By now I hope everyone has seen Pick It Up Ska! If you haven’t, it’s the ultimate 90’s documentary on third wave ska-punk. Truthfully, it’s a lot more than that. It’s literally a trip down memory lane, especially for me being a ska teen from the 90s.
Just the thought of this film propelled me back to the days I went to shows all over the bay area and beyond. Like everyone else, music has a way to take you back to your favorite places in life. I grew up in Santa Cruz, California. I was going to shows every weekend. Back then you could see some of the coolest and biggest bands in the world of Ska for $ 8 or less. I remember working just so I could go to shows and see my friends and dance. One of my favorite memories was playing and dancing for a band “The Sneaky Creekans.” That’s the thing about documentaries, if they’re done right… they take you on a journey that can may you think, laugh and cry; not all in that order of course.
Recently, we caught up with Taylor Morden. He calls Oregon home, he’s a filmmaker with Popmotion Pictures… he’s also a very gifted musician. Taylor just happens to love ska, so putting out this film was more than just another project for him. In a recent interview, he told us that he got the idea many years ago. When he talked about his idea with his pals and industry colleagues, he was pleasantly surprised on their responses.
The skinny is that ska has gone through a tremendous evolution and metamorphosis to get it where it is today. Music fans in general really need to know who artists like Prince Buster were. The film covers the birth of the genre and segwayed nicely to the 80s, then the 90s. That’s where the story really takes off. The 90s is is defined as the third wave of ska, a fusion of ska with punk elements. The DIY scene is a major theme throughout the film that still exists today.
Today when we listen to the radio it seems as if we hear bands like the Interrupters everywhere on the planet. After watching this film you’ll recognize that it hasn’t always been that way.
“I was so happy that Tim was in! He was so excited to be part of it. It was then and there I knew this was going to be something special.”
I believe this film did a great job chronicling the genre’s journey. It takes us from the humble beginnings in Jamaica to 2020 and everywhere in between.
Morden told us that “telling the story, the entire story was critical to us…. we wanted to ensure if someone who wasn’t familiar with ska would get what this film was all about.” When asked what the pivotal moment for him towards the success of the film was, he responded immediately. He said “that’s easy, when I sat down with Tim Armstrong (Rancid & Operation Ivy). Tim wanted to meet to discuss the project before he committed to anything. When we met, he asked a lot of questions, I was nervous… but, I gave him the pitch and crossed my fingers. Once I did that, I was so happy that Tim was in! He was so excited to be part of it. It was then and there I knew this was going to be something special.”
We also asked Taylor about the contributors. That too got us an immediate response. Taylor said “the number of people that helped out was insane. People helped with every aspect of the film making process. We had people that helped us coordinate interviews, with third wave and some of the legends from the second wave…it was literally a group effort.” In the end, Taylor said “I was very happy with how it turned out” He went on to say “When we released the film, we were doing premiers all over the place. I started getting e-mails from people saying things that they didn’t know ska before the movie, or they used to listen when they were kids, or their kids saw the film and now listen to the bands in the film 24/7. That makes me smile, it leads me to believe we did this right!’
I spoke with a ton of people who saw the film. Everyone had a different perspective. They mentioned that the film was truthful, it outlined the good, the bad and the ugly about that era. Everyone seemed to love the way Tim narrated the film.
To get a broader perspective, we chatted with some of the bands that were part of the film.
We first caught up with Aaron Barret, lead singer of Reel Big Fish. Barrett is one of the icons of the genre. The Fishies have been part of the genre’s legacy. Along with a few other big-name ska bands, they were part of a group that kept the genre alive during those down periods.
We asked Barrett what he liked about the film, he said “I liked all of it… I loved how they told the story; they didn’t hold back. Not everything was candy-canes and rainbows back then. They did a great job outlining how it started and what happened. You know… how the scene blew up and how eventually it blew itself up…. I think the producers should be very happy with this, I get asked to do interviews for films all the time. This one is the best real-life ska stories I’ve seen… I ‘m glad they asked me to be part of it.”
We then spoke with another OC-based ska-punk legend, Brian Mashburn. Now Brian had a very good seat to see this all go down. Back in the day he formed a band called Save Ferris, along with his bandmates, they became the poster children for what a successful ska band looked like. Mashburn has been in other successful projects like Starpool and Bite Me Bambi. When Brian speaks about ska in the OC, people listen.
We asked him for his thoughts on the film, he said “I loved this film, it took me back to when I was a kid, going to shows because we got a flyer, or it posted on a message board at a local record store. Back then, there really wasn’t a “ska community” per say, not like there is today. We were just kids that loved this certain style of music and we’d all meet up at certain shows. It wasn’t planned, but after a while… we’d see some of the same people. The film really captured how the scene evolved. It was like this everywhere …. it was truly a special time to grow up when this was all just taking off.”
