I came into “Pick It Up! Ska In The 90's'” a ska novice. Sure I knew of “Reel Big Fish”, but if you asked if i was a ‘rudeboy’ who liked to ‘skank’ to ‘two tone’ I would’ve presumed you’d mistaken me for a Russian Sleeper Agent. Nonetheless, “Pick It Up! Ska In The 90's'” served as a thoroughly entertaining watch, from which I learnt about a whole new world.
Launched on kickstater on 14 June 2018 the campaign hit it’s initial funding goal of $40,000 just over 7 days later. “Pick It Up! Ska In The 90's'” is an independent self-proclaimed “SKAcumentary”, directed by Taylor Morden. The film focuses upon the third wave of ska, around the 1990s. However, the opening of the film (after a wonderfully executed title card) offers a concise and engaging overview of the entire history of the genre. From there, a series of heartfelt and passionate interviews play from “famous” figures all across the ska world, such as Aaron Barret and Scott Klopfenstein from Reel Big Fish and members from bands such as The Specials and The Aquabats, that paint the picture of Ska’s greatest rise and it’s seemingly overnight fade into obscurity. This is not a journey that is handled with a somber tone, but the characteristic tongue-in-cheek and optimistic attitude you come to love from every Ska aficionado and artist in this film. Every story is told with a nostalgic smile and positively spun realism. You can tell that everyone has a strong connection to the movement, and their stories of hard work to build an accepting and awesome space with the music they loved to play are all the more poignant and engaging thanks to the addition of gorgeous animations and period footage. Even if you have no knowledge or reverence of the interviewed, you’ll become invested in their stories quickly.
“Pick It Up! Ska In The 90's'” doesn’t just cover the music side of Ska. It goes completely in depth, from race relations to the evolution of Ska fashion. You will undoubtedly come out of this film with a comprehensive knowledge of Ska as a whole. This doesn’t make the film a 100 minute wikipedia reading however. As aforementioned, animations and period footage play, alongside the occasional sog or sketch. One of my favourites came at both the beginning and end of the film, where Scott Klopfenstein goes around New York, asking the passersby about Ska. At the beginning, this is a humorous montage of ignorance; but at the end this same sketch turns into a heartwarming moment of nostalgia for many interviewed. It’s scenes like this that give this film an inspiring tone and keep you watching.
However, the film isn’t perfect, I have some small gripes. The film seems to randomly introduce new figures to interview, an intermittent narrator in Tim Armstrong and random editing techniques without warning (though this does work to great effect for one surprise guest), and the crt filter on some footage felt unnecessary.
Yet, the eclectic nature of this film and it’s flaws works, in a sense, with the essence of Third Wave Ska. Everyone feels an equal part of the community, and the film has a high energy pace that almost feels syncopated. You’ll feel good, learn a lot and find a new appreciation for a whole new genre in a place you never expected. This is definitely worth a watch.