An interview with
Nile Rodgers, before Creamfeilds 2008
DID you know that Nile Rodgers
notably produced artists including David Bowie (for Let’s Dance) and
Madonna (for Like A Virgin? That said, disco anthems like Le Freak,
Good Times and I Want Your Love under his and, late bassist, Bernard
Edwards’ Chic guise remain as enduring some thirty years since their
initial release. Their power will be further evident when Rodgers
brings Chic to Creamfields’ 10th Anniversary event this year!
Why is it important for you to maintain the Chic legacy in 2008?
"Well, I don’t think of it quite in those terms. I think of it
like this: the night that my partner Bernard Edwards passed away –
right before we were supposed to go on stage as part of a sell-out
tour which also featured some of the people we’d worked with
including Sister Sledge, Duran Duran and Steve Winwood – he had
looked out at the crowd and said, “oh my god, this is no longer
about us – these people have come to hear the songs”. We realised
that very night that the songs of Chic were bigger than both of us."
Since then I guess you’ve come to terms that the back-catalogue will
outlast everybody involved in their recording? "Sure.
And now every time I go out, I’m committed to maintaining the
integrity of the records that we made. I don’t think about it before
and I don’t worry about it after, but when I’m on stage, it’s
important that I do those songs justice."
Did you ever consider ending Chic after Bernard’s death?
"Without wanting to sound too corny, I feel I have a
responsibility to continue what we did. And, anyway – Chic was where
we always went to have a good time. It still is. I probably don’t
have to tell you this, but I really don’t ever have to work again.
God knows how many hit records I’ve had with different people over
the years but, believe me, I get plenty of royalties. But I’m still
not ‘a star’. Although Chic gives me the confidence to get on stage
and pretend that I’m a star."
Pretend? "Well the thing with Chic is that it was always
a concept right from the beginning. It was about us going wherever
our imagination could take us. It became this place where we would
go to hide from the real world. As black men in America, the real
world wasn’t such a great place to be. Chic enabled us to reinvent
ourselves. Like nowadays when people use the internet so that they
can take on a different online persona. Well, that’s pretty much
what we were doing then: we were Chic 1.0. We called it the ‘Chic
mystique’ and it wasn’t that we suddenly thought we were stars: we
knew that we were back-up musicians and, through our work, we had
come to see what real stars were. But we pretended to be stars
through Chic and suddenly it began to work for us. But again, it
comes down to those records we made. If I didn’t have those songs,
I’d be a little uncomfortable picking up my guitar next to Mick
Jagger or David Bowie."
So do you think you’ll still be doing this in another thirty years?
"Those are my songs. That’s like asking Paul Simon will he
still be Paul Simon in thirty years time."
No disrespect to Paul Simon, but you do have a lot of other things
going on outside music, don’t you? "A lot of people
don’t understand how this happened, but back when we were recording,
we would work in studios that had no windows. Studios were all built
like that: I guess record labels wanted the artists and producers to
be unaware about whether it was night or day and just get on with
getting their record made. Anyway, we would be working in those
conditions and our brains would be going dead. The video game
arcades had just become this new craze so we would take a break from
recording by playing these machines. It was perfect for us to be
able to forget the work and just play a game for a while. It was
something I always did and, over time, I shifted some of my focus
onto video games and developed that as a business. For me, it was
the same as disco: it was this brave new world and nobody knew what
would be happening next. So one of the first things I ended up doing
was the music for this game Resident Evil and that turned into a
huge franchise. After that I did Halo. Now I’ve got like 30 or 40 of
these things. I’ve lost count. It’s like when we were making a lot
of records and Bernard and I would be saying, “What? Another one of
these gold discs” and just not knowing where to put them."
So you’re enthusiastic about new technology? "Yeah. It’s
great. How amazing is it for an artist to wake up every day and have
a fresh challenge and not know how this latest project will turn
out. For me – no matter what area I’m working in – it’s always been
about problem solving. That’s the reason I became a record producer.
Artistically I’m excited. Business-wise I’m excited. And then I also
get to play as Chic and have that real release. I have the perfect
life, I guess."
What do you make of the kind of contemporary artists who don’t leave
the computer to make music? Those people who have never picked up a
traditional instrument? And those that sample? "I love
where we are now. We’re in the era of what I’d describe as audio
collage. When my music was first sampled for Rappers Delight, I must
admit it felt really strange. It must be like tasting some strange
food for the first time. Like, an acquired taste. So I’d have been
like “woooah, what the f*ck is that?!” I recoiled. But I also
couldn’t figure out how someone had done that. Never mind how they
had taken my record, made it their own and had an even bigger hit
with it. The breakthrough for me was realising that the people
behind these records were artists. As soon as I got that
perspective, I developed a real appreciation for those artists that
worked in this way."
Is there not a part of you that believes that it’s unoriginal?
"You’ve got to realise that those people are doing what they
can with what’s available to them. Now I grew up in a different era
when everyone was taught music at school. It was up to the
individual if they wanted to take that further but everyone got that
introduction and were able to begin with the basics. Now I speak to
people like Wu-Tang’s The RZA and Public Enemy’s Chuck D – those
guys that I’ve come to consider my friends – and they helped me
understand that this other generation of people, who are artists at
heart, haven’t had that same chance to discover music in a more
classically-trained environment. So the government didn’t provide
and so this new way of making music came along. Hip hop was born out
Did you learn anything from the
way that early hip producers would isolate a couple of bars of your
music and subvert it for their own needs? "While I don’t
chop-up music in the same way, it taught me how I had also always
been about the groove. I can play the same guitar line over and over
again for hours and really get into that groove. That’s really what
Chic did anyway. We were all about the repetition."
