The longest-running artist-curated festival in the world has just kicked off. The festival, now in its twenty-sixth year is called Meltdown and this year is curated by Nile Rodgers. To open the festival, Nile not only gave a live performance that exceeded ninety minutes without intervals; Nile also gave an insightful talk about his life, career as a musician and producer.
As soon as Nile entered the stage, one immediately noticed Nile had a talent that has yet to be recognised; his ability to look and be cool whilst passionately and wholeheartedly smiling. Furthermore, he did this without the aid of his guitar. When the audience eventually ceased applauding, the American musician and producer, known for working with a plethora of American artists (Sister Sledge, Diana Ross and Madonna) and more recently French electronic music duo Daft Punk; the audience learned that the number of British influences on Rodgers’ life and career, as well as British artists he has worked with (David Bowie and Duran Duran) equally, rivalled his American and international influences.
Whilst Nile could not recall the exact year owing to his “drug memory” when he was in England during the early 1970s, his then-girlfriend took Nile to see Roxy Music. Nile recalled being “blown away” with the couture suits the band wore which would influence CHIC’s style. Nile also recalled his first encounter with Prince. Again not giving the exact year, but the “late 1970’s”, he recalled meeting Prince at a club in Camden. Prince and Ronnie Wood were jamming and Prince asked Nile to jam. As well as stating his pride in having won two BRIT Awards; Nile went on to discuss his friendship and working relationship with David Bowie and their mutual love of Jazz.
Nile also spoke about growing up knowing Thelonious Monk (who has a fascinating graphic novel written about his life (See XS Noize book reviews) and Miles Davis. Nile recalled his relationships with Miles Davis with great fondness and how Davis asked Nile to make him “a mother f***** ‘Good Times’” song. Thinking Miles was “goofing”, Rodgers didn’t take Miles seriously and expressed his regret in not making “a mother f***** ‘Good Times’” for Miles.
Following a brief interlude of a mixtape of funk and disco classics, Nile Rodgers returned as Nile Rodgers & CHIC accompanied by a six-piece band and two female singers (including Kimberly Davis whose had many hits in her won right including “With you” that entered the top ten in the Billboard Dance Club Charts). Opening with “Chic Cheer”, Nile got the entire audience, all two thousand and four hundred of them to stand and raise their hands and dance. Nile instantly brought the sold-out Royal Festival Hall to a state of elation and participation many great musicians only achieve at the very latter parts of their live sets. Nile continued to keep momentum with CHIC hits including “Everybody Dance” and “I want your Love” before breaking into a melody of Diana Ross and Sister Sledge hits such as “I’m Coming Out” and “We Are Family”. Another Melody of hits followed of Madonna’s “Material Girl (the track Nile wanted to be the first single off Madonna’s Like a Virgin LP) as well as David Bowie’s “Modern Love”.
Nile continued to play more CHIC classics such as “Le Freak” and Sister Sledge classics including “Lost in Music”. Rodgers also paid homage to his British connections by playing Duran Duran’s “Notorious” (which he produced). As part of a melody, Nile also played dance classic (which he also co-wrote) “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)” which Modjo initially released as a major hit in 2000.
Nile, with his extensive experience in the music industry naturally left his most commercial hits till last such as “Get Lucky”, “Let’s Dance” and “Good Times”. Nile could have easily played these like for like with the radio versions, but he didn’t; Rodgers dug deeper with planned improvisations and extended versions of these songs. Nile not only demonstrated the depth and breadth of his own musical talent, but the wider talent of his backing band. For instance, “Get Lucky” began as a soulful and an almost gospel rendition where Kimberly Davis reached and hit notes that even in theory appeared unfathomable. Drummer Ralph Rolle, with his rich, deep and soulful voice executed “Let’s Dance” whilst drumming and remaining true to the original. To top all this, during “Good Times”, Nile impressed with old-school rap.
The twenty-sixth rendition of Meltdown kicked off with a glorious start. Nile told the story of a young boy who began cleaning Frank Sinatra’s plane as a teenager who then became the “number one record producer in the world”. Nile & CHIC also gave an outstanding performance. Everyone had themselves “a mother f***** ‘Good Times’”.
The Meltdown festival curated by Nile Rodgers continues until 11th August 2019. To check out the other acts performing and to get tickets please visit https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/festivals-series/meltdown