Lagrange Audio Writes:
In 1977 in the UK I used to hang out with pretty cool kids. We built our own radio sets and that was important because with a modest receiver you could listen to arguably the coolest radio station on the planet, Radio Luxembourg. They were cool for a number of reasons, not least because across the North Sea they did not comply with a loca heavily government regulated radio market, the management of which was the source of much debate. This was an era where pirate radio stations on canal barges, caravans and even out on boats in the North Sea, anything mobile enough to evade the authorities, were increasingly sending a rebellious message to government to loosen regulation on the spectrum. It would be a long time coming. Radio Lux was also cool because they played and broke great music when others were reluctant to do so or would do so much later, and one genre in particular stood out and left an immediate impression. While other styles sought to solicit certain emotions and even attempt to provoke, and in some cases just pretend to be something it was not, disco did not pretend to be anything else other than want to make you get up and dance and generally make you feel good, that's what it was. Stripped down disco gave you the rhythm that could make anybody move to it, it was that simple and refreshing.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Richard Hilton, Chic keyboardist, Nile's resident in-house engineer and Sonic Talk regular after the show and he says it best. Arguably in a world of unhappiness Chic are the 'Purveyors of Happy', this is what they do.
To demonstrate the bands commitment to this cause it is worth noting the extraordinary lengths they go to bring it to us mere mortals. They arrived in Perth at 4:00pm from playing the Sydney Opera house the night before. That's 2000 miles and chasing a three hour time difference in the process. Sound check was still being wrapped up as we filed in, which ironically enough gave me the opportunity to quickly welcome Nile to Perth and shake his hand. After the disappointment of the 2012 cancellation, his first time in Perth was not missed on him either. I left Richard Hilton well after midnight, Chic would leave first thing the next morning back to Melbourne, another 1700 miles. In the space of less than a day they would bring happiness to the most remote city on earth. You may ask why they make such an effort and a lot of that is down to Nile Rodgers facing his own battle with aggressive cancer some time ago. No matter who you are, where you are or what you do cancer levels everything. As he puts it, when you are told to get your affairs in order he decided he needed to write, produce and perform more music. He is a survivor and commits Chic to go anywhere and play to anyone.
As we get started one of the reassuring aspects of the Chic setlist is it's consistency. I appreciate something I can expect as it removes at least one variable out of the experience equation. I've seen a few Chic shows (or parts thereof) online including Glastonbury on the West Holts stage earlier in the year. From Sydney we also caught the live stream from the Opera House. That's what we were primed for, that's what we wanted. Knowing what you are going to get allows you to get totally lost in the experience of actually being there without wondering whether your favourite song is going to be played or not. As we quickly move through 'Everybody Dance' and 'Dance, Dance, Dance' the more astute amongst us understand the importance of this music. The DJ support act had been warming up the crowd with the same familiar rhythms that could well have been produced on a computer last week. The evolution is clear and the influence of the architects who laid the foundations of dance music all those years ago is undeniable.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the crowd is a mixed bag of old and young. The older generation you would expect certainly but the younger ones are here in significant numbers for a variety of reasons. Some because Nile is cool, they know about Daft Punk, others because their parents know its cool and they are curious. As an aside Justin Bieber was playing at Perth Arena across town to 15,000 teenage girls, all the cool people however were here at the Astor. I had been racking my brain all week to tweet something witty about that, particularly as Bieber has reportedly behaved like a bit of a prat during his Australian tour if you believe the media, help me out here on this one please.
The middle part of the set is a showcase of Nile Rodgers influence right from the beginning. A medley featuring 'I'm Coming Out', 'Upside Down', 'Greatest Dancer' and 'We Are Family' tells the story of Nile Rodgers as producer and performer with the likes of Diana Ross and Sister Sledge and continues through collaborations with Duran Duran, David Bowie, Madonna, INXS and the list goes on. Just as importantly this is the bands opportunity to shine. Sure they've been doing this a long time but when you consider their haul across the country just to get here the musicianship is quite simply the best I have ever heard. Kimberly Davis and Folami share the vocal duties on songs that I swear I can't tell the difference between tonights performance and the 'Up All Night' album I have been listening to all week, it's a rare and beautiful thing. When each member of this 9-piece outfit is introduced later the crowd gives them their resounding appreciation. The largest cheer however is reserved for Jerry Barnes on bass and to appreciate why it is necessary to understand two things. The first relates to the close relationship between Nile Rodgers and his friend and writing partner, Bernard Edwards who passed away in 1996. The second is simply a tipping of the hat to one of the fundamentals of the genre, that driving groove that is the foundation to making your body move.
The night ends with 'Le Freak' and 'Good Times'. I challenge anyone not to be jumping by this point in the evening and we all were with sweat dripping and running into places I dare not mention. With this music and this band, the 'Purveyors of Happy' have delivered. In what has become somewhat of a Chic tradition the night ends with piped versions of Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' and 'Lose Yourself To Dance', it provides Nile and the band the opportunity to cool down and get out front with the crowd. The band isn't playing but the crowd is singing themselves hoarse for ten minutes after. The last time I experienced anything like this was when U2 were here in 1984 with the crowd leaving the venue en-masse still singing '40'.
Later that evening Richard Hilton and I spoke about why Chic were so popular right now. Rich had alluded to this on the Sonicstate weekly podcast a few weeks ago. While they were enjoying the ride he could not quite put his finger on exactly why, not because he doesn't know why but because there are so many reasons for it, it depends on who you talk to. My theory is this. A lot of music journalists miss this one when they interview Nile. They are after all stuck in the narrative of the moment so some of them at least can be forgiven. They focus on his collaboration with Daft Punk but never really address the fact that Chic never really went anywhere as it happened. When Nile put them back on the road in the 90's they have played to packed houses wherever they've been. Why, because in a world of endlessly mediocre, commercially massed produced music supported by seemingly outragious sexualised displays from some of the artists concerned, people want something better, they want happy not something superficial with a short shelf life. Daft Punk in fact recognised this by way of the homage they pay to those who laid the foundations of dance music in 'Random Access Memories' and as such, much like Radio Lux who played that shining ray of light through the static in 1977 against the backdrop of music reflecting social and urban decay of the UK at the time, Chic deliver that same shining ray of light through the static and noise that currently assaults our ears today.
In conclusion we lost ourselves to dance and wiped off a lot of sweat in the process, just as it should be and will always be.
Jason Durbin (aka Lagrange Audio) has been a synth and music tech enthusiast for 30 years since getting his hands on his first synth in 1983 at the tender age of 16. He hasn't earned a single Aussie dollar from music but the journey has been nothing short of incredible and he has met and interacted with some amazing people along the way. Jason is a true enthusiast doing it for nothing more than the pure love of it.