One of the coolest things on Instagram (besides those crazy Wolf Eyes memes) is Tiny Concert, a series of short hand-drawn black-and-white animations coupled with the music of classic punk bands. Simultaneously primitive and wondrously whimsical, the series acts as a cultural inroad toward discovering a greater rubric of all things punk.
“I like the way you put that,” says Keith Ross, creator of Tiny Concert. “That’s exactly spot-on with what I was trying to do: Take a really short piece of a great song that you’ll want to listen to again, and just have the animation surprise you at every turn, and before you’re ready for it to end, you have to watch it again. And again. And again! It’s funny, a lot of the comments I get are like, ‘Oh my God, I love Tiny Concert because it’s expanding my playlist.’”
Ross—who writes copy at a NYC-based advertising firm—says the origins of Tiny Concert were pretty typical.
“I was probably just doodling at work when I should’ve been paying attention at a meeting or something like that. I was thinking about the types of things I liked to draw as a kid—concerts and motorcycles. [Laughs.]
“I thought, ‘I wonder if my mom still has those drawings. It would be cool to post one on Instagram,’” he continues. “Then I thought it would be cooler to try to recreate it with a little light animation to bring it to life.”
Ross started Tiny Concert earlier this year with his first offering, a rendering of the Ramones’ “Beat On The Brat.”
“I just sat down and thought, ‘I’m going to give this a shot. Don’t be precious about it: Draw the way you would’ve drawn it when you were 13 years old.’ I saw all four characters come to life and I was addicted.”
The Tiny Concert animations do have a scrappy charm, but they also have an aesthetic. It’s like going to see an actual movie (not a video projection) where the physical film might be blemished or the projector lens hasn’t been cleaned, thereby magnifying dust and stray hairs on the images.
The imperfections give it some grit, something conveyed in the bands he animates (Ramones, Black Flag, Addicts, Motorhead, Misfits). It’s part of the experience. All creative types have sometimes insatiable, unachievable needs for perfection. Ross had them, as well, but instead chose to take the opposite tack to flaunt the imperfections.
“With the pains of drawing, you can’t help but become a perfectionist,” he admits. “I thought, ‘I’ll just draw, and whatever comes out, comes out.’ What I learned was all those wonderful little mistakes and accidentally smudged paper I did with my hand and stupid lines that went the wrong way: When you animate it, all of a sudden, it gives it this whimsical outlet. It feels extremely unprofessional—and that’s the charm.”
Ross renders his pieces with a ballpoint pen for aesthetic considerations (“It’s big and clunky. The point puts grooves in the paper and it forces you to make mistakes”) and old-school familiarity (“It’s what I would’ve used as a kid, on my desk, on my notebook or my Converse”).
He estimates that each Concert averages out to 60 to 70 drawings with a lightbox, and then he shoots the photos on his iPhone, drops them into his computer and uses Photoshop’s Timeline tool for the animation. “It’s a very inefficient process,” he admits. “Any professional animator would look at this and go, ‘Dude. What? What a waste of time!’” [Laughs.]
Tiny Concert’s roster of subjects was born out of Ross’ playlist as a kid, heavy on old-school punk and hardcore. When he started the account in January, he was was excited about his organic reach of a few hundred followers. But when Linda Ramone (widow of late Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone) reposted Ross’ rendering of the band (seen below), the visibility of the account went viral. Tiny Concert now has in excess of 14,000 fans. And for good reason.
“If you were ever into punk or hardcore growing up, that music stays with you,” Ross says. “I try to pay tribute to the bands that are responsible for making me who I am today. These silly little drawings really force you to explore things at a deeper level. How many people have seen the Black Flag logo or bought a Misfits skull shirt and not know what it is? In a small way, I feel like I’m participating in the music a little bit.”