“The energy was so positive, we all fed off that… it was all about good music and unity. Black, White, Punker, Metalhead, ska kid… it didn’t matter… we all got along. I was very lucky to surround myself with great musicians when I was in high school, that was so vital for me. The music that was coming out just spoke to us. As we got older and formed Save Ferris we fed off the energy from the kids that loved our music and attended our shows. I think Pick It Up captured all theenergyand magic.”
We then decided to go back east, so we caught up with New York-based Coolie Ranx, lead singer of Pilfers. We asked what his thought were, he said “I believe the 90’s Ska was the most exciting time in American Ska History. I say this for the era produced band that created distinct sounds out of the genre that defined the location. For instance, Soul Ska was in DC the Pietasters Checker Cabs. The Slackers pioneered Rock Steady from NYC. HepCat pioneered Rock Steady on The West Coast. Pilfers and to leave out my band Pilfers with Raggacore in NYC… I was very happy the way the story was laid out.”
Another band featured in the film was Skankin’ Pickle, so we caught up with Mike Park Owner of Asianman Records and lead singer of Skankin’ Pickle. We asked Mike what he thought about the film, Make said “The Chinkees & Bruce Lee Band had this to say Being from Northern California we only got to play a few times a year down south but it was always a crazy show when we played in Orange County. I remember headlining a show over Reel Big Fish and the Aquabats and they’re being over 1,000 kids at the show going crazy for every band and that’s when I knew Orange County had a special scene going on… this film captured this moment in time, not just in OC, but everywhere on the planet.”
Photo by Boardz House Productions
We circled back to the filmmakers, we caught up with Executive Producer, Mike Berault. Along with his EP duties, Mike was also featured in the film for his time in 90’s ska-punk band, My Superhero. Mike is currently in Bite Me Bambi.
Mike said he has always been a fan of Music Documentaries, when he heard what Taylor was doing, he reached out so he could help bring this film to life. Berault told us that “there is no shortage of docs from every genre, I felt it was our turn to tell people our story. So, I signed on as Executive Producer. It has given the ska scene from that time a reference point to show others, who may not get off-hand, what we did and why fans of the genre are active in the ska scene today.”
About the scene, Berault went on to say “if you were a fan of Ska or not back in the early 90’s, you went to see No Doubt when they played everyone did. When the music scene began to grow later, ND would play with everyone. So, they were the gateway band to expose other great bands that would later dominate our scene. Fishbone, Sublime, the Knuckle Brothers, Suburban Rhythm, Dance Hall Crashers, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Reel Big Fish. The Music scene back then was so open and inviting to everyone, and all were welcome, and we all went to allot of shows. It became our identity. Many of the handful of great moments that I have had in my life involve people from that time or shows I’ve attended or played from that.”
Mike believes the film captured the heart and soul of what the scene was all about.
There was one other artists we had to chat with, David McWane. He’s the very well respected lead singer in Big D and the Kids Table. We asked him the big question… what did this film get right? We discussed how the film captured a moment in time. We were coming out of the 80s, the decade of decadence and corruption. People were just tired and wanted something new. It was a perfect storm for something new and positive.
McWane said “people needed to pivot from what was happening in their everyday lives to something more positive. The scene created an environment filed with electricity that was also unifying. People needed that, the timing of the third-wave and fourth wave are very-very similar. The filmmakers got that right, they tapped into the need people have for change… for the better. That’s what ska was about back then and now.”
I ended the series of interviews by chatting with Jimmy Alvarez. He’s a respected voice in the community, he’s a long-time radio DJ, music news writer and publisher who often covers the ska scene.
I asked Jimmy for his overall thoughts on this film. He said, “I think this film will be essential to the future of genre. In the 80s, Dance Craze helped blow-up the Two-Tone ska scene, I think once the zombie apocalypse is over, this film will do the same. The filmmakers tell the story from beginning to end, it highlights the milestones and shortcomings of the era. Aaron Barrett once told me a fourth wave will happen when the next big ska song is played on the radio. Once that happens, it’ll be cool to love ska again.”
“Bottom line, the scene has come a long-long way, it’s been waiting for a trigger and with the radio play that’s happening, the catalyst are there and the fuse has been lit. Pick It Up is Dance Crazefor a new generation”
No matter what genre of music you love, you’ll always have your own opinion and point of view. Like in any good story, you’ll learn about the origins, rise, fall and eventual redemption of this genre and all the players. I highly recommend it, this third wave SKAcumentary is definitely a must see.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
“This third wave SKAcumentary is definitely a must see” | Josh Coutts