The videos in Cream City Soundcheck are like a band’s continuous declaration of “We love you, Milwaukee!”
The new web series from doc|UWM chronicles both local and national acts as they perform at Pabst Group concert venues around Milwaukee. Each video then follows a band through a sort of Brew City pilgrimage as they visit Milwaukee landmarks like Leon’s Custard, Downtown Books and Buck Bradley’s.
Yesterday, creamcitysoundcheck.com debuted with nine stylishly shot completed videos. So far, CCS has featured two national acts, YACHT and Generationals, as well as seven local bands including Milwaukee-favorites Trapper Shoepp and the Shades and Maritime.
“Originally, it was seen as something more like an Austin City Limits, where it is just a band performing,” series producer Ryan Sarnowski said. “But we didn’t want just that. We wanted something different, something unique, something that felt like our own.”
The filmmakers, all students taking classes in UWM’s film school, took the approach of interspersing moments of concert footage with candid moments from each band as they hang out around Milwaukee’s most interesting spots.
The student filmmakers were responsible for creating each video entirely, making graphics and editing, as well as planning each shoot and working with the bands.
“It is such a great environment where you get to be a part of every step in the filmmaking process.” said CCS filmmaker Matthew Dwyer. “It was something that I made that I can have pride in.”
When Soundcheck secured the New Orleans indie group Generationals for shooting, the filmmakers had just one week to prepare.
“Generationals were the first national band, so we decided to just get all the Milwaukee stereotypes out of the way,” Sarnowski said. “It’s saying cheese curds, bowling, beer! Let’s slay the elephant in the room, so we can move past that image of us.”
Students shot fifteen hours of footage with the band, traveling to Milwaukee sites Koz’s Mini Bowl, Hi-Fi Cafe and Rushmore Records before recording the concert at Turner Hall.
“There’s only so much setup you can do before you get there,” filmmaker Josh Smith said. “You set up these places where you go, but once you’re there, you just film as much as you can and hope that something good comes of it.”
The final product is a 10-minute documentary, full of spontaneous and personal moments from the band.
In a scene in the funky, eclectic shop Luv Unlimited, one of the Gernerationals’ two members, Grant Widmer, puts on a comically tall and furry hat, looks at the camera and says, “This would be what I would call a signature hat. Everyone who saw you would go ‘There’s that guy with the signature hat. Take him seriously in his life.’”
Generationals, like most performers featured on Cream City Soundcheck, seem to really love discovering Milwaukee. They admire the city’s architecture, enjoy some beers in local bars and eat cheese curds–which Generationals’ Ted Joyner calls “bangin’.”
“I think (Milwaukee) is one of my favorite places in the country,” Joyner says later in the video. “I think there are too few towns that really have their own feel. This isn’t a place that could just be anywhere.”
Beyond national acts like Generationals enjoying the city for the first time, Cream City Soundcheck also captures the characters that make up Milwaukee’s own music scene. Though the films follow established names like Maritime playing the big venue, Turner Hall, the filmmakers also recorded acts like self-proclaimed “struggling rock band” Mortgage Freedman as the group prepared or a small gig at the bar Y-Not III.
Much in line with the spirit of the series, to celebrate the debut there will be a free kick-off concert tonight at Turner Hall, less than a 15 minute bus ride from campus. The show will include performances by the Fatty Acids and Kane Place Record Club along with the debut of the series’ final video with YACHT.
(CCS) is a great opportunity for getting artists recognized,” Cole Quamme, drummer for the popular Milwaukee act The Fatty Acids said. “I feel like the Milwaukee music scene is kind of hidden, and this kind of thing lets people know about some great bands.”
The Fatty Acids will be giving one of their signature high energy performances at tonight’s event to be filmed as part of the next round of CCS videos.
The band is a natural fit for the project. The sextet met as students at UWM, two members were both film students themselves, and the band’s fun, synth-infused sound makes for a lively performance.
The kick-off show will fundraise for the continuation of the project by accepting donations and selling food by local vendors MKE Localicious, Streetza and Mamacita’s Tamales.
After its official reveal the series hopes to continue to find more national and local acts to feature with a whole new class of student filmmakers taking control for another year of production for this already-popular series.
Becky Cofta, a UWM student who’s worked on the marketing side of the project, expressed what seems to be a common reaction from everyone who has put work into CCS. “Whenever I talk about this project, I just glow. I’m so proud of it.” she said. “I mean who doesn’t love rock and roll? Who doesn’t love Milwaukee? That’s the bottom line.”