Documentary review: Pick It Up || Ska In The 90’s

Remember Third Wave Ska, the grandchild of the genre that originated in Jamaica in the ’60’s, bred on a steady diet of punkrock, trumpets and trombones? Remember Reel Big Fish? Less than Jake? Dance Hall Crashers? The Mighty Mighty Bosstones? For a short window in the second half of the nineties, ska was kind of a big deal. Major labels signed the bands, MTV played the video’s, bands sold out the shows, and kids bought the cd’s…or downloaded the tunes. And just as sudden, ska disappeared from the limelight and returned to its natural state: the underground.

Funded by a kickstart campaign, Pick It Up documents this period. It’s all there: the sound, the dance moves, the clothing, the challenging group dynamics of touring with a band of eight human beings instead of the standard three or four, and the cognitive dissonance associated with selling out – or lack thereof. It’s a fun thowback to the heydays of 90’s ska, with many of the main players featured. To be honest, not all of these bands hold up as well, but there are plenty of ska comps and bands that I still enjoy (Bosstones! Hepcat!). I have sweet memories of seeing a lot of these bands live, even though I was more into (hardcore)punk. For a little while, ska made the punk scene more fun and diverse, it made school band geeks cool (well, sort of…), and like comedian Benji Aflalo says in the film: “skankin is so mechanically easy, it gave every awkward kid a chance to move.”

Pick It Up is a documentary very much about nineties ska, though it’s respectful to its history- there is a short animated feature section on ska’s roots narrated by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, that is an absolute treat. In the end, this is a fun and well executed documentary, and a must watch if you were part of that scene or a fan of 90’s alternative music.

Add to wantlist: Skamovie

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