ESG, A South Bronx Story

Jeff Chang

By Jeff Chang

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

A South Bronx Story


One of the 80s 'most influential dance acts began as an unprepossessing group of sisters and their neighborhood homie who, in the fine Bronx tradition of Dion DiMucci, Willie Colón and Afrika Bambaataa, took up music to keep out of trouble. The four Scroggins girls — Maria, Renee, Valerie and Deborah — and their friend Tito Libran entered a local talent show in 1979 and lost. But 99 Records impresario Ed Bahlman (Bush Tetras, Liquid Liquid) was convinced he heard the future in their unfussy funk.

Four sisters and a friend unwittingly craft a funky classic.

Soon they were recording a monumental debut with Martin Hannett (Joy Division, Buzzcocks, New Order, A Certain Ratio). Since its 1981 release, "Moody"'s influence has become immense — the hip-hop, post-punk, house and garage undergrounds all claimed it. At the same time Bronx party DJs were rocking it, the group was sharing stages with the likes of Public Image Limited. They played on opening night of Manchester's Hacienda and the closing night of New York's Paradise Garage. "UFO" — pitched down to 33rpm from the 45rpm 12-inch — remains one of hip-hop's most sampled records.

A South Bronx Story draws from ESG's early-'80s 99 Records work as well as their fine, forgotten 1991 self-titled album. Hearing minimalist grooves like "Chistelle" or "Dance" fight their limits then take flight, what impressed Bahlman and Hannett is clear. It's the exuberant D.I.Y. sound of early punk and hip-hop, even R&B, and the pullulating vibe that has moved millions since.