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Nile Rodgers Interview

We chat to the funk genius

The mastermind behind disco's greatest band Chic, and producer of records for everyone from Madonna to Carly Simon, Duran Duran to David Bowie, without Nile Rodgers the dance music world would be a very different one today. Sampled by the Sugarhill Gang, Faith Evans, Moodymann and many more, his fluid, elegant guitar playing is one of the most distinctive features behind hundreds of hit records. With his video game soundtrack label Sumthing Else Music Works a huge success, ongoing production work and plans for a new Chic album, Rodgers is in fine fettle.

A reinvigorated Chic play Creamfields in Daresbury, Halton, in Cheshire on Sunday 24th August. DJmag.com got in touch with Rodgers to find out a little bit more about his world…

You've reformed Chic to play at Creamfields – who have you got playing with you now?

"Reformed, I don't quite look at it like that, we've not stopped playing! When Bernard Edwards passed away, in April '96, he died in Japan. I didn't play Chic music again, and I never thought that I would. We were invited out the next year to Japan, and we were invited out as Chic. I came back and this bass player Jerry Barnes who was born in the same place as Bernard lived, said 'Nile, I would be really honoured if I could come in and try that spot," and we went back to Japan, and we've been gigging ever since. We've been gigging like crazy for years and years, and it's been wonderful. We actually played at the o2 a couple of years ago with Gnarls Barkley and James Blunt. We killed that show! That was a tough day in dodge coming after Chic!"

As the Chic Organization you produced and worked with Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Carly Simon, David Bowie, Duran Duran. Who was the most fun, or memorable, and why?

"I can't say that one was more memorable than the other, but everyone you mentioned for different reasons. David Bowie, because he liberated me, after we disbanded Chic he was the first artist I tried to produce on my own. Madonna of course, that was the biggest record of my life, 'Like a Virgin' is huge. Diana Ross, that was incredible for me, because that was the first time I got to work with a star. Sister Sledge was great for us, because we got to invent somebody just like we invented Chic. Before we became Chic, we sat down and came up with a concept and then did the musical application after we created it. When we were introduced to this entity called Sister Sledge, we'd never met them, until they got to the recording studio. They'd never heard those songs until the day they walked into that studio. That's what I do. No-one who I work with has ever heard the songs until they walk in. We come from the world of studio musicians and we've played on lots of hit records, and I believe that the excitement that we lend to music, because we're hearing it for the first time and we're trying to interpret it, and make the composer happy, is something unlike any other experience in my life. And when I make records, I want that experience, I want Diana Ross to walk in that room and feel just like I feel when I walk in the room and I've never heard the music before. I want that composer to win me over, and if he doesn't win me over, then I want to work out a way to interpret the music and make it great. There's no demos, they learn the song when they get there."

One of your most unique tracks is perhaps Carly Simon's 'Why', with its reggae funk blend. What was the inspiration behind that?

"At the time we'd never played with drum machines or sequencers, but we started to appreciate the grooves that you could get from them. When we did that song, we were trying to experiment, we didn't want to hold back, we wanted to go into the future, but we wanted to go into it as a collaboration. We used the drum machine and programmed that beat, and then I started playing on it, and I called up Bernard and he came up with that bassline. And Carly, she'd never heard it before she got to the studio. We sang it to her, 'ladidadida', and that's it, we recorded it in a couple of takes and it was done."

Your music with Chic, particularly 'Good Times', has been heavily sampled by various hip hop and house artists. How do you feel about sampling today – valid or riding someone else's coat tails?

"I consider it an incredibly valid artform. This is just my own interpretation, but I think that we live now in the era of collage art, be that aural collage or visual. I'm a big video gamer, so I love modifications, modding out video games, changing it around so that it's my way. When Chic first started we would do versions for DJs, but they'd only sell them to their friends, they wouldn't put a label on them and sell them in a store. When 'Rapper's Delight' came out and I saw my name wasn't on it, and someone was making millions and they had a bigger record than me, I was like woah! It's cool in the underground but when you put it in a store… It's cool when it's a community thing and you share with your friends, and you just want to play something exciting on the dancefloor. But when you package it and sell it, it's different.

  • "But now, it's become an art, packaging, designing, modding the original work. It's amazing. One day, Chuck D from Public Enemy, sat me down and said to me, 'we come from a different world. You come from an era where you used to learn music in school, but because we're naturally artists and we're gifted as people, we need to express ourselves. The technology has allowed us to be Nile Rodgers. I don't have to play like Nile, I can grab a guitar lick and then I can create on top of it.' I said damn, Chuck I get it. All of a sudden it all became very clear to me. My concept of it completely changed, and now not only do I embrace it, any body who wants to sample my music, everything gets cleared. I tell my publishing company, don't even ask me about it, the art I've created I've already created, let the other artist take the property and see what they come up with. I don't care how extreme it is because I'm a free speech kind of guy. It could be the wackiest thing ever , but I'm not gonna deny them a voice, maybe they'll come up with another 'Rapper's Delight', that's fine with me."

    Your company Sumthing Else Music Works is involved in the lucrative world of video game soundtracks, but what's your favourite video game?

    "Of course Halo! That's subjective, 'cos obviously I've been involved in Halo from the beginning. But video games for me, it's like music, whatever the current one that you're involved in, the one you're trying to beat is the best, that's the one you love. And although I've beaten this one a couple of times, I really love Bioshock, wow it's cool! And I'm gonna get a chance to play Gears of War 2 soon. It's all good man. The great thing about the video game world is that it feels like the rock 'n' roll world when it first started. It was a bunch of artists trying to figure out what to do to create a community. Even on a commercial level it feels underground."

    What's next for Nile Rodgers? Any new productions or music in the works?

    "It's incredible. I've just worked on the soundtrack to the new Will Ferrell film, Semi Pro, I did the main theme to that, and I've got a ton of video game soundtracks coming out. We're working on a new Chic tour and album. And I've written my first Broadway play. It's not out yet, it's called Double Time. It's about a black impresario, who lived in 1929, named Leonard Harper – it's based on a true story. He brought to the world Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller all these famous names in one show, it was supposed to be the longest running show in the history of musicals but in 1929 the stockmarket crashed, and after 288 sold-out performances, the show closed and he went on to live in obscurity, and of course his stars went on to become the biggest in showbusiness. So we tell his story."

    Chic play Creamfields in Daresbury, Halton, Cheshire on Sunday 24th August. Weekend tickets are available now priced at £115 (plus camping), from www.creamfields.com/tickets.aspx