The Chic frontman, 'Lucky guitarist and Daft Punk homeboy on his favourite robo-pops
As we were preparing our Daft Punk Day, a little-known track called "Get Lucky" was running through our heads. Behind the robots behind the masks, the guitarist playing the riff that propelled Daft Punk's comeback single to bona fide global smash is Nile Rodgers. One of the most successful songwriters of all time, the ex-Black Panther and Chic frontman is a hero to most, Daft Punk included. Happily, the feeling is mutual, as we discovered when we asked him about his favourite Daft Punk jams.
Around The World
Around The World is the track I associate with Daft Punk and I first meeting. I was at the listening party for 'Homework' in 1997 and my Chic partner Bernard Edwards had died only the year before, and Daft Punk spoke to me about how much of an influence Chic were for them. I could see that we shared the same DNA. Within the Chic tradition a lot of our hooks and grooves are somewhat repetitive but our concept was “Well, if you have a really good thing, why wouldn't you want to keep it going as long as possible?” We called our music breakdown music and when I heard Around The World that's what it was to me. Breakdown music. It was so fresh but also so familiar. It reminds me of our journeys too. After that first talk we tried to have two big subsequent meetings with a view of working together and they didn't pan out for various reasons, but when we finally did met in my apartment about a year ago I had their entire artistic history in my mind. There's something about us working together at that exact moment that I find so wonderful. How our paths were destined to intersect. I would never have known that in 1997 but in retrospect, you can see the timeline. We recorded my work on 'Random Access Memories' at Electric Lady Studios, which was Jimi Hendrix's studio and where I recorded the very first Chic record Dance, Dance, Dance. I was even before then when it was a night-club because that's the neighbourhood that I grew up in. It all centred beautifully.
Da Funk is phenomenal. I first heard it around the same time as Around The World but in certain clubs in New York, Da Funk was hot. It helped me to understand the mutual love and admiration between us. I remember when it came out that a lot of the b-boys were really into that cut. The black dancers loved electro. Groups like Kraftwerk were an absolute mainstay and records like Trans Europe Express and Autobahn – man, they were totally happening! I remember kids walking around the hood chanting those beats. They loved it! I think it actually had a bigger effect on the black community than the white community. It felt more like urban groove music to me and that's the interesting thing about Daft Punk - I don't think the record companies understood that there was, and still is, a huge following in the black community for those kind of records. They're so sparse, open and groovy, and they give a lot of room for MCs to rap over and whatnot, so those records have always been kind of like Chic records because of the breakdown consciousness. They give space for other artists to interact with your music. That's a powerful element. Even if you're not a rapper, dancer or musician, maybe on a subconscious level you are something of a composer. You're filling in those spaces with your own energy and your own idea of the track. I think records like that can be described as minimalism or a kind of intellectual efficiency; get the job done well with as little as possible. I believe that less is more and maybe that's where the strong appeal for groove records like Da Funk lies. We're all participating.
Harder Better Faster Stronger
If you think of Harder Better Faster Stronger and what Kanye West did with it, I mean, it proves the point about the relationship between Daft Punk and the black community to me. What makes it such an incredible, transitional record is that I know some people that never even realised that was a Daft Punk record first. They thought it was Kanye West! Like, when I played them the Daft Punk record they said “Oh, they're doing a cover of the Kanye”. I swear to you. It's ridiculous, obviously, but I think that's possible because they themselves are very, very aware and affected artistically by r'n'b. That's the DNA that they're cut from. I've been in the studio with them. I know how they get when they hear funky music. It's just, who they are. They love it. Why else would you call a track Da Funk? I mean, who are you writing that for? It's for the blacks, the b-boys and the hip hop kids, but in the same breath Daft Punk are also telling you right away who they're influenced by. What really grabs me about Harder Better Faster Stronger though on a technical level is the sound of the vocoder. These guys are taking the vocoder to a whole new level. To me, they're taking it to the Roger Troutman level. When you hear vocoder done in that really hip way, there's something very, very soulful about it.
One More Time
This track is unique for me. They start with the very heavy disco feeling and then in the middle they break into half time, go to a breakdown and then to the point where it feels like a ballad. It's the exact opposite of, say, a Donna Summers record. Some of her biggest hits start with a ballad and then go disco, but One More Time does the inverse and still stays pumping. It's so counter to what a dance record should do on paper, but it works brilliantly. When you're in a club when that happens, you just gotta watch what the people do. I don't wanna use the word manipulative but that's kind of what it is. It's like a DJ reading the crowd. It feel spontaneous, like the crowd wanted that moment. In the course of that one record they have you hyped up so high, all celebratory, and then it just, stops. There's no groove. When you're on the dance-floor at the point, what do you do? I've watched different crowds react to it and sometimes couples get romantic... it's just such a brilliant manipulation of emotions and when you think about it, in a strange way, it's a very sad record too. When you think of the concept of Daft Punk being robots wanting to become human, trying to imitate life through their music gives them a real sadness that a lot of people may not see.
What I love about Get Lucky is that you're trapped right away. That's always been my philosophy: to come up with songs that as soon as the record kicks in, the audience is hooked. Get Lucky is a total groove. It's not a breakdown, it's not faded, it's all hook. Daft Punk went really old school but at the same time, I always try and make future music because whatever is happening around me whilst I'm making the record, that's not necessarily what will be happening when the record comes out. I have to think of something that'll be evergreen. I think, “Today, make a record for tomorrow”. Get Lucky is very disco too but it's not just a homage to Chic. It's as if we've gone back in time. They've avoiding pastiche by not using samples and using the real people instead, like Giorgio and I. We're exploring the possibilities of what may be together and that's the coolest thing about art – that our ideas can turn into talking points. The tools that we employ to put across that vision as something tactile and real, those obviously get better as technology improves, but the thing that make you want to create remain the same. That's what I took from my time with them. I was learning as much as I was teaching, and that was cool cause that's what I think it's always about. There's never been any record I've produced where I didn't learn from the artist that I was working with. Never, ever, ever. To me, if were grooving in the studio and we're feeling it, chances are we've made that record for the future.
Nile Rodgers plays Love Saves Sunday in Bristol on the 26th May
Read about Daft Punk here