Summer Festivals 2012: Nile Rodgers - interview
The disco legend talks to us ahead of his set at RockNess with Chic
Disco sucks? Try telling that to Nile Rodgers, founder of disco legends Chic, and super producer currently working with Daft Punk. He speaks to Nicola Meighan about 35 years in the groove
Disco and pop icon Nile Rodgers is recalling the first time his band Chic played Atlantic Records their biggest hit. ‘We emptied the boardroom,’ he says of multi-million selling 70s wig-out, ‘Le Freak’. ‘We started it – “One, two, awwww Freak Out!” And by the time the song finished, the only people left in the room were me, [Chic partner] Bernard Edwards and our attorney,’ he laughs. ‘Everyone had gone outside to discuss how they were going to tell us they hated the song.’
Over three decades on from that fateful conference (and from 1979’s ideologically unsound yet briefly crippling Disco Sucks! campaign), Rodgers continues to stick it to the haters, while winning over hearts and dancefloors. The Chic Organization has shifted the glittering pop world on its axis – from enduring disco-funk classics like ‘Good Times’ and ‘Everybody Dance’, through Rodgers’ 80s studio reign (he produced David Bowie’s 'Let’s Dance', Madonna’s 'Like a Virgin', co-produced the B52s’ 'Cosmic Thing' and also wrote/worked with Donna Summer and Duran Duran) – not to mention their influence on chart hip hop via The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Good Times’-sampling ‘Rapper’s Delight’. Indeed, when Rodgers notes that, ‘Sampling has become the bedrock of pop culture,’ he is crowning himself as its architect: Chic are the most-sampled band in history.
Despite a recent cancer diagnosis (he is in remission and ‘feeling great’), and last year’s impressive retrospectives (a 4CD box-set; a fascinating autobiography), Rodgers thrives on making ‘future music’; on moving forward creating new bonds. He has just returned to Connecticut after jamming in London with La Roux, and recently worked with longterm fans Daft Punk. ‘Oh yeah, that was amazing,’ he enthuses. ‘It was just that wonderful old-school interplay between composition, and construction, and deconstruction, and organic responses.’ When can we hear the fruits of their labour? ‘Oh, I don’t know when or what they plan on doing with it – all I know is what we did and how amazing our relationship is.’
Rodgers is equally excited about sharing a stage with Biffy Clyro at RockNess. ‘I love those guys, I love their music,’ he says. ‘Even though I come from the world of groove music, we still write songs – we just happen to be grooving when we’re writing,’he laughs. But Chic were never a straight-up disco troupe. They were influenced by jazz traditions; they loved KISS and devoured art-rock.
‘Yeah, you’re absolutely right,’ he says. ‘The inspiration and the concept for Chic came directly from seeing Roxy Music one night. This was the time of the big-concept records – The Who, Parliament-Funkadelic – but that was the first time I’d seen a rock band whose concept immersed their whole life. When I saw that I thought, “Wow, what would that be like if it were like a R&B band, a black band …”’
Rodgers puts Chic’s enduring popularity down to their sense of celebration and ideology. ‘The beat may be attractive,’ he offers, ‘But you can’t hold a person’s interest for 35 years unless you’ve got something to say.’
Chic featuring Nile Rodgers play the Main Stage at RockNess on Sun 10 Jun.