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Photograph: Lex Voight

The 10 best bands playing at Tomorrow Never Knows

Annual winter music festival Tomorrow Never Knows is back with another crop of rising bands for you to discover

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long
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Missing the sunny days of summer music festivals? Each January, some of the Chicago's best music venues team up to present Tomorrow Never Knows, a winter music festival that showcases rising bands, established acts and comedians. This year, venues such as Schubas and Lincoln Hall will host an eclectic lineup that includes artists like Tortoise, BadBadNotGood, Open Mike Eagle and more. Not sure who to check out? We've picked ten bands that we're looking forward to seeing during Tomorrow Never Knows 2017.

The best bands at Tomorrow Never Knows

  • Music
  • Rock and indie
Bouncing between jazz-fusion, krautrock and electronica, long-running instrumental outfit Tortoise has become even more unpredictable with age. The Catastrophist, the group's first album in nearly six years, is filled with twisting guitar riffs, complex rhythms and crisscrossing synth melodies. It also contains a cover of David Essex's ’70s rock staple "Rock On." Tortoise's live performances are equally eclectic and exhilarating—a veritable musical chairs act that finds the quintet fluidly trading instruments, riffs and tempos without ever slowing down.
  • Music
  • Rap, hip-hop and R&B
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Alternative hip-hop icon Open Mike Eagle grew up on the South Side of Chicago, attending break dancing sessions at Promontory Point and rapping with the city-wide Nacrobats crew. Now, the LA-based emcee chats with comedians on his Secret Skin podcast and writes songs about checking his phone too often. OME's latest album, Hella Personal Film Festival, mixes poignant observations with esoteric references, confronting the tribulations of everyday life with a dark sense of humor.
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  • Music
  • Rock and indie
Folk rock quartet Big Thief hails from Brooklyn, but the band's more subdued ballads are rooted in the cafés and bars of Greenwich Village circa the ’60s. On it's recent Saddle Creek debut, Masterpiece, the group balances quieter moments with bursts of noisy energy, providing contrasting backdrops for singer Adrianne Lenker's evocative narrative lyricism.
BadBadNotGood
  • Music
  • Jazz
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Toronto quartet BadBadNotGood began as a group of music school friends covering tracks by Gucci Mane and Odd Future. Since then, the band has transformed into a jazz- and hip-hop-inflected instrumental powerhouse, creating original music and backing emcees like Ghostface Killah and Tyler, the Creator. On its new album, IV, the band branches out into free jazz, electronica and orchestral pop—a testament to just how versatile BadBadNotGood truly is.

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  • Music
  • Rock and indie
Drawing on her experience remixing local artists in her native Montreal, Marie Hélène Delorm brings buoyant beats and earworm melodies to her solo project, Foxtrott. Amid the catchy electro-pop of her debut, A Taller Us, the self-taught vocalist confronts failed relationships, her brother's mental health struggles and other weighty subjects. Emotional directness was never really a tenet of the ’80s synth-strewn pop that Delorm emulates, but the lyrical honesty only makes her songs more likely to get stuck in your head.
  • Music
  • Rock and indie
Prolific prog-rockers Wand dig into their bag of tricks, conjuring up an array of tunes influenced by heavy metal warriors and analog synth wizards of old (a.k.a, the ‘70s). Frontman Corey Hanson—who has previously played with fellow Californians Ty Segall and Mikael Cronin—works his magic on the classic rock canon, channeling the primal aggression of Black Sabbath and the intricate psychedelia of Pink Floyd.
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  • Music
  • Dance and electronic
Combining earnest folk harmonies with electronic production, New York duo Overcoats pick up where the last Sylvan Esso record left off. Like the garment that the pair is named after, the intertwining voices of Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell are warm and enveloping, lending hypnotic melodies to the booming rhythms present on their debut, self-titled EP. Expect to hear some new material from Overcoats' forthcoming full-length debut during the band's TNK performance.
Pile
  • Music
  • Rock and indie
Armed with angular melodies, the howled lyricism of frontman Rick Maguire and a relentless touring schedule, Boston indie rock veterans Pile are the kind of band that was always destined to garner a cult following. The band's most recent albums have expanded upon the collective's hardcore roots, recalling the unpredictable punk arrangements of Fugazi colliding with the ramshackle power-pop sensibility of Guided By Voices. Pile comes to TNK ahead the release of its yet-to-be-titled, sixth full-length album.
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Tensnake
  • Music
  • Dance and electronic
If you want to show off your moves during Tomorrow Never Knows, make sure you're in attendance for Tensnake's headlining set at Smart Bar. German DJ and producer Marco Niemerski draws inspiration from ’80s funk, disco and soul, layering effervescent beats and undulating bass lines with vocals from Jamie Lidell and Nile Rodgers iconic guitar lines. Once the disco ball starts spinning, you'll want to lose yourself to dance.
  • Music
  • Rock and indie
Though the group is often lumped into the latest phase of the emo revival, the Hotelier is a far cry from theatrical mid-aughts acts like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. The band's 2016 release, Goodness, is a subdued reflection on humanity's inherent capacity for kindness and the search for hope, even in the most difficult of times. It's also a great rock album, one that isn't afraid to indulge in a climactic crescendo or some plaintive vocals.
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