How a group of sisters from the South Bronx made music on the cusp of punk, no wave, and hip-hop
What might single ESG out from its peers, though, is its rooted lineage in soul. "James Brown is definitely one of the biggest influences on my writing style," says Renee. "He would always take it to the bridge, and cut loose, and I'd be like — 'I didn't want that part to ever end!' But, I thought, if I could write a song, and just keep that bridge part going, then people could dance all night." It's not all that surprising that ESG's talent for elaborating, intensifying, and prolonging the aesthetics of the bridge, in frenetic jams off its debut like "Dance," "The Beat," and "Christelle," would correspond with the birth of the DJ, who would attempt a similar effect by looping breaks found in dusty bins of soul, funk, and rock. Soon enough, "UFO" became one of those sampled records.
Listening to "UFO" is all the more disorienting because of the overwhelming dispersion of offspring it calls to mind. That synthetic siren has been sped up, modulated, faded behind layers of reverb, or even spliced in its pure form onto a new backbeat. There are too many to name: Big Daddy Kane's "Ain't No Half Steppin'," Notorious B.I.G.'s "Party and Bullshit," and countless more from J Dilla, Beastie Boys, Q-Bert, among hundreds, if not thousands of others. You'd think that such an influential legacy would neutralize "UFO," finally render it to that sterile status of the familiar, but the effect is much the opposite, as if its staggered mutations have only increased the alien, yet maddeningly ecstatic element, within the song.
ESG returned to the recording studio in the 2000s, introducing both Renee's daughter as well as Valerie's to the family venture. It dropped two albums of solid new material for Soul Jazz, which also released compilations of its classic singles and rarities. But after more than 30 years of performing and making raw grooves as well as some pop oriented songs in the mix, ESG plans to self-release its final record, Closure, this month (esgclosure.com), to coincide with a farewell world tour. So this might just be the last time its unidentified funk touches down live in San Francisco.
Presented by No Way Back, With DJ sets from Solar, Conor, and Junior
Sat/March 3, 9 p.m., $20
444 Jessie St., SF
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