Duran Duran: Rio grandees

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Jade Wright talks to Nick Rhodes about Duran Duran’s return to Liverpool, a city which holds many memories for the band

DURAN Duran are back in town. And you could be forgiven for thinking it’s time to dig out the leg-warmers, backcomb your hair and revel in a bit of 80s nostalgia.

But while other acts from the same era might spend their careers reliving the past, Duran Duran are determined to make what they do relevant to a modern audience.
They were the most commercially successful of the New Romantic bands and leaders in the MTV-driven second British invasion of the United States, but they’re also online pioneers, leading the way with new technology.

And keyboard player Nick Rhodes says the band are looking forward to a night in Liverpool.

"We haven’t played Liverpool in what feels like a lifetime," laughs Nick, 46. "Mountains have risen and fallen; there’s been a couple of ice ages since we last played a gig in Liverpool.

"It’s not been a conscious decision – you didn’t say anything to offend us – it’s just that there wasn’t a venue that was suitable. Now you’ve got the new arena," he stops and corrects himself, "the new ECHO Arena, we’re really looking forward to playing.

"Liverpool is somewhere that’s always been really good to us. In the 80s some of our best, and craziest, fans were Scousers. We played some great gigs there. It was somewhere we always looked forward to playing. I remember some great gigs at the university and the Empire. That’s a beautiful old theatre. The architecture in Liverpool is stunning."

Nick has always loved art, architecture and photography. A friend of Andy Warhol and The Factory crowd, he released his own book of abstract art photographs called Interference and has exhibitions of his work at galleries around the world.
"I’ve always seen music and art as pretty much the same thing," he explains. "It’s all creative expression, and that’s what I love doing."

Nick is also a record producer, having studied production techniques while in the studio with Duran Duran. He mixed several tracks on the Rio album, and was a co-producer on many of the band's later albums.

In 1983, he discovered the band Kajagoogoo and produced their debut album White Feathers. He jokingly said he would never do so again because their hit single Too Shy kept Duran Duran's Hungry Like The Wolf off the No. 1 spot on the UK charts.

"But if you look at the way the music industry has gone, that’s what everyone’s doing now," Nick explains. "In those days being a musician and a producer were seen as very different, but that’s not the case anymore. Look at someone like Mark Ronson – he’s really highlighted what producers do.

"I always liked learning about the other side of the industry, and we were lucky that because of the producers we worked with, it was always at the cutting edge of technology. That was what made a lot of the Duran Duran sound.

"Now, when you look at the technology that’s available, it’s a lot more user-friendly. Kids are making and mixing their own music in their bedrooms. They can put it up on MySpace and send it round the world in seconds. It’s amazing when you think about it, and when you think back to how it used to be."

Nick, born Nicholas James Bates, is the only Duran Duran member to have been with the band since its birth in 1978. He and John Taylor were the founder members with the later addition of Roger Taylor, Andy Taylor, and Simon Le Bon, though none of the Taylors are related. The group has never disbanded, but the line-up has changed, and after a five year absence John Taylor is now back on board for what promises to be a show to remember.

It is part of their Red Carpet Massacre world tour, which takes in 30 shows in 16 countries.

"We’re going to play a bit of everything for you in Liverpool," laughs Nick. "As we haven’t played there for so long, I think you deserve to hear as much as you can.

"It’s great for us to be on stage together again. We’ve always been a band, that has always existed but now you’ve got the strongest line-up. I think it’s going to be a fun night. I’m looking forward to a Liverpool welcome. It might have been a long time since we played there, but I’ll always remember that warm welcome."

Nick, and the rest of the band, have also embraced technology.

They have created a virtual island within online game Second Life, on which they perform actual live concerts.

They were the first major group to announce a virtual world presence in the game – an online 3D digital world, which is imagined, created and owned by the residents.

"When I first discovered Second Life, I was astounded by the possibilities that were there.

"When I started looking at the figures running around, chatting and interacting, I thought this is somewhere between a bizarre virtual reality TV show, a surreal real-life experience and a video game.

"Somehow the amalgamation was just irresistible – what became obvious was that Duran Duran should have a presence within there. It could be a fully functional, futuristic utopia.

“Plus, you can be wandering around in this online world, and suddenly you’ll see a giant potato with legs walking down the street. It’s hard to resist taking part in something when you know that can happen.”

* Duran Duran play the ECHO Arena tomorrow as part of the Summer Pops. For tickets, call the ECHO Arena on 0844 800 0400 or visit www.accliverpool.com