Nile Rodgers. SUR
Think of some of the most famous disco records and look at the small print. It’s highly likely that the name Nile Rodgers is there somewhere. The man behind hits such as Madonna’s Like a Virgin and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, not to mention his own band Chic’s ‘Le Freak’, will be in Marbella tonight to take in another dose of the “party spirit” he discovered last year.
-It’s 36 years since you formed Chic and now you’re number one again with Daft punk’s ‘Get Lucky’. What’s the secret to staying at the top?
-Being passionate about what you do and having the ability to embrace failure.
-You’ve produced hits for a long list of artists - Diana Ross, David Bowie, Madonna, Mick Jagger etc. - but among them is Spanish pop singer Marta Sánchez. What was that like?
- I adore Marta. I didn’t understand the Spanish pop market when I did Olé Olé, but I think the spirit of music and the spirit of an artist can always come through.
- Some might consider her an intruder among the more international stars...
- I don’t care. I don’t worry about my image because I’ve never been famous. I’m the guy behind the scenes so nobody knows me. I may be getting a little more press now than before because of Daft Punk, which makes me feel a little uncomfortable. But Olé Olé is on my wall with the other big records, right underneath Thomson Twins, B52s, Diana Ross...
- You are known for being an activist and had links with the Black Panther Party. Is there room for political comment in dance music?
- Of course there is, but music was not my medium of expression for political ideas; music was my medium of expression for more social ideas. I always thought people from desperate backgrounds, who don’t fit in, come together over music. I don’t feel the need to use music as my pulpit to preach my ideas or beliefs. I don’t think it’s fair to try and prop myself up as some kind of philosopher.
- Is house a degenerated form of disco?
- House is an evolved form of disco. Things don’t get worse, they get better; they’re different. Olympic records get broken because we learn more about the technique. As equipment becomes more powerful, it allows you to do things you couldn’t have done before. If we’d had the same machines we would have used them; we just didn’t have them.
- Technology means ‘amateurs’ can produce and deejay. Does that benefit or damage electronic music?
- I think it absolutely benefits music. Everyone has a great idea. Music and art are all about the ability to communicate these ideas and if the tools can help you do that, that doesn’t make your art form less valid.
- Is it true that your famous ‘Le Freak’ was first called ‘Fuck off’ and dedicated to New York club Studio 54?
- Absolutely. We were going to see Grace Jones; they had invited us but the guy wouldn’t let us in. They actually slammed the door in our faces and told us to ‘fuck off’ so we went home and wrote a song. It sounded so good that we changed it to ‘aaaa freak out’ and it wound up being the biggest selling record in the history of Atlantic records.
Jagger and company
- You produced Mick Jagger’s first solo album. What was that like?
- It was great, we had a blast. We had so much fun. I was reading a book by Keith Richards and he was saying he was a little bit happy at how Mick’s solo album was a flop. And I said, ‘Hey we went gold!’ Rolling Stones records don’t do much better than gold! But I was so hot at the time and they expected multiple platinum. I did that the same year as the very first MTV Video Music Awards. Mick and I watched on television as Madonna walked out and sang Like A Virgin. It was 1984; I had just produced the biggest records in the lives of David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran and Madonna and they expected me to do the biggest record in Mick Jagger’s life and so the fact that I only did gold looked like a flop.
- The first big hip hop hit had your name on it after ‘Rapper’s Delight’ from The Sugarhill Gang used the bass line of ‘Good Times’. Have you been involved with rap since then?
- I’ve been involved because they use my music. I’ve had more number one records than you could imagine since hip hop has come along but I didn’t have to do the work again. These have been the most profitable records of my life; they’re songs I wrote 20 or 30 years ago. They repurpose my music and I make a fortune because I get a percentage of the copyright.
- Chic was a groundbreaking group, the band that defined disco music, but recently have you not had the feeling that you’re better known for the work you’ve done for other musicians rather than for your own work with Chic?
- It’s hard to know that because when I play live shows I play Chic music. I do play music I’ve done for other people as well but that’s also Chic music or Nile Rodgers music. There aren’t many records bigger than ‘Le Freak’. There aren’t many records bigger than ‘Good Times’. There aren’t many records bigger than ‘We are Family’. They may not know it’s called Chic but they know our music. I could be anywhere in the world and go ‘One, two, aaaah’, and someone would say ‘Freak out’.
- Now you’re coming back to Marbella with The Chic Organization.
- It was unbelievable last year. It was so chic, so fantastic. The people had a great time we had a great time. It was a very elegant type of setting and they had tables set up in front of the stage and I thought, ‘This is not going to work’, but next thing I knew the tables were pushed aside and everyone was up dancing and I said, ‘I love Marbella, this has gotta be the coolest place in the world because it’s elegant, chic, gorgeous and wonderful and the people have the right party spirit.
Clothes, comments and favourite things
- What are you favourite songs at the moment?
- Whatever I’m listening to at the moment: obviously the Daft Punk album; the song “Swimming Pools”; “Lose yourself to Dance” which I’ve always loved.
- 70s/80s fashion has made a comeback. What would you wear to a retro party?
- I would probably choose a “Superfly” pimp’s outfit. I always think that stuff looks really, really funny and way over the top, and I like wearing big platform shoes.
- What has been the worst comment someone has made about you?
- You look like an asshole in that 80s pimp’s outfit.
- What’s the nicest thing someone has said to you?
- People’s comments about “We Are Family” have brought me to tears at times, and I’m being told that people are being moved by “Get Lucky”.
- What does ‘Yowsah’ mean?
- I guess it came from slavery days when the slave would answer “Yowsah boss, yes sir, maam I understand”. It became “Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah” to get people’s attention like “Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Yes Siree”.
- If you could put together a band of past and present musicians who would they be?
- No matter what configuration or what musicians I would have on the drums or the piano, the base player would be Bernard Edwards, regardless of the style of music.
- What is your most valuable possession?
- My guitar, my Fender, my ‘hitmaker’ as it’s called, and the reason I say that is that it has generated more money than anything I have ever owned.
- Artists who say a few words in Spanish always get a great response from the nationals. Can you speak any Spanish?
- Many people in my family speak Spanish but I always think I speak with a funny accent because my family are from Puerto Rico. I’ll say a few words in Spanish at the concert in Marbella and hope that I’m understood.
Friday August 30th, 8pm
Puente Romano Tennis Club, Marbella
Tickets: 35 euros from Puente Romano, 653 820 820
What to expect: Chic’s hits plus songs written and produced for other artists: Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran...