Here in the dead of winter, the last thing on most Chicagoans’ minds is “music festival.” But in a city already saturated with summer concerts, and boasting a notoriously long cold, gray season, it was a brilliant move by Pitchfork and The Art Institute Of Chicago to organize Midwinter, a three-day event bringing music to the museum’s galleries this weekend, while the temps hold strong below freezing. With its limited ticket sales and emphasis on multi-sensory experience, it seems like Midwinter will, unlike most festivals, be a great place to actually hear music. There’s pretty much no set we don’t want to see: The lineup is stacked with diverse artists like Kamasi Washington, Deerhunter, Jlin, Yves Tumor, Laurie Anderson, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Joey Purp. Here are 11 we’re prioritizing when things kick off this Friday evening.
Laurie Anderson has been bridging the gallery and recording worlds for the past five decades. In that time, she’s worked with David Bowie and Philip Glass, made an eight-minute performance-art excerpt into an international chart hit, and served as NASA’s first (and so far only) artist in residence. It’s a lengthy, varied, influential career that’s all too easy to boil down into Wikipedia bullet points, but every one of those bullet points is another dot in a pointillist portrait of boundless curiosity and creativity. (Did you know she just won her first Grammy for the Kronos Quartet collaboration Landfall?) Anderson has invented instruments and done virtual reality and helped create the context for the Lady Gagas and St. Vincents of the world, and even if she weren’t on the Midwinter lineup, you’d still have a strong argument that her work belongs in the Art Institute—after all, some of it’s already there. [Erik Adams]
Sunday, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Part of what’s so interesting about Midwinter is the variety of its offerings: Is there another music event on earth that would kick off Friday night with an elegiac meditation on the gradual decay of all things? William Basinski’s legendary quadruple LP, The Disintegration Loops—a series of stately, melancholy ambient figures, which decayed in real-time as Basinski listened to them—would seem impossible to perform live, but Basinski has in fact done it before. Here, he’ll be joined by the Chicago Philharmonic in the Art Institute’s large-scale Rubloff Auditorium. As dark as their genesis is, there’s a sense of solace in these sounds; expect attendees to wander out wide-eyed. [Clayton Purdom]
Friday, 6:20-7:30 p.m., performing Disintegration Loops
Saturday 6:30-7:30 p.m., performing upcoming album On Time Out Of Time
DJ Koze’s music seems like the bottled essence of another time-space continuum, minimal and deliriously joyful, taking cues from 9th Wonder and French disco and anything else that forces the human head to nod in delighted appreciation. The German producer’s Knock Knock was one of last year’s best, and it seems fair to expect crowd-pleasers like “Pick Up” to rear their heads here, but as anyone who’s ever searched for “Clouddead” on a streaming platform and only pulled up Koze’s excellent DJ-Kicks installment knows, he takes the “DJ” portion of his name seriously. A generous 105-minute set in the expansive, gleaming Griffin Court should bring out the space’s more utopian qualities nicely. [Clayton Purdom]
Friday, 9:45-11:30 p.m.
You don’t go to an art museum just to look at one painting, and you don’t go to Midwinter just to watch the headliners. Along with surprise pop-up performances in museum galleries throughout the festival, Midwinter will underline its mission to unify music and the visual arts with “original compositions, unearthed recordings, and soundscapes” by a diverse group of classical and experimental artists like Japanese jazz percussionist Midori Takada and long-running Austin ambient duo Stars Of The Lid. Each pre-recorded soundscape is inspired by a piece in the Art Institute’s collection and will play in the gallery housing that work throughout the weekend, waiting to be discovered by those adventurous attendees who take the time to wander. [Katie Rife]
Last year’s Hundreds Of Days saw L.A. harpist Mary Lattimore elaborating upon the celestial trills of her signature instrument with synth washes, ethereal theremin, and her own voice, resulting in the best and most ambitious album of her young career. Lattimore isn’t playing one gig at Midwinter; instead, she’s sticking around for the whole weekend to help cultivate ambiance in the open gallery. As such, one shouldn’t expect a breadth of instrumentation so much as improvisation, one informed by the works of art on her every side. [Randall Colburn]
Friday, 10:15-10:45 p.m.; Saturday, 8:20-8:45 p.m.; Sunday, 6:45-7:15 p.m.
