ESG; Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 18/01/14
I’ll put it to you like this: my gig-partner, who has never listened to ESG before, thought this was one of the best gigs he’s ever been to. I agree.
ESG are, to my mind, the ultimate dance band. Originally consisting of the sparse set-up of drummer, bassist and two vocalists/conga players, the Scroggins sisters proved that every other instrument is irrelevant. Being brought into music through their mother’s desire to get them off the infamous South Bronx streets, the sisters went on to create a stripped down, perfectly formed punk-funk sound.
Recording their debut album Come Away With ESG in a garage, they accidentally became major influences in the eighties New York dance movement. Having been sampled by everyone from the Beastie Boys to Nine Inch Nails, and named as major influences by the likes of M.I.A and LCD Soundsystem, it’s clear that I’m in good company when I sing their praises. Becoming accidental major influences does have its problems though; see the band’s 1992 EP Sample Credits Don’t Pay Our Bills. You might not have heard of the band, but you’ve heard their song “UFO” on records by Basement Jaxx, LL Cool J, NWA, Queen, Public Enemy… The list goes on. Live, though, they are very much artists in their own right.
Since the band managed to technically split up before I was even born, it’s quite something to be seeing them live. They reformed in 1991 (still before I was born), and have been touring and recording on and off since then. Last night, I saw them in a slightly different incarnation. There were two of the original four on stage, donning baseball jerseys and grins of pure joy. Alongside them were a very talented mid-twenties pair on drums and bass, and a Bez-esque cowbell playing pair that riled up the audience perfectly by aimlessly cavorting across the stage.
Between the generation gaps both in the audience and the band, an atmosphere was created that fulfils every dream of the New York scene I’ve had. In the perfectly sized Brudenell Social Club there was just enough room for everyone to dance without feeling empty, enough audience for it to be special without losing that all-important intimacy. Everyone wanted to be there, everyone wanted to dance and everyone, particularly the band, were grateful for the night. I can understand why they’ve been trying to play their final show for seven years. The band’s love for their own music and the audience’s pleasure was so unavoidably clear that it was impossible to avoid smiling for the entire 90 minute set.
Their accidental success is a testament to their greatest asset: there is no intelligent approach to what they’re doing. It could explain how the minds of even the greatest musicians often get fogged up. Instead ESG, a musical time capsule of all that really matters when it comes to being hip, are still cutting the shit and acting on the most innocent and pure of intentions: to make people dance.