ESG, the rhythmic no wave band that formed in 1977 in the South Bronx will end its illustrious, influential 38-year career at Hard French’s Pride weekend blowout. It will be the first time the group has played an event specifically oriented toward the LGBT community, but the band and monthly gay-themed party share a common mission statement: make people dance.
“If you’re coming to the show you’re going to dance till you drop!” ESG vocalist Renee Scroggins tells me over the phone. “I’m so glad I was able to do this show for Hard French, because they’ve been getting at us for years, and this will probably be the last time you will ever see ESG perform.”
Scroggins has knee problems (currently aided by an embedded rod to support the joint), and is due for a major surgery in December. The recovery process includes a year of physical therapy, which leads her to believe Hard French’s five-year anniversary on June 28 at the Mezzanine in downtown San Francisco will be the group’s last performance.
“I don’t anticipate coming back, like 90 percent,” Scorggins said. “The thought of me getting up on that stage and bounce around after all that isn’t that appealing.”
ESG (Emerald, Sapphire and Gold) started under the family Christmas tree decades ago. Scroggins and her sisters had watched the weekly variety show SOUL! religiously as children growing up in New York City and pleaded with their mother, a clerk at the Health Department, that all they needed to recreate the music on the family TV was some instruments. So, in an effort to keep her little girls out of trouble, Mrs. Scroggins surprised the children with instruments on one Christmas morning.
“If she didn’t buy us the instruments we wouldn’t be here. It was the ’70s, things were rough in the Bronx. There was gangs, drugs, things like that — a lot of teenage pregnancies — and my mom didn’t want us hanging out and doing things like that, so she bought us instruments. After that we just stayed in the house and continued to try to write things,” Scroggins said.
Years later Scroggins would include her own daughters in the band that takes equal inspiration from classic soul records and the sounds of New York City streets.
“It was Disco into punk, and punk into techno and house — all these different music scenes affect you. In New York I would hear music in the park, all my Latin brothers and sisters, out there playing congas and Coke bottles in the middle of the night. It stays in your mind, it’s very inspiring. And I’m a big fan of James Brown, so all that stuff came together as far as ESG’s style of writing,” Scroggins said.
Hard French started five years ago after a promoter dropped the ball and left an afternoon party slot open at El Rio. Devon Devine and a group of friends jumped at the opportunity to create and grow a party for LGBT people of all kinds.
“We all threw a birthday party together one time, and just thought, ‘This party was so fun, why don’t we do it all the time?’” Devine, producer of Hard French said of the monthly party that now draws an average of 600 people to El Rio. “ESG was a bucket list band for Hard French, they’re just so influential in music and fit together with the vibe of our party. When we all sat down to talk about who we were going to bring out for our 5-year anniversary party, the first band we thought of was ESG.”
According to Devine, the first thing Scroggins told the organizers of Hard French after being asked to play was how excited she was to finally get the opportunity to play directly to the LGBT part of the band’s audience. “It melted all our hearts,” Devine says.
“In New York, the LGBT community has always supported us. Clubs like the Paradise Garage, up until the very end, the last days of their closing party, have always been very supportive of ESG. Larry Levan was the DJ there, and they created the buzz, if they played it there it was happening,” Scroggins said. “So I find it a great pleasure that I’m able to come and do this and give a little bit back to the community.”