Phil Elverum’s genre-spanning work as Mount Eerie and The Microphones has always exuded a fragility, one as dissonant as it was tender. The 2015 death of his wife didn’t change that, necessarily, but it did cause a seismic shift in the way Elverum delivered his music. With 2017’s A Crow Looked At Me, the singer’s brokenness manifested in peripatetic streams of memory, delivered in a foggy, plainspoken manner against skeletal strums that don’t ask you to feel so much as listen. And that’s what audiences tend to do at Mount Eerie’s shows, their hushed reverence intertwining with Elverum’s blunt vulnerability to create a vibe that’s both communal and funereal. [Randall Colburn]
Friday, 9-10 p.m.
Shoegaze pioneers Slowdive have toured steadily since reuniting in 2014, including a Chicago stop in 2017 to support fourth album Slowdive, their impeccable return to the studio after 22 years. But Midwinter, which appears less suited to chatty, drunk crowds and more to close listening, feels like the perfect venue to take in Neil Halstead’s vast guitar swells and the introspective vocal melodies he trades with guitarist Rachel Goswell. Although you do pass through sculpture galleries to get there, Rubloff Auditorium is a large space with clean lines and muted colors—perfect for focusing on the abstract emotions and visuals Slowdive’s music evokes on its own. [Kelsey J. Waite]
Friday, 9:30-10:30 p.m.
In some ways, Yves Tumor, who made one of our favorite albums of 2018, encapsulates the entire Midwinter lineup: Bringing together a range of influences, from ’90s alt rock to ambient to noise to soul, his music rides the line between confrontation and pleasure, experimentalism and pop. And Tumor’s set opening night, taking place in the Stock Exchange Trading Room, is sure to luxuriate in that tension. The “historic opulence” of the Trading Room, with its Adler and Sullivan-designed decorations and art glass, will certainly make the experience a little weirder and, appropriately, grander. [Kelsey J. Waite]
Friday, 7:45-8:45 p.m.
Despite all the accolades and hosannas, all the Kendrick Lamar collaborations and “jazz savior” paeans, Kamasi Washington still gigs with the intensity of a hungry session player: The guy played some 200 concerts following the release of his breakthrough triple album, 2015’s The Epic. The saxophonist, band leader, and composer doesn’t do much on a small scale, and while the 90 minutes he’s been allotted here falls almost an hour shy of the runtime of his transcendent 2018 effort, Heaven And Earth (and that’s without the bonus EP hidden in the album’s packaging), Washington and his ensemble should still find plenty of time and space to sprawl out into fiery tenor runs, divine choral vocals, and sounds that draw upon spiritual jazz traditions, G-funk nostalgia, and other stylistic fusions that launch the music’s past and Washington’s present deep into the future. [Erik Adams]
Saturday, 9-10:30 p.m.
It’s easy to forget what sunshine and warm breezes feel like by the time mid-February in Chicago comes around. Thankfully, Natalie Mering and the psych-folk she creates under her stage name, Weyes Blood, are here to remind the frozen Midwestern masses what lazy, hazy summer afternoons are all about. Merling released her first original solo material in three years, “Andromeda,” back in January; the song indicates an even lusher turn for the singer-songwriter, adding pedal-steel guitar and drum machine to her already luxuriant instrumental repertoire. Expect those ethereal sounds to fill every inch of the Art Institute’s 120-year-old Fullerton Hall, the cozy distortion of the music matching the colorful, fractured light of the stained-glass dome that covers the room. [Katie Rife]
Sunday, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Smerz and Zola Jesus are teaming back up for a headlining Sunday-night set, a testament to the creative chemistry between the Norwegian electronic duo and Wisconsin’s own operatic goth queen. Zola Jesus’ last album, 2017’s Okovi, braided the orchestral, electronic, and industrial threads of her sound into one emotionally weighty whole; enter Smerz, whose tongue-in-cheek take on glossy techno-pop is as gleefully weird as Zola Jesus’ is solemn and portentous. Both acts will perform in the main gallery of the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, an appropriately sleek and forward-thinking setting for all three performers’ genre-bending sounds. [Katie Rife]
Sunday, 10-11:30 p.m.