In a previously unheard demo of the 1983 classic ‘Let’s Dance’, David Bowie can be heard joyously exclaiming “That’s it! Got it!” as the band wraps the recording. Bowie took some convincing when Rodgers first proposed his funk-forward arrangement, but one take in the studio was all that was needed to prove to Bowie that the track would be a hit. Rodgers needed no convincing.
Though Bowie’s lost demo was released last year in celebration of the late artists’ birthday, the story behind the song’s inception was an unheard relic, and just one chapter in the veritable odyssey that is Nile Rodgers’ career – details of which he gleefully shared with the audience in a talk before his headline set in the Royal Festival Hall.
Rodgers doesn’t shy away from self-congratulation, but it is well-deserved and never arrogant; his warmth and vivacity demonstrate his devotion to his music and the joy it brings. He also doesn’t hold back when it comes to name-dropping, but never does so without the utmost admiration for his co-stars and collaborators. Indeed, he has been able to exploit his vast musical network in curating this year’s Meltdown Festival, bringing together a roster of artists that inspire a great deal of excitement for the bright future of the music industry. For the festival’s opening day, however, the focus is firmly in the past as revellers gathered on London’s Southbank to dance along to disco classics from days gone by.
Earlier in the day, hundreds flocked to the gorgeous Riverside Terrace as the glamorously glitter-clad ‘Some Voices Choir’ took to the stage to perform various disco anthems in a singalong format designed to get even the most secretive shower-singers joining in. The capacity of disco to inspire joy is felt in full force as metres away, children frolic around in the public fountain, cooling off from the summer sun.
A performance by CHIC is so much more than just a performance by CHIC; it is a sonic celebration of all that was good about the 80s; Rodgers can lay creative claim to some of the biggest records that pop music has ever heard. From Diana Ross to Daft Punk, Duran Duran to David Bowie, Rodgers’ influence is vast, and with CHIC by his side, his discography coalesces into a relentlessly groovy performance that is guaranteed to lift the audience to euphoria.
Seamless segues allow the band to deliver hit after hit without leaving time for the audience to tire, and it is far being ‘The Nile Rodgers Show’, with each of the artists having their turn in the limelight. Bassist Jerry Barnes is a revelation, at one with his instrument, feeling the funk flow through him as he peppers in his deliciously funky solos, prompting the cloud to excitedly chant his name. Kimberly Davis, and Folami too, are on top form. The versatility of their vocals allows the band to do justice to the numerous covers they delve into, with Folami effortlessly matching the powerful vocals of Disco legend Tina Turner. They aren’t unaware of their own immense influence too, as they turn up the tempo on ‘Soup for One’ and fade into an electrifying cover of Modjo’s noughties banger ‘Lady (Hear Me Tonight)’.
For one reason or another, we find ourselves in the midst of a disco renaissance, and it couldn’t have come at a better time; the combined social, environmental and political train-wreck in which we presently find ourselves has us yearning for even the smallest morsel of escapism. Unlike the children outside, us grown-ups aren’t permitted to frolic around in the fountains, so thank God for disco and its wonderful ability to make us forget, and more importantly freak out!
2019’s Meltdown Festival continues at London’s Southbank Centre until the 11th August, with a wide variety of musical offerings, talks and free parties on offer. Tickets and more information can be found here.
All photos by Rob Waters.