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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Dance-Punk Pioneers of ESG Are Calling It Quits: Their Journey Through the Bronx, the Haçienda, Paradise Garage, and S.F.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 8:49 AM

click to enlarge ESG in its current incarnation
  • ESG in its current incarnation

It's 2006, electroclash is on its last legs, and Mezzanine is just three years settled into its locale on Jessie street. The buzzword on everyone's lips is no wave, a rediscovered genre of art music from '80s New York that plays with the form and structure of punk, disco, and hip-hop. Looking to capitalize, Mezzanine books seminal Bronx no wave group Emerald, Sapphire, and Gold (a.k.a. ESG) for its debut San Francisco tour date. One crazy evening later, the venue was set to become the hotspot that we've all grown to know and like. It seems the stuff of fantasy and broad generalization -- and granted, that story was absorbed on a bar stool -- but look back and you'll see that ESG has a certain finesse when it comes to clubs. And now, after 34 years, ESG is calling it quits on a farewell tour that will roll through Mezzanine this Saturday, March 3, its only West Coast stop.

ESG got its start in the late '70s as a family band consisting originally of Renee, Valerie, and Marie Scroggins. Based in the South Bronx, the group formed at the insistence of their mother, who believed that music would keep the girls out of mischief on the street. Drawing on their interest in James Brown, classic Motown, and Latin music, the group developed a brash sound that would move DJs and dancers both at Bronx block parties and in Manhattan's Koch-era discotheques.

It was that unique sound and the group's vibrant live energy that caught the ear of Factory Records label head Tony Wilson, who was introduced to the sisters when they supported the similarly minded Factory band A Certain Ratio. Liking what he heard, he persuaded the girls to fly to England and play the opening party for The Haçienda, his Manchester-based nightclub. Their wild set in the still-unfinished venue kickstarted an influential 15-year run that's since been canonized in film and print. And ESG's involvement with Wilson had another effect as well.

With the band in England, he asked the members if they wanted to make a record for Factory. Renee, the vocalist, recounts, "I said yes, but didn't think he was serious. This was on a Wednesday, and Saturday he had us in the studio with Martin Hannett." That session with Hannett -- the producer behind Joy Divison's studio output -- would result in a three-track 7-inch single with an A-side called "You're No Good." Now the stuff of music history, the ramifications of that session have been huge, with the B-sides proving just as important: Any loop-digging hip-hop fan ought to recognize the screechy opening break from "UFO," and "Moody" has since become a classic on the house scene.

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Derek Opperman


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