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David Bennun , October 1st, 2015 10:52

David Bennun reports from Sticky Mike's Frog Bar in Brighton.

A friend (and fellow tQ contributor) refuses to attend ESG shows on the grounds of a semi-humorous conviction they have to be a hoax. You can see what he means. When something's too good to be true, and so on. In an era when the internet combines with a voracious appetite for documentary fodder to create perfect hoaxing conditions, perhaps we're right to be suspicious. Nobody wants to be the one who never knew about The Amazing Thing. So you google The Amazing Thing and there it is. It's got to be real, right? Nobody could have made it up in painstaking detail and planted it all over the Web, like the Creationist God seeding the planet with dinosaur bones.

The beauty of pop music, or part of it, is that it has never mattered a damn if things are real or not, in the everyday, stone-kicking, I-refute-it-thus sense. If there's music to hear, and a band to play it, that's real, and the question of how and why it came about is a sometimes fascinating, usually romanticised, occasionally fictitious but invariably secondary adornment. How many enticing back stories ever turn out to be factual? Rather than true. Because it's all true. Every bit of it that people believe, or want to believe. And the better it is, the truer it is. Isn't that so, Colonel Tom? Bobby D? Prince? Lana?

So it is almost too perfect, in our age, it fits too well with what we would like to have happened, to think that in a very different one, a family of sisters from the Bronx all but invented new-wave funk; pursued it, largely uncredited, while whiter and/or maler acts got what glory there was to be had from it; provided the breaks for countless hip hop and dance tracks (OK, maybe not countless; whosampled lists 426 entries) and hated it - Sample Credits Don't Pay Our Bills protested the title of a 1992 EP; and are only now receiving something close to their due. But if that isn't how it happened, well, the evidence is doing a remarkable impression of it.

What does matter now is that if you go to see ESG, or a version of ESG that appears to vary from an improbable tribute act chiefly but crucially thanks to the presence of singer Renee Scroggins, in a sweaty, malodorous and rammed club basement which they would probably trade in a heartbeat for filling larger and more gracious venues, but which is nonetheless ideal for the occasion, they will be - are - amazing. You won't hear exactly what's on the records, and you won't care. You'll seldom encounter a quintet who do so much with so little. (One of them, so far as I can tell, is there solely to groove about beneath splendid 80s Latina hair, which is as good a reason as any). That mean, eerie guitar sound is missing on all but one tune. There's no middle here. It's all about that bass, drums and percussion, topped with Scroggins' astonishing vocals, which are - and this is no kind of euphemism - the most urban thing ever. It's a sharp and keening hiss-yelp-growl that could have come from nowhere but the streets it did come from, as 'My Street' so well underlines.

The high points of this show are positively alpine. 'Dance', which lives up to the simple and absolute promise of its title, counts among the purest expressions of funk I've ever locked into amid a heaving mass of fellow punters. 'Erase You' is adapted from the plangent, head-on original into a sidelong shuffle whose absent guitar leaves welcome space for as propulsive and elemental a bassline as four strings could conjure. It's magnificent in its gleeful contempt for the memory of a bygone love; as if the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind has been substituted with dancing lights and cobra venom. Music, operating in a realm beyond the facts, can do that sort of thing. ESG are, of course, no hoax. But I wouldn't care if they'd been made up on the spot. Like almost all great pop, once upon a time, they were.