Pick It Up! Ska In The 90s: BRWC Raindance Review: When I was a kid I was in what we used to call the “alternative” scene. Basically, that meant that meant that I liked music the more popular kids didn’t, and so I hung out with a group of people that enjoyed the same kind of music. Of course, music was never really my thing anyway, I was the weird kid that constantly watched and wanted to make movies, but I had some bands that I enjoyed, and for some reason secondary school social groups were organized by the kind of music you liked and not… well, whether or not you actually shared much else in common with those people.
Needless to say, I didn’t have a great time at school. A lot of people like to talk about it as some of the best years of their lives, but for me I’d go so far as to say they were some of the worst. When I left school, I made a pretty conscious effort to not bother continuing friendships and relationships. I didn’t like school, I didn’t like the person I was then, I never felt like I could be myself really, and truthfully, I don’t think many of my school “friends” liked me all that much either. Still, one thing I did carry over from my school days, and something that has remained at least partly a fond memory since, is the music I was introduced to.
And watching Pick It Up – Ska in the 90s for this review was sort of like stepping back in a time machine, with the amount of bands and music I had almost completely forgotten existed, but bring back the more positive memories of that time.
A well-made and in-depth documentary about the rise and fall of the ska genre in the 90s, what makes it so interesting, at least outside of the aforementioned “Hey! I remember that!” aspect of it all, is the way in which it is told not necessarily as a retrospective or as a historical look in on a period, but rather from those people who were there, who lived it, and who enjoyed it.
Reel Big Fish popping up to discuss their own influences, the origins of the genre, and the origins of their band was a weird one. I’d forgotten all about Reel Big Fish until they appeared on the screen, and their album Turn off the Radio is sitting with my other CDs on the CD shelf! And the involvement of other half remembered bands, with songs I recognize through a haze of not-quite remembering, meant that I’m probably biased in terms of the enjoyment I had with this movie but, hey, screw you! This was a lot of fun!
The story unfolds through a series of vignettes combined with interviews and talking heads, taking its time to cover the origins of the genre all the way through to the “ska in the 90s” of the title, and the way that certain cultural groups adapted and embraced the genre for their own enjoyment. I’ll be perfectly honest, I’d never given ska all that much thought before, at least not outside of the fact that I always quite liked Madness, put seeing it spoken about and presented with such enthusiasm and love is quite catching.
It’s hardly the most original or interesting way to present a documentary and a subject, but the directors do a good job of keeping the audience engaged and ensuring that there is a clear through-line with which we are able to follow the “plot” unfold. Utilizing tried and tested methods makes sense, considering the subject itself is where the real intrigue lay. Someone with a far more comprehensive and passionate interest in the genre may not find it quite as enjoyable and insightful as I did, but for me (and admittedly I’m a complete novice) it was a genuinely interesting and entertaining watch.
Above all else I think I’d be most included to call Pick it Up – Ska in the 90s a feel-good movie. I certainly came away feeling good. And if ska, as a genre of music, is all about cheering everyone up, getting us dancing around and singing, then the movie does a pretty damn good job of capturing that energy and projecting it onto the audience. Eventually it becomes almost impossible not to smile along with the enthusiasm for the genre that is present on screen. Now, I’m going to go find that Reel Big Fish album and blast it through the TV!
Pick It Up! Ska In The 90s played at Raindance.
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