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Disco is dead, but Nile Rodgers lives

Larry Mantle with Nile Rodgers in studio.
Larry Mantle with Nile Rodgers in studio.
Photo by Allen S. Williams

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Whether you're glad the disco ball has stopped spinning or lamenting the decreased number of roller rinks, you can definitely hear disco's influence on modern pop.

Gender-bending performers from multiple races are producing dance music which is popular on the radio and in clubs. On paper, it's as if disco has been reborn.

Nile Rodgers — guitarist, songwriter, producer and member of influential band Chic — is responsible for some of the biggest hits from the 70s. With Chic he helped write "Le Freak" and "Good Times," Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" and The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."

Though his disco hits were meant to get people's feet moving, they were far from mindless. Rodger made sure to build each track around what he called "Deep Hidden Meaning," or DHM.

"We need to understand the music's core truth. Every song to us has a core truth that it stands for," Rodgers told KPCC's Larry Mantle on Monday. "You can change a song from calypso to reggae to samba, anything you want it to be, but if you keep its core truth intact, you can choose those different vibes and still represent what the song says."

With an ear for success, he eventually went on to produce music for Madonna, Diana Ross and David Bowie.

People of different races and sexualities felt safe mingling in public on the disco dance floor. Rodgers said the musicians felt the same impact, and it was powerful "that little Cinderella groups like my band [...] could actually compete with the top of the food chain."

"I think that on some level, that threatened the rock and roll status quo. You'll see one-hit wonders that just come along, get a massive hit, then they disappear. That's what I thought was beautiful about the disco music; that it was all inclusive," he said.

In his new book, "Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny" (Spiegel & Grau), Rodgers recounts his atypical upbringing and exposure to music at a young age. He shares his stories of working with the greats, such as jamming with Jimi Hendrix, as well as his struggles with drug addiction.


How did Rodgers manage to experience such wild success in the music industry? What is your favorite song he has written or produced? Considering the popularity of today’s dance music, is disco really dead?


Nile Rodgers, author of ""Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny"