Pick it Up! Ska in the ’90s: Directed by Taylor Morden

Pick it Up! ska movie illustration by Ricky Vigil

I can already hear everybody groaning. Yes, ’90s ska is something everybody at one point liked and then felt immediately embarrassed about. Or always hated it with a passion and wanted nothing to do with it. As someone in the documentary states, ska was tainted by a bunch of dumb white guys from California.

Pick It Up briefly goes over ska’s Jamaican beginnings (watch Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records if you want that story), how it became more punk, how it hit the mainstream, and how it became a dirty word. It features pleasant interviews from Christian Jacobs (MC Bat Commander), Leanor Ortega (Five Iron Frenzy), Mike Park (Skankin’ Pickle, Asian Man Records), and various members of notable ska bands I’m not mentioning because the list is too long. Basically, if you think of a ska band from 1988-2005, one living member was interviewed. The shining star of the interviews is Aaron Barrett, singer for Reel Big Fish. Even if you can’t stand Reel Big Fish, you will like this guy. He’s got charm and a very self-reflective sense of humor. You cherish every moment he’s on screen. He has a couple of “man on the street” segments that are also very funny.

Most of the interviews reflect on what a ridiculous and silly time it was being in a ska band in that era. Can you imagine sharing a tour van, splitting meals, and finding a place to stay with six to eight other people in your band? You can assume that most of the ska bands were just trying to make it big, but a hardy chunk of them felt it was important to their DIY ethos and continued to play all-age shows. But some other ska bands lost touch with ska’s original political overtones in favor of songs about food and girls.

Again, some would argue why this is an unnecessary documentary or should be packed with all those ska bands and shot into the sun. But the only unnecessary part of the documentary is the Tim Armstrong narration. But fortunately, you only have to hear a lot of it during a very good animated sequence by Sarah Schmidt about the history of ska.

The Blu Ray features some nice extended interviews with Angelo Moore from Fishbone and Elyse Rogers from the Dance Hall Crashers. You also get a tour of the Aquabats wild ass offices and the Asian Man Records offices (garage).

This documentary is solid even if you aren’t a fan of ska. I don’t think much of ‘90s ska but I found myself writing down names of bands I either overlooked or wrote off as bad. So watch it, and try not to cringe too hard at any of the ska puns. –Rick V. (Pop Motion Pictures, skamovie.com)