While popular hits, your tracks weren’t ever conventional pop
singles, were they? "No. But we could have kept playing
and playing those grooves but we were limited by the fact that there
was only so much music you could get on the vinyl. Live, we would
stretch out a track for ten minutes and comfortably know that we
could still do a further twenty if we wanted too. We would be
groovin’ and groovin’. That wasn’t new, you understand. I’d already
seen James Brown do that. And it would make you head straight for
the dancefloor. I remember the first time I heard Hendrix and he was
groovin’ and killin’ it too. It was primal. And at the heart of it
was that all important rhythm."
Sharing the Creamfields bill with you
are the kind of contemporary talents that have stripped back that
primal, hypnotic dynamic to the point that it’s pure groove: little
more than drums and bass. Does that excite you? "Sure.
That’s truly primal. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? When we first got
our first record deal as Chic, we insisted that our bosses at the
label come to a club with us as we felt that they had to understand
what it was that was so fascinating about this music. And they were
like “yeah – it’s great but how is that gonna work on the radio?” So
we made our first single and that was Dance Dance Dance which has
that breakdown in it where it’s just “dance - - boom - -
dance–dance–dance” and they were concerned because there was this
part where there was no music. They were worried that people would
think that the radio station had gone of the air! They said “what if
the listener changes the station?” and Bernard and I insisted that
the audience would listen even harder. It was the primal response.
Like when James Brown goes “wait a minute” and the band stops –
you’re transfixed. You don’t choose that time to go to the bathroom.
There was this time I saw Parliament play and George Clinton turned
around to the band and yelled “hold on – I want it so quiet that you
can hear a rat piss on cotton”. The reaction was something I’d never
seen before. I got thinking there and then about whether you could
somehow capture something like that on a record."
So where would we hear that rat pissing on cotton in Chic’s back
catalogue? "Everywhere! We were all about the breakdown.
Le Freak – our biggest records - starts with the breakdown. It’s “1
– 2 – aaaaaah – freak out” with just one guitar and the bass drum
going boom-boom. The record company wanted us to count in the record
and for it to start more conventionally and we argued that the
breakdown was the most important part of a dance record and that
they should trust us. Sure, we cleared the conference room with the
record but it was the biggest song in the history of Warner
Communications: the only song to have reached number 1 on the
billboard chart three times after dropping and returning to the top
spot; something that The Beatles hadn’t achieved. And that’s a song
that starts with the breakdown."
Le Freak was famously written as a response to Studio 54’s exclusive
door policy. Clubbing folklore states that the original lyrics were
actually “f*ck off”. Do you still believe that club
culture should be all inclusive? "Sure. What’s the point
of the music if people can’t access it? If I didn’t believe in that,
I could just play in the privacy of my own home. Music is supposed
to be shared."
So what’s it like bringing these tracks to the attention of yet
another new generation? "It’s happened to us countless
times. I’ve had people come up to me and say “I’ve never seen anyone
do that?” and I’m like “what?” And they’ll reply “play the musical
part of a record”. We did a video shoot once and I cannot tell you
how many extras said “hey mister – can you really play that thing?”
and they’d be like “wow” when I explained that the guitar I was
holding was the one they could hear playing on the record in the
Mark Ronson was saying that it’s become a bit perverse how people
assume a lot of the use of ‘real instruments’ in a record must
incorporate samples. "It’s really bizarre but – without
mentioning any names – this famous producer, who’s a friend of mine,
came into the studio and heard this track playing and was asking
“what record have you got this from?” I told him that it was me –
something I just wrote - and he looked dejected. The temperature in
the room suddenly seemed to go down twenty degrees. When he thought
it was a sample, he loved it. As an original piece of music, he was
disappointed. So I tried it with someone else - only this time I
told this other guy that I’d taken it from some rare Polish lounge
album that I’d found somewhere and he turned to his mates, clearly
impressed, and said “see? That’s why he is f*ckin Nile Rogers!”
Chic featuring Nile Rodgers perform live at Creamfields 10th
Anniversary, August Bank Holiday weekend (23 August 2008 & 24 August
2008), alongside Kasabian, Fatboy Slim, Ian Brown, Paul van Dyk,
Tiesto and many more. Tickets on sale now,
www.ticketline.co.uk, 0844 888
4401 / Info: 0151 707 1309 /
Give-away Competition 2008!
THANKS to the organisers of this years
amazing Creamfeilds event we have 1 pair of weekend non-camping
tickets to give away to one of our lucky reader! To win this
fantastic prize all you have to do is correctly answer this weeks
and last weeks questions correctly and send an email with your
answers (in one email only) to us at Southport Reporter. But do not
forget to send us your full postal address and a contact number as
well with your answer.
QUESTION 1. = "What is the anniversary that Creamfeilds are
celebrating in 2008?" (Click
here see the issue with this
= "What day is Kasabian
playing at the Creamfields 2008 event?"
here to see last weeks issue)
Winners of the competition must follow
all the organisers of the event requests. False information can
result in cancellation of your tickets!