Sunday, 16 September 2012

Nile Rodgers - Why Did Disco Suck?

Nile Rodgers Edinburgh Book festival 2012
Rodgers is one the most successful writers/ producers from the 70s. He wrote for Diana Ross's major hit album Diana, Madonna's Like A Virgin, David Bowie's Lets Dance and produced many hit singles such as - We are Family, Lost in Music, Lets Dance, Le Freak and many more.  He was originally in the band Chic who had hits with Le Freak and Everybody Dance.

Nile gave an informal chat at the Edinburgh Book Festival's Speigel tent in August 2012 - with many impromptu plays of the guitar that sat on his lap when the audience enthusiastically sang along. He was also in conversation a couple of nights later at the festival with renowned Scottish writer Irvine Welsh. This was quite a contrast with Welsh in his white t shirt and bald head and Nile with his long dark dreadlocks (wish I had a photo!)

Rodgers learned flute and clarinet at school and later taught himself guitar. At 18 he auditioned for the children’s tv show Sesame Street for which he wore a crazy green wig!. He then worked at the Apollo theatre in New York with Screaming J Hawkings. On a trip to London he saw Roxy Music at the Roxy theatre!  Which he thought was so unique.
He thought they should be the black version of Roxy Music and be a ‘totally immersive experience in music’ and they called themselves the Big Apple Band

They played sophisticated funk – and their track ‘Everybody Dance’ was a big success in the dance clubs but there was little interest in a black rock band at that time. Jazz bands often went to France to make it then (Nina Simone and others) so they pretended that they were from France!  Chic was born and they had a hit with ‘Le Freak’ – which has been the biggest selling song for Atlantic Records and has such an awesome guitar riff!  

They then wrote hit songs for Sister Sledge – We are Family and Lost in Music. He wrote for Diana Ross – who he interviewed for three days firstly – Michael Jackson, Madonna, David Bowie and many more. He has jammed with Hendrix. Madonna's Like Virgin sold more than 20m records and Nile wrote David's Bowie's best-selling album Let's Dance in just 17 days.
Nile talked about his music. He said when he wrote songs – first came the words and he always started with the chorus or hook. He likes to use the jazziest chords and fuse concepts together. He talked about the level of pop culture and that Bowie was ‘disruptive’ and therefore stood out in the charts. He believed in the ‘artistic powers’ of music itself. He said that the people made Good Times a No 1 which he said was his favourite song.  
Disco went out of fashion and in the late 70s disco suddenly sucked – and so Nile went into producing for others. Yet he said if you look at the biggest chart hits for artists at that time their hit songs were disco influenced – for example Rod Stewart (Do You Think I’m Sexy) , Queen ( Anther One Bites the Dust), Rolling Stones (Miss You). 

Trends come and go and by the late 70s many rock bands had become flashy (or trashy!) with over the top, overblown sounds and productions and in reaction punk was born in the 80s. The good thing about punk music was it 'let go' and simply went for it!  Never mind the rules, who cares - lets just be nuts and the more off the edge the better - punk was raw and raucous! Sometimes art needs to be rough edge.  So why did disco suck? Well there is that macho element in some music critics who can't accept that not all of us enjoy heavy rock. The uniformity of the mainstream plays it safe and we can only move forward when we question and challenge the accepted and that's what punk, the 60s, the revolution were all about.  

Yes there was an anti-disco movement but lets not forget at the start disco had much to offer.
Some of my favourite Disco tracks - Diana Ross Upside Down, BeeGees Grease, Chic Le Freak, Michael Jackson Billie Jean, Stevie Wonder Superstition. 
Nile Rodgers Edinburgh Book festival 2012
Nile Rodgers – sometime actor for Sesame Street, songwriter, musician, producer, arranger and guitarist. Le Freak, Everybody Dance, We are Family, Let’s Dance, Like a Virgin, The Reflex.
Nile has written his autobiography “Le Freak – An Upside Down Story of Family”, 
Disco is a genre of dance music. Disco acts charted high during the mid-1970s, and the genre's popularity peaked during the late 1970s. Its initial audiences were club-goers from the African American, Latino, gay, and psychedelic communities in New York City and Philadelphia during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Disco also was a reaction against both the domination of rock music and the stigmatization of dance music by the counterculture during this period. Musical influences include funk, Latin and soul music. The disco sound has soaring, often reverberated vocals over a steady "four-on-the-floor" beat, an eighth note (quaver) or 16th note (semi-quaver) hi-hat pattern with an open hi-hat on the off-beat, and a prominent, syncopated electric bass line sometimes consisting of octaves. The "disco sound" was more costly to produce than many other genres - disco music  included a large pop band, with several chordal instruments (guitar, keyboards, synthesizer), several drum or percussion instruments (drumkit, Latin percussion, electronic drums), a horn section, a string orchestra, and a variety of "classical" solo instruments (for example, flute, piccolo, and so on). Disco songs were arranged and composed by arrangers and orchestrators, and producers added creative touches.  Recording complex arrangements required a team that included a conductor, copyists, record producers, and mixing engineers.  Disco songs used as many as 64 tracks of vocals and instruments. Mixing engineers compiled these tracks into a fluid composition of verses, bridges, and refrains, complete with orchestral builds and breaks. Mixing engineers helped to develop the "disco sound" by creating a distinctive-sounding disco mix.
With the advent of punk rock music an anti-disco sentiment developed.  Many groups that were popular during the disco period subsequently struggled to maintain their success. The Bee Gees never had a major hit in the United States after the 1970s—even though later songs they wrote and had others perform were successful.