Nile Rodgers

SALT-COVER-SPILL_ChicIn the late ‘70s Nile Rodgers was one of the most celebrated musicians in the world. In 1976 he teamed up with bassist Bernard Edwards to co-found the band Chic, who went on to record a string of disco hits. TYSON WRAY chats to Rodgers ahead of Chic’s show on Sunday, December 8 at the Astor Theatre.

Chic’s commercially successful disco tracks including Le Freak, Good Times, I Want Your Love and Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) might have been key tunes in the disco movement, but Rodgers’ time in the spotlight was short-lived, that’s up until his recent revival through his collaborative work with Daft Punk. For the most part of the past three decades, Rodgers has been behind the black curtain, crafting some of the biggest and most influential records of our time.

“It’s been a strange adventure with Chic,” confesses Rodgers. “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, which eventually forced them to take extended hiatuses and follow individual pursuits. “After 1979 we never had another hit record again,” he notes. “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 producers chair, going on to work on some of the ‘80s most prolific records, including David Bowie’s biggest-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 with Chic is back riding high on the charts, headlining festivals around the globe 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 when reflecting back on 2013. “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 it 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 (includingß) in 2013 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 (Williams) 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, you 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 led to the release of the compilation record, Up All Night attributed to Nile Rodgers and The Chic Organization, which contains recordings written, played and produced by Rodgers and Edwards for various artists alongside Chic themselves. “It’s been extraordinary this year because it’s really come full circle because 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… it’s been really awesome to have that one my new record.”

A busy year, no doubt? “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, Chic will be returning later this month for festival appearances 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,” muses Rodgers. “Any time a promoter even considers bringing Chic over they never, ever follow through. The reason why? 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 over us?!’ But last year a couple of promoters took a chance with 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!’

“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.”