ESG—four Scroggins sisters plus various percussionists—formed in the South Bronx in the late ’70s, and went from covering the Stones and Rufus to recording for Tony Wilson’s Factory Records label. The band’s uniquely minimalist funk/post-punk sound soon caught on in clubs and dance palaces like the Paradise Garage. Decades later, songs such as “Moody” and “UFO” still resonate, partly because they’ve been sampled hundreds of times. Alas, ESG, which reformed in the ’90s, has announced its Estrojam show will be its last. We spoke to founder Renee Scroggins (pictured left) for the final word.
This is ESG’s last-ever show?
That’s it. I want to do other things. I’m into production and management, so I really want to focus on that. It’s been a good ride, though.
When you formed the band, did you have any concrete expectations?
We were kids, and we fantasized about being on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.
When did you notice you had fans?
The first show we played—and got paid for—was at this place in New York called Mechanics Hall. We only had three songs, and as soon as we finished, they were yelling, “Encore!” So we had to play the same three songs over again! That was cool.
How long after that did you get contacted by Tony Wilson?
Hmm. It must have been about three months later, when we were opening for A Certain Ratio. He heard us and liked us and asked us if we wanted to make a record. We said, sure, but we didn’t take him seriously. But we were in the studio that weekend in East Orange, New Jersey, with Martin Hannett. When it got down to it all, we were just people who were enjoying each other’s music.
Were you in contact with Tony Wilson before he died in August?
Really? I didn’t know that. Oh my God. No, we had seen him maybe four years ago. We did a show in Manchester, and he introduced us. Wow, I was unaware. I’m deeply saddened. To me, he was the one who really discovered us. It was Tony Wilson who said, “I want to make a record with these girls.” Next thing we know, we were playing with bands like PiL and the Clash.
Do you think people have been introduced to ESG through those songs that sampled you?
It’s a sore point with us, but possibly. One night we were performing in a club, and we played “UFO,” and someone said, “Hey, they’re ripping off Doug E. Fresh!” But it wasn’t funny to me. That ticked me off that they didn’t know where it came from, so they just assumed this rapper was the one who created this music. We made this song; they didn’t. They literally took it from us. Now, we have a part in music history. When I see us in books, I think, This is cool, one day my grandkids can read about me. For a girl coming out of the projects in the Bronx, I think I did good!—Josh Klein
ESG plays Abbey Pub on Friday 21.