ESG with WILL MUNRO at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (June 24). $25. 416-532-1598.
ESG are the coolest all-girl family band of all time. They're also one of the most influential bands of the 80s, but don't feel too bad if you've never heard of them.
Originally, the band was four sisters: Renee, Valerie, Deborah and Marie Scroggins (and occasionally a guy named Tito Libran playing congas). Somehow they kept it together all these years. Now they're a mother-and-daughter group composed of Renee, Valerie, Marie, Valerie's daughter Chistelle and Renee's daughter Nicole.
Growing up in one of the roughest areas of the South Bronx in the late 70s, the original members' mother bought them instruments to keep them off the streets. Practising in their house and entering talent contests, they started to develop their own unique and raw sound - mainly bass, drums, vocals and percussion, rough around the edges but infused with their addictive heavy funk.
At around this time, the underground scene in NYC was developing some strange tangents, fusing punk, avant-garde and funk. In the middle was Ed Bahlman, who first turned his clothing store into a record shop and then a record label - 99 Records. Bahlman happened to see ESG play a talent contest (which they lost) and fell in love with them. He started managing them, and they were thrown into the middle of the emerging no-wave and post-punk scene.
They knew nothing about punk but were happy to be playing gigs and weren't too concerned with the odd haircuts and strange fashions. Tony Wilson of Factory Records heard them open for A Certain Ratio and threw them into the studio with the legendary Martin Hannett.
Their first single, Moody, is what they're still best known for 20 years later, and it can be argued that the song changed music history, but its unlikely success hasn't exactly been a gold mine for them.
99 Records re-released it in the U.S., and Moody became an anthem at hip underground clubs like the Paradise Garage (ESG played the iconic venue's closing party) and the Danceteria.
Over the years, Moody has been sampled and reworked into countless house tracks, and it still fills a floor today, but the original release is so rare that they never really profited from it. A lawsuit between 99 Records and Sugarhill over Grandmaster Flash's use on White Lines of the bass line of labelmates Liquid Liquid's Cavern ended up driving both labels out of business when Sugarhill lost but didn't have the money to pay up.
By the mid-90s, the hiphop world had adopted another song from that first ESG single, UFO, which ended up being sampled by a raft of heavy hitters: Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Miles Davis, LL Cool J, Wu Tang Clan and others.
Unfortunately, the handshake record deals and now-bankrupt labels made it hard for them to get proper compensation, not to mention the fact that UFO was often being used on songs whose lyrical content offended the band.
They've been putting out new music and playing well-received shows all over the world, riding the post-punk revival. ESG play Will Munro's Vazaleen tomorrow (Friday, June 24) at Lee's. Maybe this time around they'll actually get paid.
PRIDE PARTY ROUNDUP
There are dozens of Pride parties every year, and no way to check them all out. Here's a roundup of the highlights - organized by genre - to help you choose.
The best options for homos who like hiphop are Big Primpin' on Sunday (June 26) at the Courthouse (10 Court) or the Goodlife bash Saturday (June 25) at the Richmond (129 Peter, 2nd floor). Big Primpin' tends to attract more of a white crowd, whereas Goodlife is generally more black, but in the spirit of Pride diversity, why not hit both regardless of your ethnicity?
Friday night at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), the queer punk institution Vazaleen heats up with ESG (see feature, this page) but if you don't want to leave the village, Buddies In Bad Times (12 Alexander) offers alterna-queer nights all weekend.
Andy Poolhall (489 College) hosts two open-format-style events: Synchro on Friday and Savour on Saturday. Savour is geared toward women, while Synchro is less gender-specific. Another worthwhile option would be Grapefruit Friday night at Fly (8 Gloucester).
The circuit boys have lots of options, the biggest being Prism (www.prismtoronto.com), which is a series of events Thursday through Sunday at various venues, including the massive Guvernment complex (132 Queens Quay East) . Competing with Prism is Rise (www.risetoronto.com), which also goes all weekend at different locations, including gorgeous outdoor space the Sunnyside Pavilion (1755 Lakeshore West). Four days of non-stop partying might seem excessive to some, but these boys shun sleep.