Chicago takes up 234 square miles of Illinois with close to three million residents. We have seventy-seven different neighborhoods and fifty-four aldermen. It takes an astronomical amount of money to run our city. Not to toot our own horn, but we’re also pretty popular amongst American metropolises. We think big. Yet Todd Tue and his team at Milk Products Media have named their online live performance video series “Small Chicago.”
What’s up with that? Is there something we’re not getting?
“Chicago is a very small town, I think,” Tue says casually, sticking to his guns. For him, the word “small” is not in terms of size, but of theoretical closeness. “The music community, you find out, is very small,” Tue continues. “We started off just inviting a couple bands that either we were friends with or we’ve done music videos for, and then through them suddenly we knew fifty different bands.”
Small Chicago has been building this web of mainly local bands since its birth last spring. Instead of being a freelance performance series, the program functions under a cleverly numbered structure: three songs, two cameras and one shot. This mantra is posted on their website, implicitly promising unassuming and honest videos. As with any online video gig, it’s basically a toned-down live show, without the stuffiness or risk of drunk people spilling their beer on you. Each audience member gets a chance to get virtually cozy with the band they’re watching.
The first season took place in co-founder Justin North’s twinkly-lit basement, creating a base for coziness. This changed when he moved to Kentucky mid-project, but that didn’t deter Tue from continuing. “It got bigger and bigger and more bands contacted us, and it started becoming more of its own thing, as opposed to just a pastime. So when he left, we were like, ‘Oh, we should keep doing this.’ It just made sense.” The location solution? Shooting in various studios around this “small” city, which has added a new nomadic flavor to the series.
The program has managed to grow into a more professional product while keeping the best qualities of a “pastime.” “It’s a very intimate setting. We’d hang out with the band for a little bit, have some beers, then shoot, and then we’d hang out a little bit longer.” Tue smiles, seemingly at the memories of boozy performances past. “The idea is that you should feel comfortable. It’s our music community. It’s not an us-and-them situation. There’s a genuine community to it, and if it feels intimate, I think that’s because the community innately is that way.” It’s amazing how snug the music community can be within these 234 miles. (Maureen Clancy)