When New York City rocksteady bands The Forthrights and The Slackers went on national tour in the summer of 2010, freelance filmmaker Samuel Gursky, a 21-year-old Woodbury native, went along with his camera gear.
Three years later, material from that trip led to a new documentary, Brooklyn Rocksteady, exploring the roots, culture and evolution of rocksteady music in NYC from the early 1980s up to the present.
“All of the footage sat in a hard drive for a couple of months,” said Gursky. “After coming back home and getting more involved, I knew I had to capture it.”
For decades, New York’s ska and rocksteady community has been a part of the city’s diverse underground music culture. The film explores this subculture in interviews with those involved in NYC’s rocksteady community, including members of bands such as The Toasters, The Pietasters and Royal City Riot.
“Rocksteady is a more traditional, Jamaican-influenced, reggae type of ska,” said Gursky. “It always had kind of a following in New York, and a lot of younger bands play in the style now.”
Among the first ska bands to gain popularity in the US was NYC’s own The Toasters, one of the many influential bands featured in the film. Much of the footage is from live shows that took place nationwide over the past couple of years, often in small venues or basements packed with energy.
“What’s unique about it is that it’s much more of a party atmosphere,” Gursky said. “It’s more about it being a place where you can hang out with your friends and have this immersive experience in the culture.”
Gursky added: “It’s more than just a scene. It’s a community.”
He should know. Gursky spent years booking shows on Long Island. He took his involvement within the local music scene with him to Brooklyn, where he worked at a venue where bands played regularly.
“I was booking a couple of shows a week on Long Island, and that lent itself to me wanting to continue it where I was living then,” he said. “I don’t think it would have been possible for me to have done it without having come where I came from.”
The making of the film was funded by a Kickstarter project that surpassed its pledge goal of $3,000.
“When it came to reaching out, the reception and support was definitely there,” Gursky said. “It was well received in the [rocksteady] community.”
Brooklyn Rocksteady premieres July 18 at IndieScreen, 298 Kent Ave. in Brooklyn, with screenings at 7 and 9 p.m. For more information, visit brooklynrocksteady.com.