aquabats pick it up ska in the 90s

In this still from the "Pick it Up: Ska in the '90s" trailer, Christian "MC Bat Commander" of the band The Aquabats! is shown. 

From the ashes of grunge, emerged the phoenix known as ska. The music genre became the biggest thing in music — for one unforgettable year or so anyway.

The grunge movement of the early ‘90s shook up rock music in a huge way. Grunge, known for its depressing anti-fashion, shook up youth culture in a way unseen since The Beatles played “The Ed Sullivan Show.”  But there was just one problem — it wasn’t fun.

In the wake of the dissolution of Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, the youth of America was ready to have fun again. And that’s where ska stepped in.

“I think it blew up because it was quirky and different. The record labels at the time were looking for the next big thing; the fad,” said Taylor Morden, director of the new documentary, “Pick it Up: Ska in the ‘90s.”

Led by bands like Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (and No Doubt, Smashmouth and Sublime kind of), teens traded in their flannel shirts and combat boots for Hawaiian T-shirts and checkered pork pie hats.

“The scene had been thriving underground for more than a decade,” Morden said. “But corporations and guys with suits try to scoop up the cool underground thing and make it mainstream and as soon as people get sick of it or it gets oversaturated then they move on to the next thing and try to scoop the money out of that.”

Morden has been touring with the film, showing it at films festivals and ska shows to great fanfare.  The film is currently available on DVD and Blu Ray at www.skamovie.com and Vimeo on Demand. It will hit Amazon VOD tomorrow.

Clips from the film will be shown during the Ska Parade 30th anniversary concert at Fulton 55 in Fresno on Jan. 22.

Morden has been playing trumpet in ska bands since 1998 and said that some of his favorite bands appear in the film.

“It’s kind of my life story told by some of my all-time favorite bands,” Morden said.

The film tells the story of the rise and fall of the genre in the mainstream and the sometimes bittersweet fallout of being remembered as unabashedly light-hearted, which of course, can be misconstrued as frivolous.

The documentary features interviews with a who’s who of the genre, including members of No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, Goldfinger, Blink 182, The Aquabats, Hepcat, Fishbone, Save Ferris and the Fresno-based Let’s Go Bowling.

The film has something for everyone. It’s a deep dive into a world that many may have vague memories of (“I remember that cover of ‘Come on Eileene’ with all the horns, sung by the pretty girl,” you may think while watching). It’s a piece of pop culture archeology for those who missed it in real time. It’s a nostalgia trip for fairweather fans who sold their Sublime and Rancid CDs in 2002.

But for those of us who still play “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” or have gotten our nieces and nephews hooked on the “The Aquabats! Super Show!”  the documentary is a confirmation of something. Ska wasn’t just what MTV played between commercials or the thing that Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew played at the top of the hour on KROQ, it was the soundtrack to our formative years.

“It’s amazing to see this ska community, because it’s kind of the outcasts and the weird kids on the edge of the mainstream music scene. The people who still love it are the really die-hard fans of this genre. So having that community come together around [the movie] has been incredible and has renewed my faith in independent filmmaking and the DIY punk rock nature of projects like this,” Morden said.

Morden previously directed a documentary about the best band you’ve probably never heard — “Here’s to Life: The Story of the Refreshments” in 2017 and will release a documentary about the last remaining Blockbuster video store in the world, aptly titled “The Last Blockbuster” in 2020.

For more information, visit https://popmotionpictures.com

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Contact the reporter at pbowman@hanfordsentinel.com

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