Nile Rodgers: Return of Le Freak

by Gazette Reporter
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It’s not often you get to talk to one of the people responsible for the biggest record in the world right now, but when that chance presents itself, you jump right at it.

Nile Rodgers, founding member of disco pioneers Chic, and a man responsible for producing some of the most memorable pieces of music for eternal acts like Madonna, The B-52s and Duran Duran is very much back in vogue after contributing one of his legendary guitar lines to Get Lucky, Daft Punk’s globe-conquering slice of funky electronica.

I caught up with Nile ahead of a concert at the New York Museum of Natural History for the Save The Rainforest Alliance, just as he was working on this year’s Ibiza International Music Summit anthem.

“Right now, literally right now, I am working on the track with an artist Dan Peters, who goes by the name of Eats Everything, and its something really cool.”

Chic in its original incarnation was Nile and Bernard Edwards, the man responsible for hugely memorable basslines that have been sampled on tracks like the eternal Rapper’s Delight by Sugarhill Gang and flattered by imitation by the likes of Queen and Daft Punk.

Chic disbanded in the early 80s, as Rodgers and Edwards producting careers took off – Rodgers taking desk duties for the likes of Let’s Dance by David Bowie and Madonna’s Like A Virgin.

However, the lure of the funk was always there, and Chic reconvened on stage at the end of the 80s.

“Bernard and I got back together when I had a surprise birthday party. My girlfriend at the time invited all the ex-Chic members. And what were we going to do except play? So we all got up on stage and played and it was magical,” said Nile.

“We did an album in 1992 (Chic-ism), we came over [to Britain and Ireland] and did some promotion. If you watch those performances now, you wouldn’t believe that we had only been playing together again for three months or so.

“It was a whole new line-up, only Bernard and I were the only original members as, believe it or not, only Bernard and I were the only members of the band in the first place, everyone else was hired.

“We decided to get the best musicians we could find and go out and make the best music we could make.”

Chic: Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers

Chic: Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers

That template has prevailed to this day, and the live band that Nile joins on the road now features some of the best session players in the music business, whom Nile says he has always had first-hand experience of working with.

“It was easy for us, as we were studio musicians, and we were always around the best players in our world. Chic has traditionally not strayed from that formula. When we first put Chic together, those were the best players in the world, and that was why the records were so consistent. We hired the best people to work with us. After we got this new crew in 1992, it has been that nucleus [of musicians] with a few variations.

“Unfortunately, Bernard died in 1996, but most of the musicians on stage with me have been with me since then.”

Nile is acclaimed for his musicianship on record and on stage and also for his prolific production work. I asked him if there was one place he prefers to be.

“You always want to do the thing that you are not doing presently. Right now, I am behind a mixing desk – so I can’t wait to be in front of a crowd, which I will be this evening! It’s a beautiful venue and it’s going to be amazing.”

With the resurgence of dance music, especially in the United States, I wondered if Nile felt that what we are experiencing was a rebirth of disco, and what parallels there were to the experience of being part of the first wave of a new music sensation in the mid-70s.

“When I think of disco, it’s not just the music, I think of the mentality and the fashion that went along with it. This doesn’t seem to have the same fashion consciousness!

“But musically, it gives me the same feeling. If I’m on stage with Carl Cox, for example, I feel what I felt back in Studio 54 – it feels primal and essential, it feels wonderful. After a great set, you feel like you’ve run a marathon. You’ve really left it all out there, it’s great.”

Chic is where Nile made his name, establishing the template for dance music in the 70s and beyond with classic tracks like Le Freak and Good Times. As someone always busy in the business, Nile has a roster of current collaborators fascinating to anyone with even a passing knowledge of dance.

“I’ve done some work with David Guetta, and a bunch of cuts with Chase and Status — we had a blast, I adore them, we had a great time in the studio.

“I’ve been working so much with Avicii, I’ve called him my best song-writing partner since Bernard. We talk back and forward every evening, working on new compositions. We mainly do it in the studio together which is great, and we do it old school, like Daft Punk, we bring in all the singers and it’s really like working on Chic music.”

It was inevitable that the conversation would come around to Get Lucky, and Nile explained how he approached the track.

“I knew going in that Guy-Man and Thomas wanted to approach the record in a holistic fashion. The basic directive was to play as if music and life had stopped at the end of 1977. No studio tricks or gadgets, that was it. Well, I knew how to do that – so I said, this is how we would record the track if we were back in 1977, and, well, wow!”

There was also some divine providence in the circumstances of the recording: “We got the guitar line down in [legendary New York studio] Electric Ladyland, where we recorded the first ever Chic tracks – it was like it was meant to be.”

Nile and Chic are coming back to Ireland in two weeks time to play the Forbidden Fruit festival, and he was clearly thrilled about the prospect of coming back to play here.

“Playing for Irish audiences is unbelievable – I’m already smiling just thinking about it.

“Irish people put the P in party – they get it, clear as a bell. Even when we stopped the coach going from town to town [on our last tour], in any little pub, we easily managed to have a full-scale disco in ten minutes. It didn’t matter how old or young people were, we rolled in and it was party time.”

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