In the late ’70s, Nile Rodgers was one of the most celebrated musicians in the world. In 1976 Rodgers teamed up with bassist Bernard Edwards to co-found the band Chic, who then went on to record a string of commercially successful disco hits including ‘Le Freak’, ‘Good Times’, ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)’. However, his time in the spotlight was short-lived, and until his recent commercial revival via his collaborative work with Daft Punk, Rodgers spent the most part of the past three decades behind the black curtain crafting some of the biggest and most influential records of our time.
“It’s been a strange adventure with Chic,” Rodgers confesses. “People don’t realise that all of those hit records that we had – and there were a lot – happened in just the space of two years. We had say, ten gold, platinum and multiple-platinum singles all in that short time.”
Following the anti-disco reaction, which climaxed on July 12, 1979 with the widely publicised and ill-fated Disco Demolition Night (now referred to as ‘the day disco died’), Chic struggled to maintain airplay and sales. It eventually forced them to take extended hiatuses and follow individual pursuits. “After 1979 we never had another hit record again,” Rodgers says. “We went from 1979 all the way to 1983 doing nothing but flops.”
It was then that Rodgers stepped out of the limelight and into the producer’s chair, going on to work on some of the 1980s’ most prolific records, including David Bowie’s best-selling album Let’s Dance and Madonna’s blockbuster Like A Virgin. “INXS, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger and Peter Gabriel,” lists Rodgers with a laugh. “At this point it’s pretty endless.”
Flash-forward to 2013 and Rodgers is back riding high on the charts, headlining festivals around the globe with Chic and continuing to work with some of the world’s most influential artists. “In a life of big, big, big, big years, this has been one of the biggest,” laughs Rodgers again. “We played at Glastonbury for the first time and killed it – according to most, that was our show, that was our festival. We played at Hyde Park just after that with Lionel Richie and J-Lo which was in front of 65,000 people and was just great.”
His appearance on the year’s most ubiquitous single, ‘Get Lucky’, alongside the earlier release of his autobiography Le Freak: An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco And Destiny and various televised live performances (including Glastonbury), saw a radical commercial reprise for Rodgers. “Daft Punk, quite like Chic, are a very anonymous band,” he says. “With ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Lose Yourself To Dance’, Pharrell and I became the recognisable faces. I also became the main guy promoting the tracks because they wanted me to take all of the interviews. I basically became the de facto spokesperson for the band. It was a position that I wasn’t particularly comfortable in. But, y’know, it’s my record too. Other than Daft Punk I’m the only other person with three tracks on that album. I’ll be working with them on at least one new song on the upcoming Chic album, which will be great – I’m really looking forward to it.”
These high levels of commercial interest have led to the release of the compilation record Up All Night, attributed to Nile Rodgers and The Chic Organization, and featuring songs written and produced by Rodgers and Edwards for a long list of artists including Chic themselves. “It’s been extraordinary this year because it’s really come full circle, now we’ve released the best Chic ‘greatest hits’ package that I believe has ever come out. Even people like Madonna, who has always been my friend but is very protective of her product, gave me a great version of ‘Like A Virgin’ that we did to use – it’s been really awesome to have that one on my new record.”
So 2013 hasn’t only been busy with touring? “That’s not even beginning to mention the amount of records that I’ve got coming out!” he laughs. “This feels to me like my career back in the ’70s and the ’80s – when one of my records was up for an award, a journalist said that I should receive some sort of special award for sheer volume. I don’t even want to start mentioning them because I know I’ll forget some, but I have records coming out with Disclosure, Chase & Status, Tensnake, Avicii, Daft Punk and Jessie Ware – it’s just an insane amount.”
After a whirlwind sold-out Australian tour in March 2012, which included a headline performance at Golden Plains, Rodgers and Chic will be returning later this month for appearances at Subsonic, Meredith and a series of theatre shows in what will be their largest Australian tour to date. “With Australia there’s always been this long-running joke,” says Rodgers. “Any time a promoter even considers bringing Chic over they never, ever follow through. The reason why? We’re basically an anonymous studio band. They don’t know what we do. They don’t know of my composing background or my production background. They don’t know how many hit records I’ve worked on. We have a really dynamic live show, so I’m always like, ‘What! They’re picking that overus?!’ But last year a couple of promoters took a chance with us.
“When I got to Australia last time I just couldn’t believe that no-one had ever booked us. Someone told me, ‘You know Niles, you’ve had something like seven number one records over here,’ and I’m like, ‘Really? And we can’t even get booked!’ In fact, last time one of the promoters even dropped us because he was nervous that we didn’t have a bunch of pre-sales. He didn’t understand – we almost always sell out, but we never do it until the night of the show. There’s this phenomenon about us. People see going to see Chic like they’re going to a disco – they have this mentality. As everyone saw in Australia, we sold out. People showed up in droves. I don’t really understand, but people really do come to our shows as if they were going out to a club. We’ve had a number of massive sell-outs all throughout Europe this year, and we’ve had to go on an hour or two hours late because the queues have been so long because people are showing up at the last minute and we want to give people a show. We’re not go to be all, ‘Well, sorry, you came at the last minute so we’re just going to go on and to hell with you.’ We wait – and we put on a show.”
BY TYSON WRAY
Chic featuring Nile Rodgers with Antix, Electric Empire, Salmonella Dub, Le1f, Jon Convex and more at Subsonic Music Festival at Riverwood Downs Mountain Valley Resort, Barrington Tops on Friday December 6 – Sunday December 8. Also playing at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday December 7.