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Chicago drag queen Denali Foxx performing on stage

Chicago drag queen Denali Foxx performs at Pride in the Park in Grant Park in 2021. Denali headlines Lincoln Hall on Jan. 21.

Ashlee Rezin

Five can’t-miss acts at Tomorrow Never Knows, the multi-genre winter music festival

In the dead of winter, when few national acts are touring through Chicago’s music venues, there can be a lot of silent nights. But for one week every January, the Tomorrow Never Knows festival changes all of that, plugging in a well-curated series of concerts and entertainment that focus on providing an opportunity for fans to discover new talents.

Borrowing its name from the 1966 Beatles tune, Tomorrow Never Knows (TNK) has been running strong since 2005. Acts are booked at a number of North Side venues (this year including Schubas, Lincoln Hall, Sleeping Village and Gman Tavern) and represent a multitude of genres — presenting a kind of mini-SXSW model in the Midwest.

Of course, there’s always a solid representation of local acts, and this year, all eyes are on hardcore/Oi! act Fuerza Bruta. This will be the five-piece band’s debut at TNK, though Fuerza Bruta has been steadily making its presence known at other events including Ruido Fest and Pilsen Fest and has become a mainstay at Cobra Lounge and Reggie’s.

Formed in 2016 by a group of friends who live in and around Pilsen/Little Village/Bridgeport, the raucous quintet has released two mini-LPs to date, 2017’s “Verdugo” and last year’s follow-up, “Contra,” both of which have had multiple pressings after selling out initial runs.

Across each record are fervent songs that passionately rally for immigrants and the working class through a critical lens, presented in Spanish. Two of the band’s members hail from Brazil, another has Mexican roots and the other two have been stalwarts in the Midwest music scene, including bassist/backup vocalist Kyle Bawinkel, who’s also a member of Chicago’s Celtic punk act Flatfoot 56.

“I think that’s our biggest strength, our diversity,” guitarist-vocalist Matheus Panizzi shared in a recent interview. The lineup is completed by drummer Felipe de Sousa, lead vocalist Beto Villanueva and lead guitarist Lucas Sikorski, the newest member, who took over after Ian Wise left during the pandemic.

“With both Felipe and me being from Brazil, we grew up listening to hardcore punk and Oi! music. And we meet these guys here [in Chicago], and it was interesting how we all grew up listening to the same things,” added Panizzi, who’s lived in Chicago since 2008.

The band’s influences likewise comprise an international smorgasbord of early ’80s French, Italian and South American punk with Panizzi namedropping Blitz from England, Nabat from Italy, Komintern Sect from France, Cólera from Brazil and even a range of ’90s Japanese Oi! punk.

“But what we try to stay away from, especially when we are writing, is not to fall so much on the cliches of punk lyrics. We don’t talk about having a good time at the bar and ‘the boys,’ but about day-to-day, working-class people. The way we like to write is looking at the current state of affairs and just putting it into words,” Panizzi further explained, noting that the diverse viewpoints of the group add to the fiery material.

“Felipe and I, we come from a completely different society. The way we see social issues and problems might be different, for example, than how Kyle or Lucas would see it, and it opens up their minds to these things from a different perspective.”

The members of Fuerza Bruta themselves hold down a cornucopia of day jobs — de Sousa is a tattoo artist and part owner of Ash & Ivory studio; Panizzi works in construction sales; Bawinkel and Villanueva both work for Southwest Airlines, and Sikorski is involved in academia.

And while work obligations might prevent long, sprawling tours, they still have done mini jaunts as far away as Mexico, Europe and Canada that helped them connect to a growing fan base.

“We’re not even that old of a band, but there’s newer acts coming up every month and we read interviews or ‘zines and they’ll mention Fuerza Bruta is an influence. That’s crazy for us,” said Panizzi. “We’re just doing what whoever did before us was doing and just passing on that torch.”

Even though the band’s lyrics are in Spanish — a very conscious decision to tap into the group’s heritage and to see more representation in the scene — that has not hindered the music’s reach, Panizzi said.

“While sometimes I may have felt like maybe we’d lose out on getting some shows booked or people wanting to get more into the music but don’t because they don’t really understand the language, after a few years of doing this, we see people singing along,” Panizzi said. “I think music just transcends and lot more people have their minds open. … English doesn’t have to be the only rock language.”

Their music speaks for itself. As Metro/Gman Talent Buyer Jerry Cowgill shared about booking the band, “This is the first year Gman Tavern has been asked to be a part of Tomorrow Never Knows festival, so I really wanted to get some special shows lined up for it. There’s a long history of hardcore and punk at [Gman] and Fuerza Bruta capture that spirit very well. Their music is explosive. ... The festival is all about bringing excitement in the dead of January, and I think that band in that small of a space does the trick.”

  • Fuerza Bruta plays Tomorrow Never Knows at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at Gman Tavern, 3740 N. Clark St. Tickets are $12 in advance at gmantavern.com.

Here are four additional shows you don’t want to miss:

Jan. 17: Mila La Morena

Another great talent emerging from Chicago, who first cut their teeth at Columbia College. La Morena merges Latin music styles with R&B, alternative and synth pop and lyrics that embrace love, life and queerness.

Jan. 18: My Brightest Diamond

National acts are part of the Tomorrow Never Knows experience as well; a great example is the fest nabbing My Brightest Diamond for 2024. It’s the project of multi-instrumentalist Shara Nova, who’s been combining chamber pop, electro and classical tutelage in beautiful harmony since 2006. Nova opens for the equally talented Torres.

  • 8 p.m. at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, $20 in advance; lh-st.com

Jan. 20: Asha Imuno

With 11 million spins of his breakout hit “Zig Zagging,” this 22-year-old California dynamo is one to watch in 2024. His easy breezy blend of new age soul, R&B, funk and hip-hop is both of the moment and harks back to the glory days.

Jan. 21: Denali and Tenderoni

The final day of Tomorrow Never Knows goes out with a bang, featuring a double-header of drag queen Denali and king Tenderoni. Both hail from Chicago, with Denali a veteran of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and Tenderoni notable for groundbreaking Lollapalooza appearances.

  • 8 p.m. at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, $20 in advance; lh-st.com

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