’s pretty much the way he raps, too. Like it’s a do or die sort of proposition, and he’ll gladly sacrifice himself if you’ll just listen to what he has to say. There’s a frantic, twitchy anxiety that serves as an undercurrent to his lyrics, which openly attack politicians and pundits in addition to ripping on celebrity culture and the inherent value of “art”. He’s not afraid to be confrontational or controversial both instrumentally and lyrically, and that freedom exposes our own ugliness as a society while demanding that we do better. It made for one of the absolute best festival performances I’ve ever witnessed back in 2019, and his return to Union Park for an encore will likely be equally as triumphant. Only this time he’s just released two EPs worth of songs with Pitchfork mainstay Danny Brown, who’s not on this year’s lineup but seems likely to show up anyway.
[5:15pm – 6:10pm, Red Stage] Killer Mike**
It’s kind of funny, the last time Killer Mike was on a Pitchfork Music Festival lineup as a solo act was 10 years ago. At the time, he had a rock solid underground rap career with a few albums already under his belt. But there was also this team-up record he did with El-P right around that same time under the name Run the Jewels. It seemed like a short-lived, one-off kind of thing. Ten years and four Run the Jewels albums later, as a duo they’d absolutely be headlining this festival. But RtJ will be rolling through Chicago this September for a few dates at the Salt Shed to celebrate their decade of existence. Killer Mike has just now gotten around to making a proper solo follow-up to 2012’s R.A.P. Music. His latest Michael came out last month and continues to prove he’s one of the best rappers around. But it’s also just a little bit troublesome in how he allows himself to be viewed as a victim and pariah while simultaneously touting his wealth and status. I wonder if the Killer Mike of 2013 would kick the Killer Mike of 2023’s ass. Don’t count on really any RtJ material (or El-P) to show up during his Pitchfork set, but the great news is he’s got a classic back catalog of solo work to pull from that’s more than worth seeing him run through on the Red stage.
[5:15pm – 6:00pm, Blue Stage] Illuminati Hotties**
Sarah Tudzin makes music under the Illuminati Hotties name, and through two LPs and a mixtape has proven she more than knows her way around a high energy hook. Tenderpunk was the word once used to describe the IH sound, and given the bouncy yet vulnerable nature of her songs, that feels remarkably accurate. You get rippers like “Pool Hopping” and “will i get canceled if i write a song called ‘if you were a man you’d be so canceled,’” but also strong ballads like “Protector” and the mournful “Growth”. For every somber or emotionally resonant moment, Tudzin fires back twice as hard with a fun and goofy sense of humor. I’ve been to an Illuminati Hotties show in the last couple years and can attest it’s generally an absolute blast. Break out the beach balls and hoist a few bodies into the air! Let’s go!
[6:15pm – 7:15pm, Green Stage] Koffee
There’s a great narrative surrounding Jamaican reggae singer Mikayla “Koffee” Simpson that starts with her being discovered on YouTube at age 17 after posting a musical tribute to famous runner Usain Bolt, then signing to Columbia Records, followed by a Grammy win in the Best Reggae Album category for her debut EP Rapture back in 2020. She was the first woman to ever win a Grammy in the Reggae category. All of that is great! Koffee is clearly a talent, which makes the title of her debut album Gifted from last year seem almost a little too on the nose. While much of her earlier work centers on dancehall-style rhythms, she’s started to shift gears a bit into the more relaxed midtempo melodies that dominate roots reggae, focused more on her voice and the power it contains. She’s only 23, but packs a lot of wisdom and humility in her songwriting too, striving to make this world a better place where we can all live freely and without fear of hatred and violence.
[6:30pm – 7:15pm, Blue Stage] Hurray for the Riff Raff**
Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff has been around the scene for a while now. The earliest music from the project debuted just over 15 years ago, and by my count we’re now at a grand total of eight HFTRR albums. Then again, unless you’re from Segarra’s local scenes of New Orleans or possibly even all the way back to the Bronx, chances are you’re only rudimentally familiar with the last 2-3 records. Or maybe you’ve never heard a HFTRR song in your life. That’s okay! It’s a big tent and we’re all very welcoming. That’s the general vibe Segarra creates, though some of their songs, particularly related to the experience of being an immigrant, might not always feel so welcoming. 2017’s The Navigator was all about Segarra attempting to explore and reclaim their Puerto Rican heritage, and it expanded their folk/roots rock sort of template to include a little salsa, doo-wop, and spoken word poetry. Last year’s Life on Earth turned Segarra’s focus to nature and a planet struggling to survive, but the record never forgets about the challenges humanity faces in all this as well. These heartfelt sentiments are delivered with power and grace, which is also what you can expect when HFTRR takes the stage on Sunday.
[7:25pm – 8:25pm, Red Stage] Kelela**
We’ve had to wait six years for Kelela to give us a second album, but Raven, like everything she’s released so far, was worth it. There was some writer’s block, along with a general reorganization of her life and priorities, that she needed to work through before returning to music. This time around, she’s chosen to work with a number of electronic producers – notable names like Junglepussy, LSDXOXO, Kaytranada, and Bambii – who manage to elevate her R&B sound to something even more rhythmic and built on things like drum’n’bass and garage. It’s exciting to hear her turn things up a notch and lean into her sexier, dancier side. But there are also plenty of ambient moments too, which serves as a nice breather. That’s not even getting into her lyrics, which can be lustful but also explore heartbreak, nature, and rebirth. It’ll be interesting to see how these new songs translate on stage. Ideally they’ll make people just a bit sweatier and hornier than they already are.
[7:45pm – 8:30pm, Blue Stage] Mdou Moctar**
If you love music made with guitars but are not familiar with Mdou Moctar, you need to correct that immediately. The Tuareg guitarist is a wizard with the instrument, on a level that would make even the most experienced players a bit breathless. He’s released two albums so far with a full band, and both work within the defined confines of psychedelic rock and assouf, otherwise known as desert blues. Most of the songs he crafts are built around a riff or two, then spin off into something wild and exciting. The singing is primarily chanted or done in a call-response style in the language of Tamasheq, and upon translation delve into political topics but also traditional love stories. Of course the primary focal point of any Mdou Moctar performance will be his guitar playing, and to witness it on stage feels akin to staring at the sun in all of its brilliant, burning glory.
[8:30pm – 9:50pm, Green Stage] Bon Iver
Justin Vernon is the name and face of Bon Iver, I suppose because that’s how the project started when he recorded an album of gorgeous yet heartbreaking folk songs out at a Wisconsin cabin in the middle of nowhere back in the mid-00s. It’s kind of funny now thinking about how critics back then compared his music to Iron & Wine, because Bon Iver quickly shifted into this full band behemoth that loved to experiment with all types of sounds and genres. Rustic chamber pop with impressionistic and abstract elements became a new lane to explore, which more casual music listeners might otherwise describe as “weird for the sake of weird.” In all honesty, it’s tremendously good in part because it’s so different, and the various samples plus other pitch-shifted elements almost feel like a little extra window dressing atop rich, swelling melodies. Anchoring it all is Vernon’s voice, always shifting between baritone and falsetto with heavy doses of Auto-Tune in between, and his always smart yet indirect lyrical musings. As an albums band, Bon Iver couldn’t be much better. As a live band, they faithfully recreate their albums and tend to not add much more. The players stay largely static on stage, so lighting and video screens are intended to keep you visually engaged during the performance. The two times I’ve attended Bon Iver shows, they were in 100% seated arenas. It’s gorgeous music, but is it outdoor festival music? Eh, it’s Sunday night. Find a patch of grass, spread out a bit, and let these soft sounds carry you away to close out the weekend.