Under the Stars is a quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, and a number of other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes, thinking outside the margins. Stay creative, SF!
ESG AT GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL, DECEMBER 9
Nothing, and I do mean NOTHING turns out a house party like when a DJ—the one you hired strictly for their DJ equipment—drops “My Love For You” by ESG. All of a sudden, things get crazy. The party jumps off into this rowdy, sexy, funky sliding doors scenario. Waves of bodies contort and twist themselves in motion. Even the ones not blessed with rhythm at birth somehow learn how to hold a beat for a brief three minutes. Time leaps forward when everyone is riding that punk-funk contact high, mayhem gets turned up past 11.
One time at a house party, one that took place in the apartment above Madrone, in fact (I think?), ESG came on and all these people rushed up the stairs just to shake it—some from Madrone, some just fresh off the street. Crush it. Bug the eff out—I believe that house party received a noise complaint from the nightclub. That’s the power of ESG.
Formed in the South Bronx in 1978, ESG [Emerald, Sapphire & Gold] blazed an unparalleled trail as innovators and trend makers in the already-boundary-dissolving scene of early ’80s NY. Through a series of incredible EPs and LPs, the women of the group pushed the limits of sonic invention, fun, and expectations. They rose to the forefront of a post-punk and New Wave scene that was predominantly dominated by male artists.
ESG has been called “too far ahead of their time” and creators of an “otherworldly sound” by the New York Times. Their list of devotees runs far and wide, through the gamut of modern indie and dance music. Their songs have been sampled by hundreds of artists including Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, N.W.A., Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, Liars, DJ Qbert, DJ Shadow, Girl Talk, and Nine Inch Nails. They remain unique in having equally influenced the formative Bronx hip-hop scene and post-punk/indie.
Listen, they played at both the opening of the Hacienda and the close of the Paradise Garage. Who else has that pair of facts in their bio? Those are the bookend portals in dance music history. Vibe on that for a second. Amazing.
While the group has reduced their touring quite a bit, ESG will be playing a special show at the Great American Music Hall on December 9. This may be one of the last times they perform in San Francisco, and tickets will sell out.
NERVOUS RECORDS 30 YEARS (Nervous Records)
Nervous Records founder Michael Weiss grew up with the music business in his house. His father was a record distributor who also ran a disco label called Sam Records. (Anybody who has attended a Sweater Funk party or listened to a crate-digging set from Mamabear has heard the iconic Sam Records hit “This Beat Is Mine” by Vicky D.) From these familial beginnings, Weiss started his own label that explores his own generation’s dance music, from hip hop to house, by artists such as Black Moon, Todd Terry, Armand van Helden, and Masters At Work.
This month, Weiss’ Nervous Records releases two expansive compilations looking over the label’s first 30 years. The innovative New York label has produced hits that blared from cars and boomboxes, running the gamut from hip hop, reggae, and house to techno. It released groundbreaking tracks by the likes of Black Moon, Byron Stingily, and Josh Wink. The label’s distinctly New York attitude, epitomized by the cartoon adorning its records, was celebrated with by Masters At Work’s 1993 hit, “The Nervous Track.”
“My primary focus for the sound of the label has and will continue to revolve around signing good songs and music that has the ability to react at the street level first,” says label general manager Andrew Salsano. “The best results come from artists that are firstly given a bit of local love that grows into a global impact.”
AVALON EMERSON AND BEN UFO AT 1015 FOLSOM, DECEMBER 17
As previously reported here, Avalon Emerson began her musical career in San Francisco before moving to Berlin in 2014. Originally from Arizona, she released one of Resident Advisor’s Top 10 Tracks of the Decade, 2016’s “The Frontier,” an emotive and colorful techno song that became a hit thanks to Avalon’s ear-catching melody. Since then, she has toured some of the world’s most famous clubs and festivals, and remixed the likes of Slowdive, Robyn, Four Tet, Lena Platonos, and more.
Her co-headlining tour with Ben UFO begins on December 3 at the Knockdown Center in Brooklyn, before the duo head to Rakastella Festival in Miami the following day. The third date takes place at 1015 Folsom in San Francisco on December 17, with the run closing out at the Making Time party at Don Quixote in Los Angeles on December 18.
Purchase tickets for the SF date here.
MYELE MANZANZA — CRISIS AND OPPORTUNITY VOL. 2-PEAKS (DeepMatter Records)
Myele Manzanza is a world-renowned drummer-composer-producer-beatmaker originally from New Zealand. He moved to London in 2019, released four solo albums, and racked up tours and collaborations with Jordan Rakei, Theo Parrish, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Recloose, and Amp Fiddler, among others. Manzanza has developed a strong live presence in his London base and his quartet has shared stages with the likes of Hiatus Kaiyote, The Bad Plus, and Alfa Mist—drawing packed houses to top venues such as The Jazz Café and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.
With previous contributions from Ashley Henry and broken beat guru Mark de Clive-Lowe, Crisis & Opportunity Vol, 1 gained praise from real genre heavies. Vol. 2 takes the new sample-heavy jazz format that much further, while at the same time shaking hands with a fusion past that harkens to George Duke’s odd-duck moments and Stanley Clarke’s School Days funk. The release spills its 4/4 guts onto the dance floor.
OAKLAND WEEKENDER AT THE GOLDEN BULL, JANUARY 6-8, 2022
Just announced is this whirlwind line-up of the Bay Area’s finest indie-pop acts, representing the finest that preeminent Oakland-based label Slumberland Records and Emotional Response imprint have to offer.
For a $60 ticket, you will be treated to a t-shirt and poster commemorating the gig, a Buzzcocks tribute tape, three nights of live music featuring our buds Neutrals, Seablite, The Umbrellas, and many other bands pushing local sound even further. Mark my words, this event will sell out.
Purchase tickets here.
MATT ROBIDOUX — AT DUST (Already Dead Tapes and Records)
At Dust, the new album from San Francisco-based musician Matt Robidoux feels odd and invigorating all at once. Like, on some weird baroque-pop type steeze. With field recordings, drum programming, and a vast array of instruments (brass, woodwinds, violins, guitars, drums, plastic saxophone, banjo, ang gamelan instruments), Robidoux’s method is a stirring, naked prism of boldness on display. Add to it this video for “The Bouquet”, and you have deconstructed pop. It’s a vivid, rich text. (See Matthew live: Matt Robidoux / Carrie Ford Decunzo / LCM / Spectralbinch Sunday, November 7 at 5pm,
the knockout, 3223 Mission Street, $10.)