2013 has been a lucky year for Chic’s Nile Rodgers, in the UAE to play Sandance on Friday.
Up all night to get freaky
It’s been quite a year for Nile Rodgers. The Chic guitarist may count such disco-era classics as Le Freak, Good Times and We Are Family among his numerous songwriting credits, he may have produced David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Madonna’s Like a Virgin, but even by his standards, 2013 has been a career landmark.
Not only did Rodgers co-write this year’s mightiest pop song, Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, and supply its infectious guitar groove, but he has also played rapturously received concerts around the globe and had the all-clear from cancer. He tops it all next week with an eagerly anticipated appearance at Sandance.
“I can’t wait to get to Dubai,” he says. “It’s new territory for us and I hope we’re going to be partying till the wee hours of the morning. I can promise an amazing night of funky dance music and lots of people saying: ‘I didn’t know he did that song.’ Even my mother says that to me.”
Delighted though he clearly is at his resurgence, Rodgers has been around the block enough times to treat success and failure as equals. He hasn’t forgotten that Chic were superstars between 1977 and 1979, before being unceremoniously swept aside in the Disco Sucks backlash.
“In the summer of 1979 Good Times shot to No 1 faster than any record we’d ever had,” he says. “We thought everything was great. Meanwhile, the entire industry was telling us that our music sucked. We said: ‘But it’s number one! It’s the surrogate parent of hip-hop!’ It was really weird.”
After struggling to find a foothold, Rodgers met David Bowie in a New York club and in 1983 produced his hugely successful Let’s Dance album. “I was still the same guy, but David validated me. Like, ‘It’s OK to work with him again, he’s not just a disco producer’.” The following year Rodgers pulled off the same trick on Like a Virgin, which he describes mischievously as “really a Chic album with Madonna singing”.
The circle of success
Since then he has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Bryan Ferry. “My job is simple: I write songs and get the best performers I can think of that are available at the time,” he says. “Collaboration is all I’ve ever done and I’m always trying to push boundaries.” He first met Daft Punk 17 years ago, when the French duo told him they were huge Chic fans. After a couple of aborted attempts at working together they finally struck gold with Get Lucky. “That song was an extraordinary phenomenon,” says Rodgers. “You can’t prepare for those, because they only come about every now and then. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m smart enough to know that it’s cyclical. You can’t explain it. For a while the world thinks you’re amazing and then it moves on to something else.”
Rodgers has certainly moved on. Since Get Lucky was recorded two years ago, he has been writing and performing non-stop, as well as working on a Broadway show based on his 2011 autobiography, Le Freak. He’s enjoying a fruitful working partnership with the Swedish house producer Avicii and on the morning that we talk, he has been up all night in his New York studio, working with will.i.am.
A professional musician since his teenagers, Rodgers’s “brutal” work ethic stems from his passionate love affair with all types of music. He is also acutely aware of his own mortality since being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010. “It was extremely aggressive, to the point where they told me I had to start counting the days and getting my affairs in order,” he says. “I’ve had three surgeries, and my recovery has been slow, but I decided to overly commit myself to making music and that made the time fly.”
This summer he was given the all clear. “I think I feel great,” he laughs. “But then the day I was diagnosed I felt amazing. I’ve just turned 61 and I have the same amount of energy I had when I was 25.”
Chic featuring Nile Rodgers play Sandance, Dubai, on Friday> For tockets, visit www.timeouttickets.com