Five minutes with the king of disco

Chic frontman and Daft Punk collaborator Nile Rodgers on his triumphant return

In THE BBC film Nile Rodgers: The Hitmaker you say, “My name is Nile Rodgers. You probably don’t know my name, but I bet you know at least one of my songs.” How deliberate is that anonymity?

Anonymity was the cornerstone of the whole Chic mystique. We wanted to shroud ourselves in mystery, because prior to that we were never able to get a record deal, simply because we were a black rock & roll band. People got excited, because our lead singer was killer; and then they would see us, and be like, “Oh.” It’s like the new Daft Punk record [Random Access Memories from which the number one single Get Lucky was taken]: we wanted people to listen to the music, and not worry about who’s playing it. We knew we weren’t stars.

You may have been relatively anonymous a few years ago, but now your name is always billed alongside Chic’s, and the two have almost become synonymous.

That was conscious. The reason why I did that was because I wanted to make it clear that this isn’t a tribute band. The truth is that Chic was officially only me and Bernard [Edwards, bass player for Chic who died in 1996 while on tour with the band]. We cut our first record with studio musicians who were our friends.

In interviews, you often talk about the musical legacy that feeds into your music. One example is when you mention the escapist songs being written during the Great Depression in the 30s, and say that you were consciously trying to do the same in the late 70s, during another depression.

If you watch the new film The Great Gatsby, you’ll see how Chic ties into that style. In the late 70s, we were going through the greatest recession since the Great Depression. So we did songs that were like the roaring twenties; for example, the [1929 Leo Reisman & Lou Levin] song Happy Days Are Here Again, which we quote in Good Times. We used the lyrics, the same kind of subject matter.

We’re once again in a recession, and disco is having a revival. Are the two linked?

You’re the second person to have said that to me recently. To be honest, after Bernard died I started playing this music again [after a hiatus of over a decade], and I haven’t stopped playing it since. So for me, disco has been alive and well this whole time.

Interview by Alex Dudok de Wit

Nile Rodgers headlines the final night of Barclaycard Presents British Summer Time Hyde Park on July 14th alongside headliners Lionel Richie and Jennifer Lopez. For tickets: bst-hydepark.com.